And at one point you’d hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her eyes, that those photons created within her constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.
And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.
And you’ll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they’ll be comforted to know your energy’s still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you’re just less orderly. Amen.
Thank you all so much for these few minutes we will spend together. I know many of you are distracted as we begin this time together, so I want to ask you to spend just a moment or two breathing deeply and paying attention to what is going on in this room at this moment. Right here, right now. we are breathing and our hearts are beating. Some of us may have aches and pains, but all of us are here in this room, together. There is magic in that. Much research has been done that shows a group of people coming together agreeing to a common purpose can accomplish truly amazing things. Maybe the only thing we have agreed on today is that we will be together for a little while, but imagine if we set out to build a building or cure a disease, bring hope and food and shelter to those suffering after a disaster or at the hands of abject poverty. There is a great deal of talent represented here in this room. Imagine what we could do if we agreed together.
This is, on one level, a horrible example, but consider the D-Day invasion of Europe in June of 1944. Although many were likely reluctant, 156,000 allied troops landed on the coast of France to begin the process of reversing Hitler’s conquest of Europe. In roughly 11 months they, with the help of Soviet allies in the east defeated the Germans and ended World War II in Europe. They and those who came after them and their Soviet allies in the east defeated an army that had conquered most of Europe and held it for years. It is an amazing example of a group of people agreeing together on a task that probably looked impossible to some, and bringing that task to its completion.
The U.S. landing astronauts on the moon, the Civil Rights movement, the push for marriage equality in recent years, the women’s suffrage movement. Over and over, we have seen examples of people agreeing together that something needs to be done and doing it. So as ordinary and not exceptional as it may seem to you this morning that we are gathered in this room with beating hearts and breathing lungs, I would argue that there is something exceptional here too.
You see, we didn’t just wake up this morning, have a bite of breakfast, and drive over here. Each of us had to live a lifetime to get here. Those children who went out to their classes a few minutes ago haven’t lived very long lives, but some of us have got some years on us. And before that our parents had to get together in order for us to be born and our grandparents and our great grandparents. Each of us sitting in this room right now is the result of 13.8 billion years of biology, chemistry, and evolutionary forces that have not only gotten us here this morning, but created an infinite universe for us to live in. It is extraordinary and I beg you to breathe deeply of that. I beg you to feel deeply the energy that made all this possible. I hear from people from time to time that they wonder if they have the energy to get out of bed in the morning, but please hear me. Whatever energy you have came from 93 million miles away from a giant generator that is 863,000 miles in diameter, or just over 100 times larger than the earth we live on. And of course, the earth is a right good-sized place itself. Comedian Steven Wright once observed, “It may be a small world, but I’d hate to paint it.” So whatever energy you have for living your life, it comes from 93 million miles away and from one great big old ball of fire hanging in the sky. That is extraordinary. Feel that for just a moment. Take just a moment to feel how amazing it is not only that you are alive, but that you once had 16 great great grandparents who briefly liked each other enough to have children. Sixteen! Think of that. There are very few occasions that will bring together 16 people who like each other enough to share a meal, much less have children. Feel how extraordinary you are. Fell how extraordinary life itself is.
Well, why? Why would I take this rare opportunity to evoke your extraordinary specialness? What is behind my desire to make you feel special? I believe it is so important because we live in a culture that lies to us about who we are. We live in a culture that mass markets everything as though we can only have any significance if we adhere to some mass image of humanity. We are told day in and day out that the kind of car we drive matters. The cut of clothing we wear matters. The political party we belong to matters.
>Let me just digress for just moment. Politics is so important to most of the UU’s I know. We love to chew the fat over the political situation, compare notes, tell horror stories, either to make each other mad or to rock each other to sleep in the reassurance that we agree with each other . . . and those who disagree with us are clearly idiots. But isn’t it interesting that roughly half the people in this country don’t vote. National candidates spend hundreds of millions of dollars to organize and promote political campaigns that half the people in this country ignore. Half the people who walk by in the grocery store don’t vote and some of them have never voted. I once registered a 90-year woman who had never voted in her life.
Politicians, as skillful as they are at grabbing our attention, inspiring us or beguiling us, driving us to the polls or driving us to vote for their opponents, no matter how wonderful or horrible they may be, they are ignored by half the people in this country. Are they fools to deny the power of the ballot; or are those of us who pride ourselves on our political acumen, are we the fools to continue to support a system that has been corrupted and manipulated by the few to line their pockets and leave the rest of us wondering what happened? Just a question to consider.
But back to the main event. You. You with your beating heart and your breathing lungs. You are extraordinary. Listen to what Don Juan allegedly said to Carlos Castaneda, “For you the world is weird because if you are not bored with it, you are at odds with it. For me the world is weird because it is stupendous, awesome, mysterious, unfathomable; my interest has been to convince you that you must assume responsibility for being here, in this marvelous world, in this marvelous desert, in this marvelous time. I want to convince you that you must learn to make every act count, since you are going to be here for only a short while, in fact, too short for witnessing all the marvels of it.”
That is the point I want to drive home today. The extraordinary is in everything, everything here in this moment, here in this marvelous room, us in these marvelous bodies, and I know they don’t always work like we want them to, here in this marvelous atmosphere. Think how amazing it is that we are utterly dependent on our lungs to keep us alive and our beloved planet gives us the air we need to breathe in every moment of our lives. We don’t call it marvelous to be able to breathe and live and go about our lives, because we are so distracted by a culture that is trying to sell us something and our own anxious minds dwelling on what we did wrong yesterday and what we are scared might go wrong tomorrow. In fact, our worries and anxieties are so ubiquitous and perverse, it’s a wonder any of it works at all. And think how much better it could work if we weren’t so worried, anxious and distracted. If, as a group, we ever fell in love with life, here in this marvelous building, here in these marvelous bodies, here with our collective histories and hopes and dreams, we could literally light a fire that would be seen for miles around. And it would not be a consuming fire, but rather an inspiring fire with compassion, love, generosity, kindness, joy and celebration at its heart. There’s an old Christian hymn called, “Rescue the perishing.” My goodness, we could do it. We could loosen the chains of cultural lies and personal anxiety and soar like eagles if only we could embrace our own extraordinary specialness and live the lives that in our hearts we know are possible.
Yes, I will confess to being an idealist, to wearing rose-colored glasses, to having unreasonable expectations of myself and all of you, but feel the energy in your own wonderful, human imagination. Give it just a chance to run wild, if only for a moment. Notice your breath and your heartbeat and consider how unlikely it was that your 16 great great grandparents would have even met and liked each other ever so briefly, but long enough to have children. We are not the heirs to mediocrity. We are the products of massive transfers of energy and some extraordinary good luck. The very juice we have to lift our arms or walk across a room comes across 93 millions miles away and those 16 ancestors having children and the 32 that came before them and the 64 that came before them. Consider how amazing it is that none of those ancestors died in wars or famines or hurricanes or floods or epidemics. Half the babies born in the United States in 1918 died in a flu epidemic. Thank goodness my mother was in the other half. Two thirds of the men in my father’s infantry company in World War II died in Italy. Thank goodness, my daddy was in the other third. We all have stories like that. A turn in the road, a glance across a crowded room, a candle burning in a window. We all have made it here this morning out of extraordinary circumstances. We serve no one by buying into the cultural lies that we are nothing more than consumers fated to buy stuff, die and pay taxes. We are the daughters and sons of the universe and we need to imagine and feel, feel, feel the energy it will take to live out the deepest desires of our hearts. Life itself demands nothing less.