Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia
Day of the Dead
October 29, 2017
Rev. Jeff Liebmann
From The Renaissance in India by Sri Aurobindo (1918)
Spirituality is much wider than any particular religion, and in the larger ideas of it that are now coming on us even the greatest religion becomes no more than a broad sect or branch of the one universal religion, by which we shall understand in the future man’s seeking for the eternal, the divine, the greater self, the source of unity and his attempt to arrive at some equation, some increasing approximation of the values of human life with the eternal and the divine values.
There are all different kinds of monsters. When I was a kid, the Universal Studio classics – Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolfman, and the Mummy – were perhaps the most popular. One thing these monsters all share in common is that they were created. The Frankenstein monster was assembled by a mad doctor, Dracula was bitten by a vampire, the Wolfman was also bitten by a victim of the disease lycanthropy, and the Mummy was buried alive for violating Egyptian law. In a way, these scary monsters were all victims. They had no control over their creation.
For me, however, the best monsters included Godzilla, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and King Kong. I think I liked these monsters because they were there all along, minding their own business. So long as we left them alone, they stayed in their little, hidden corners of the world. But when we poked our nose where it didn’t belong, these monsters fought back.
Another interesting similarity between these monsters is that, in their movies, they were basically the good guys. In each case, Godzilla, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and King Kong represented Nature. Frankenstein origin was unnatural, but Godzilla fought against the dangers of nuclear radiation. Vampires and werewolves act the way they do because they suffer from a disease, while the Creature was just a big fish defending his river. The Mummy knowingly broke the law, but King Kong was merely defending the jungle from human technology and greed.
So during this Halloween season, think about the monsters and maybe look at things from their point of view.
From “Bringing the Dead to Life” by Peter Morales
If we dismiss the Day of the Dead (El dia de los Muertos), celebrated this week in Mexico) as pure superstition, we can easily miss the profound spiritual and psychological insight that makes this tradition powerful. A Mexican boy spending the night at his uncle’s grave has a connection across time with his forebears that our children do not. While we dwellers in a technological age are connected to the World Wide Web, cellular phones, and cable TV, have message machines, voice mail, pagers and call waiting, we have cut ourselves off from the web of time. Traditional cultures, with their mediums and ghosts and reincarnations, have understood intuitively something we’ve repressed: the dead don’t die; they live on.
Spirituality possesses an inordinate variety of definitions, interpretations, perspectives, and attributes. Interestingly, the rise of spirituality in the United States correlates closely to the development of progressive religion and liberal churches. From the spiritualist adherents of the Transcendental movement to today’s New Age practitioners, religions such as Unitarian Universalism provided fertile soil for the growth of the uniquely American version of the concept of spirituality.
In its simplest form, spirituality is a term used to encompass anything that deals with the human spirit. And the human spirit is that part of each person that is non-corporeal. In other words, the spirit is not of the “corpus” or body; it cannot be directly measured or observed because it lacks any physical referents capable of being measured or observed.
Now, some people believe the spirit does not exist. Generally speaking, a believer in the human spirit likely feels no need to argue the point and knows that, since tangible evidence is impossible, such an argument would result in futility. Those who believe in the human spirit may believe in a form of manifestation, such as ghosts, or any of the host of paranormal entities hypothesized over the years. But I think most believers satisfy themselves with the knowledge that the spirit manifests itself through effects on our lives; effects not always obvious and with meaning or purpose that is not always evident.
But, “Rev. Jeff,” you may be thinking to yourself, “you are a rational person, a logical person, a person who requires proof before taking anything on faith.” You are right. I do require proof. My burden of proof, however, is perhaps kinder and gentler than that of the laboratory. Just as dark matter cannot be observed directly, but can only be hypothesized based on its effects on the surrounding space, I believe that spirit can be reasonably accepted as fact based on effects in my own surrounding space.
I don’t know if a spirit retains any of its identity possessed prior to the passing of the mortal body. Probably not. I doubt that the spirit of Theodore Parker leans over my shoulder as I type my sermons (as awesome as that would be). But I do believe that a spirit or spirits can be attracted to a living person whose own spirit reflects common attributes. I truly believe in the idea of the muse, a spirit whose presence can enhance one’s creativity, intuition, or general ability to connect ideas in new ways.
I also believe that spirits themselves may not always comprehend their own existence or the interplay of frames of reference between our plane and theirs. Like Hindu theologians, I lean toward the belief that all this around us is simply an illusion that exists merely to provide us with landmarks with which to anchor our spirits to a mortal consciousness while we live. Once we are dead, the need for that illusion ceases and spirits depend on other forces to provide direction, momentum, and purpose.
When we travel from place to place, we look for road signs, landmark buildings, or natural formations to guide our travel. I can imagine that spirits navigate their dimension through the only landmarks available to them – the auras of the other spirits of the living and the dead in their proximity.
Whatever your personal belief, I recommend taking the advice of Unitarian Cassie Cromwell, who once wrote:
Be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the Universe no less than the trees and the stars…Be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.
Like any personal philosophy, a belief taken to extremes generally results in harmful effects. Dwelling too much on the spirits of the deceased leaves insufficient time to feed your own living spirit with the nutrient rich diet of experience and emotion. But holidays like those occurring around this time of year allow us a brief respite; a moment to stop and remind ourselves that we may well never be truly alone in the world. No matter how isolated your existence, there may be spirits of the dead drawn to you who have felt your pain, and shared similar experiences. Perhaps a dear loved one, or even someone you never knew in life can possibly provide a way for you to reconnect with the living world.
A song by the group The Police, titled “We are Spirits in the Material World,” has these lyrics:
There is no political solution to our troubled evolution.
Have no faith in constitution; there is no bloody revolution
Our so called leaders speak. With words they try to jail you.
They subjugate the meek, but it’s the rhetoric of failure
Where does the answer lie? Living from day to day.
If it’s something we can’t buy, there must be another way.
The song advises that we look away from material things and look for another way to find the answers. Being open to our own and other spirits can certainly cause no harm. And whether you share those experiences with others is purely your choice.
But the spiritual person never demands that others view the world in a certain way, or condemns a rejection of such sources of spiritual being.
And so, in the season when the veil between the living and the dead is believed to be its most transparent, let us welcome all spirits of life and love to this sacred place. May their insights, support, and communion with us broaden our vision of the scope of reality and expand our own spirits.
From Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan
Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual. So are our emotions in the presence of great art or music or literature, or of acts of exemplary selfless courage such as those of Mohandas Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both.