I offer thanks to you and Pastor Mary for inviting me to speak. I have long appreciated the history and current ministry of the Unity Church here and around the country. The founders Charles and Myrtle Filmore were spiritual pioneers to America perhaps as H.P. Blavatsky was to the world. Besides being open to a universal Presence of the Divine, which Christianity mostly lost in the 4th Century, the Filmores were vegetarians who ate no meat and neither wore fur or leather.
In this building I have been blessed many times throughout my nearly 40 years in the area. I retained memories of sermons lines I heard here. In this room my wife and I met and heard Ken Wapnick explain the book, “A Course in Miracles,” which you continue to host a study group, as we did at Wayside in Hamburg. For a year I even attended a “Workaholic” 12 step program and support group, which perhaps many Presbyterians clergy could also use. Through the Unity Church we enjoyed the coming of the Pasi Palooza musicians, performing first at Wayside, then together with you at West Seneca and then here. Some of my former parishioners have found spiritual homes among you for which I am inspired and encouraged.
Today I would like to share some of my ideas about why I believe the seasons of Advent and Christmas can be seen as a source of universal hope and healing. In my later years as pastor at Wayside, I did speak of these stories as being universal for all. After retirement in 2009, I discovered these stories were strikingly similar to those used by several other areas of the ancient Eastern Mediterranean. Rather than seeing these stories as actual history, I have come to see them as representing a universal myth which later became adopted by the early Christian Church as literal history.
We all live by myths. Myth simply means a story, either from the religious or secular world. Myths point to universal truths or ideas by which we live. If you consider it, all words are merely symbols representing events or experiences, or our version of how they happened. Few of us read anything, especially newspapers, even religious “sacred books” without questioning the meaning and validity of printed ideas. In religions, according to author Tom Harpur, “The myth itself is fictional but the timeless truth it express is not.” Or as the late Joseph Campbell once said it in an interview with Bill Moyers, “Myth is what never was, yet always is.”
Thus my lessons for today, the first by historian/theologian John Dominic Crossan in his book, “Who is Jesus?”
“My point is not that those ancient peoples told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they told them symbolically and we are now dumb enough to take them literally.”
My second lesson comes from the book by Tom Harpur, “The Pagan Christ: Is Blind Faith Killing Christianity?”
“Everything—from the star in the east to Jesus’ walking on water, from the angel’s pronouncement to the slaughter of the innocents by Herod, from the temptation in the wilderness to the changing of water into wine—already existed in the Egyptian sources. Egypt and its peoples had knelt at the shrine of the Madonna and Child Isis and Horus for many long centuries before any allegedly historical Mary lifted a supposedly historical Jesus in her arms. But for all those centuries before the translation of the Rosetta Stone by Champollion in 1822, the ancient key to all this Egyptian material had been lost. Centuries of blissful ignorance went by. Now, since the translation of the books of old Egypt— the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Pyramid Texts, the Amduat, and the “Book of Thoth,” for example—there is irrefutable proof that not one single doctrine, rite, tenet, or usage in Christianity was in reality a fresh contribution to the world of religion.”
My last lesson comes from one of the monumental works of the late Alvin Boyd Kuhn. In “The Shadow of the 3rd Century: A Reevaluation of Christianity,” he writes:
“The sacred scriptures were written in a language of myth and symbol and the Christian religion threw away and lost the very soul of their meaning when it mistranslated this language into alleged history instead of reading it as spiritual allegory.”
So what does all this have to do with this season? To begin with, we can look outdoors and notice what has been happening for the past few months; it’s getting darker these autumn days in the northern hemisphere. What will happen on December 21st, just before Christmas? We experience the winter Solstice, the darkest day of the year. What happens to so many of us during these darkening days when the cold also moves in? More become ill, more want more sleep, more feel more depressed, and more yearn for more lights and sunshine. What does this mean?
It represents the darkness, the often terror of life we live here on earth. And who among us would not agree the darkness of this earthly journey can often be so very thick? Our lives are but an instant, full of disappointment, anger, sickness, loss and then death. As the ancient Hebrew writer put it in Ecclesiastes, it is all vanities of vanity without purpose or meaning! Tell me, I challenge you, what hope is there in this life alone? What purpose does it truly give us? We grow up, marry, have children, make money, get nice homes, cars, take vacations, and celebrate birthdays and Christmases? But what for? As the ancient Psalmist wrote, “The days of our lives are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong; even then their span is only toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.” (90:10)
How do we cope with this? Some of us try religion, praying to a “Higher Power,” even join a so-called religious group. Sometimes it works, sometimes it makes life much worse, as many of us have experienced. We also party and drink more, engage in all the pleasures we can to wash away the sense of vanity, of futility. Some of us work more, longer hours, to anesthetize us to the futility of it all. But in the quiet moments alone, we still find ourselves like Alfie asking, “What’s it all about?” How did we get here? Who really am I?
The myths of this season can help. The Virgin Mary represents us. She comes from the autumn zodiac sign of Virgo, or literally, Virgin. In the beginnings of autumn’s descending darkness, with nausea and sickness, Mary, ourselves, discovers she has something inside her, a new life longing to appear, to be born. It was her choice, our choice, to come into the darkness of this universe and place called earth. It was our choice, our virgin choice to come here to earth and water, mortality and death. But our feminine nature, through its listening and feeling within, senses hope growing, another life yearning to be born.
Meanwhile, as we wait, we embrace our darkness, knowing somehow, someway something new will soon arrive. We sit with it, ponder it, and accept it. Oh yes, many of us become sick and despise the darkness, the painful waiting. We begin shopping right after autumn arrives, if not before. We tend to drink more inebriating beverages, attend more parties, and do anything to escape the sense of darkness and death. Many of among just give up and die, deciding to end it all.
In the book, A Course in Miracles, it refers to this planet and the whole visible universe of time and space as our “tiny mad idea at which we forgot to laugh, and thus took seriously.” (Chapter 27.VIII) To many ancients and many today, this dark material world and universe of time and space is not real. It is an illusion of reality. Spirit, Creator, Father/Mother God is non-matter, a No-thing, and eternal. We thus can learn we are not our bodies, but Spirit and Free, One with our Creator. Charles and Myrtle Filmore saw this, and lived it, and taught it.
Thus in our darkest days of the year, light appears call us Home. We begin to awake, increasingly until the spring time when the Zodiac Pisces appears, the season of spirit, of fire and air! We awaken to the Sun, the Son of God who is none other than ourselves, within us, our True Selves. The solar sun, center of our little system, sends waves, billions of them into every cell of our bodies every second it shines upon us. Likewise the Spirit of Light, God, Brahman, Allah, shines into our mortal bodies, awakening our minds to Spirit Selves which we never left but forgot, lost in our dreams of sleep.
And so like Mary, we too can sing the great song, the Magnificat, people perhaps unknown, inspired by the story of a young pregnant woman, ourselves, who without status, without rights, a slave to men and this world of death, still can sing;
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
For he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
For the Mighty One has done great things for me,
And holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
From generation to generation.
He has shown the strength with his arm;
He has scattered the proud in the
Thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
And lifted up the lowly;
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel
In remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
To Abraham and to his descendants forever!
Suddenly the vertical Light of Heaven reaches the horizontal place of our earthly existence, and becomes a cross, beginning to grow and grow until the time of Pisces, the Spring Equinox. Then on Easter we hopefully celebrate our resurrection, our awakening into everlasting Light which has no end, shining bright within our lives, leading us out of those dark tombs through forgiveness, showing Divine compassion and kindness to all.
Summary of my talk offered at the Unity Church of Buffalo, 1243 Delaware Av., Buffalo, NY.