Sermon: Real Sanctuary By Rev. Ana Levy-Lyons
January 29th, 2017
First Unitarian, Brooklyn
The nausea that many of us are feeling these days is not because of the victory of one person or one political party. It is not about any one executive order or one bill in congress. It’s not only about the people who are already being harmed by acts of hate and fear today. It is, on a profound spiritual level, about the victory of an archetype that we all know deep in our gut. It’s the super-man, the monolithic white power, the deathless winner, the judge, the rapist. This archetype has manifested painfully in all of our lives in one way or another, including in the lives of the white men in this room: for some of us it’s our own father. For some it’s a boss, a relative, a bureaucrat, or a teacher. For some of us it’s a sexual assailant and for some it’s the Judeo-Christian God. It’s the voice in our head that says, “Who are you kidding? You’re never going to be able to make anything of yourself.” It’s the voice that says, “Stop sniveling. Boys don’t cry.” It’s the voice that says, “Shut up. You don’t get to talk here.”
Many of us have spent a lifetime struggling to break free from these figures in our psyches and our material lives. We have worked so hard to overcome them. We’ve carved out space for ourselves and others; we’ve tried to welcome crying and not crying. We’ve tried to love our bodies. We’ve tried to honor difference, to embrace vulnerability, and to value nurturing. We’ve struggled to gain a financial foothold. We have cultivated compassion for ourselves and others, even in weakness, and we have found great strength there. And we’ve seen tiny signs in our world that a new consciousness might be taking hold. It has been a journey – empowering and affirming. We’ve known, of course, that we still have miles to go but the unbridled power of that archetypal figure seemed to be crumbling. And now it’s back, returning like our worst nightmares, recurring in our nightmares; back from the past like kryptonite, threatening to drain all our power.
This archetype manifests over and over again throughout history because it is built into the structure of our society; it’s a structure of dominance and submission, of winners and losers, those who belong and those who don’t. It’s woven into the fabric of our lives – of sports, of school, of physical looks, of physical ability, of the military, and most certainly of capitalism itself. The scourge of hierarchy and competition afflicts everything and everyone. Everything gets rated on a scale of 1-10. It’s soul crushing. Even someone at the top of the social pecking order – a strong, white, male, straight heroic soldier is a failure if he “gets captured;” a woman beautiful enough to be crowned Miss Universe is a failure if she gains weight; a well-respected journalist is a failure from the start because of his disability. Failure looms for everyone in the world of winners and losers. And so, it’s vital to remember that as heartbreaking as it is that the perpetual winner has won again, he who won – and I’m using “he” in the archetypal sense here – he who won is he who invented winning.
I believe, when we are at our best here at First Unitarian, we are writing a different game. We’re not just focused on winning one battle, but on a global transformation of consciousness, starting with the people in this room. We are guided by faith: our Unitarianism teaches that all of us are one – that we will never find salvation by building walls and keeping people out, but that we will find salvation together. Our Universalism teaches us that love in the universe is infinite and unconditional – that no one has to lose for someone else to gain; there is enough for everyone. Our Seven Principles teach that we each have inherent worth and dignity no matter what we look like, how much money we have, what our religion is, where we come from, or what we may accomplish. They teach that we can be trusted to follow our own conscience. They teach us to pursue spiritual growth and compassion, not power and wealth. They teach us to honor and care for the interdependent web of life of which we are a part. In the best of times, this spiritual vision is challenging in our society – today, it is downright countercultural.
We are heading into our annual stewardship campaign. Over the next six weeks, we will be asking each other to give the financial support that this community needs to keep going for the next year. I want you to know that when you support First Unitarian, you are supporting this countercultural vision of our world. You are supporting the thriving of a real sanctuary. We are a sanctuary for people of different genders and races and backgrounds and ethnicities who are rightly afraid today. We are a sanctuary for all those bonded to them in love. We are a sanctuary for change makers. So many of us in this room are working in one way or another for the most vulnerable and for the delicate ecosystems that sustain life itself. From my vantage point as a minister, seeing the outpouring of energy and commitment from all of you in recent months, I know that this congregation is a powerful force for good in this world.
We are also a sanctuary of a different kind: we are a sanctuary of the soul. You won’t find this kind of sanctuary anywhere else but in a religious community. Here we speak of love directly, in a different register, to the soft core of each of us. Here we can dismantle that mythic archetype of dominance and violence. Here we can lift up different heroes – those who have been spiritual leaders for healing and transformation; those who were oppressed and rose up. Here we can be a little sheltered from the voices that tell us all that we cannot be and all that we cannot do. Here it’s okay to be weak, here it’s okay to be different, here it’s okay to make mistakes, here it’s okay to cry. We are a spiritual community that says “yes” to each one of us… to believing in ourselves and honoring each other. And we lift up a different image of God – God as compassion, God as love, God as friend, God as the power of liberation for the oppressed; God as the radical force that Rachael talked about in her homily, in which we are “slain in the spirit” and anything is possible.
If you haven’t yet joined this congregation, join us this year. We need your unique voice to keep our sanctuary real. If you haven’t yet made a financial pledge, make a pledge this year. We need your support to keep our sanctuary strong. In the days ahead, the need for a touchstone like this one will, unfortunately, likely grow. It will become more and more an essential place for us to gather, to sing about love and peace and not be ashamed, to need each other and not be ashamed, and to be challenged by each other to take action and not lose heart. We’ll need to know this sanctuary is here. We’ll need to hear from each other, as our final hymn says, “It’s okay. You can lean on me.” It will be a reality check and a faith check for us all.