First Parish of Watertown  LAY  SERVICE:   “BEYOND  THE  RATIONAL”     MAY  22,  2016    

“My  Credo”  by  Judy  Kamm    

Good  morning!  I  am  honored  that  Jeri  Bayer  invited  me  to  speak  because   she  assumed  I  would  have  experience  beyond  the  rational,  aka  spiritual,   to  share  with  you  today.  It  is  nice  to  know  that  I  am  viewed  by  at  least   some  as  one  who  is  a  spiritual  person,  who  has  spiritual  experiences,   because  that  is  something  that  I  do  aspire  to  be.

It  seems  to  me,  though,  that  there  are  different  ways  of  defining  what  a   spiritual  experience  is.  So,  lest  you  think  I’m  going  to  talk  about  my   encounters  with  ghosts,  or  ability  to  foresee  the  future,  neither  of  which  I   have,  I’m  going  to  begin  with  how  I  define,  for  myself,    “spiritual   experience.”    Then  I  will  describe  some  examples.  Of  course,  others  may   have  different  definitions,  and  I  am  open  to  those,  too.  For  me,  though,  a   spiritual  experience  is  a  sensation,  a  realization  or  thought,  a  practice,  or   an  event  that  seems  to  come  from  a  mysterious  source  and  which  makes   me  feel  as  though  there  is  more  to  existence  than  I  can  explain  rationally   or  understand.

However,  I  don’t  really  believe  in  God  in  the  ways  most  world  religions   frame  It.  For  one  thing,  I  can’t  imagine  that  It  would  need  a  gender,  or   has  a  will,  or  loves  or  exacts  revenge,  or  responds  to  prayers.  Human   characteristics  and  labels  don’t  apply  to  It.  I  do  believe,  though,  that there  must  be  some  mysterious  force  or  power:  That  Which  Has  No   Name  or  The  Unknowable.    If  or  how  It  creates  what  we  know  of  as   existence  in  this  universe,  and  if  or  how  It  intervenes  in  this  universe,  I   have  no  idea  and  never  will,  in  this  life  at  least.  Nonetheless,  I  do  believe   in  “more  than  the  rational”  and  I’ve  had  and  continue  to  have   experiences  that  have  resulted  in  my  faith.  Wow,  is  this  different  from   my  good  little  Catholic  girl  self’s  catechism  Credo,  or  what??

Please  don’t  be  disappointed,  but  I  have  never  had  anyone’s  spirit  appear   to  me.  That  doesn’t  mean  I  believe  it  is  out  of  the  realm  of  the  possible.   One  of  my  husband,  Roger’s  MIT  colleagues,  a  man  we  both  respected   greatly,  told  us  his  deceased  father’s  presence  appeared  to  him.  Of   course,  I  have  had  dreams  that  include  people  in  my  life  who  have  died,   but  it’s  never  been  that  they  directly  addressed  me.  I  have  had  occasional   experiences,  however,  when  I  have  been  thinking  strongly  about   someone  for  no  particular  reason,  then  I  hear  from  them.  Of  course,  I’m   talking  about  living  people.  And,  many  other  people  have  similar   experiences.

On  the  other  hand,  I  have  felt  direct  contact  I  couldn’t  understand.    A  few   days  before  the  terrorist  attack  on  September  11,  2001,  I  strongly  felt   anxiety  and  restlessness  I  couldn’t  explain:  free  floating  and  very   noticeable.  It  was  as  if  I  was  being  nudged,  and  I  associated  that  nudge   with  my  departed  father’s  presence.    At  the  time  I  couldn’t  make  sense  of   it,  so  brushed  it  aside.  Once  that  horrible  event  happened,  I  began  to   think  my  father  had  been  trying  to  warn  me.

I  know  it’s  crazy,  but  I  will  confess  that  before  he  died  in  1992,  we  made   a  pact  that  if  there  was  “somewhere  else”  and  he  could  send  me  a  signal,   he  would.  We’d  always  been  very  close  and  had  a  few  ESP  experiences,   so  this  pact  wasn’t  out  of  character  for  us.

Another  example  for  me  was  when  Roger  and  I  decided  that  we  wanted   to  move  out  of  our  home  in  Weston.  I  was  propelled  to  clean  out  the   house  and  do  whatever  I  could  to  make  the  move  happen  as  quickly  as   the  real  estate  market  would  let  it.  At  the  time,  I  didn’t  know  where  all   my  energy  was  coming  from,  or  my  sense  of  urgency.  We  sold  our  house   in  the  spring  of  2008,  just  before  the  real  estate  bubble  burst.  Had  we   waited  another  6  months  we  probably  would  have  lost  a  lot  more  money   on  the  sale,  if  we  could  have  sold  the  house  at  all.  And,  we  definitely   wouldn’t  have  been  able  to  afford  the  new  home  we  bought.  Maybe  that   feeling  of  urgency  was  intuition,  or  knowing  without  knowing,  or  maybe   it  was  Dad  again,  pushing  and  pushing.  I  like  to  think  it  was  the  latter.

What  else  makes  me  think  there  is  more  to  existence  than  what  we  can   explain  using  reason?  Unexpected  encounters  with  nature  thrill  me  and   have  inspired  much  of  my  artwork,  now  that  I  am  retired  and  able  to   become  an  artist.  It  wasn’t  always  this  way  for  me,  though.  It  was  only   after  our  daughter,  Meredith,  died  in  1990  that  I  became  almost   obsessed  with  nature  as  I  grieved  losing  her  and  as  I  tried  to  heal  from   that  loss.  It  started  with  birds,  then  trees,  then  ferns,  and  now  flowers   and  butterflies.    Their  astonishing  beauty  and  resilience,  and  the  fact  that  they  go  on  about  their  life  cycles  while  we  human  beings  are  otherwise   occupied  and  not  noticing,  somehow  comforts  me  and  gives  me  hope.  It   is  almost  as  if  there  is  indeed  a  parallel  universe  operating  out  of  our   awareness.    Coming  upon  a  deer  or  bear  (!)  or  turkey  in  the  woods,   seeing  wildflowers  I  never  expected  to  see,  or  discovering  a  type  of   butterfly  I  didn’t  know  existed  are  exhilarating  experiences  for  me.  I   would  say  that  they  are  spiritual.    They  make  me  feel  that  “Yes,  there  is  a   world  outside  of  my  awareness  and  I  have  been  privileged  to  get  a   glimpse  of  it.  “  I  am  filled  with  gratitude,  awe,  praise.

And,  if  my  cellphone  or  Nikon  camera  is  handy,  I  try  to  capture  an  image,   if  possible  (I  was  too  scared  by  the  bear  so  didn’t!).    I  want  to  savor  and   prolong  the  experience  by  trying  to  reproduce  it  in  a  painting  or   drawing.  In  that  sense,  making  art  is  a  spiritual  practice  for  me,   especially  when  I  am  making  a  representational  nature  painting.   Sometimes  when  I  paint  a  flower,  I  feel  like  a  bee  or  insect  exploring  it   thoroughly.  The  concentration  required  puts  everything  else  out  of  mind   as  I  become  one  with  the  subject  and  completely  unaware  of  myself,   time,  or  my  surroundings….sort  of  like  meditation.

Now  when  I  am  outdoors  I  find  myself  keenly  aware  of  my  surroundings,   looking  for  nature’s  surprises.  Even  in  the  city  they  present  themselves   and  some  of  my  paintings  reflect  them:  the  Great  Blue  Heron  hiding  in   the  shadows  on  the  Boston  bank  of  the  Charles  River,  a  bare  tree  full  of   sparrows  that  look  like  brown  leaves,  and  an  arcade  of  cherry  blossoms  along  the  Charles  River  lagoon  are  examples.  I  am  in  a  state  of   mindfulness.

Spiritual  experiences  like  the  ones  I’ve  just  told  you  about  give  me  hope   that  there  is  another  dimension  or  another  reality,  where  the  essence  of   lost  loved  ones  resides  and  where  our  energy  that  we  know  as  “us”  (one   definition  of  our  spirit/soul)  will  also  reside  when  we  finally  put  away   our  birthday  suits.    Sometimes  I  feel  that  I  must  be  crazy  to  be  this  way,   and  I  don’t  talk  about  it  much  unless  someone  asks.  I  know  that  many  of   you,  though,  must  be  the  same  way,  and  have  had  similar  things  happen.   I  am  trusting  that  you  won’t  dismiss  me  as  pathetic,  weak,  and  needy  for   having  and  now  sharing  some  of  my  spiritual  experiences  with  you.

So,  with  gratitude  for  your  attention,  I  wish  you  the  kind  of  experiences   that  give  you  comfort  in  this  world,  hope,  and  joy.  May  it  be  so.

 

May 22, 2016 – First Parish Watertown – Lay Service: “Beyond the Rational”

Cloud Contemplation  or The Understandability Of Things You Can’t Explain,

Told in a Series Of Moments with One Brief Detour to the Bus Station

 by Lynn Bratley

 Part One: I am a child who goes to Sunday School every Sunday. We sit at a round table with our teacher and read chapters from the Bible and what Mrs. Eddy had to say about them. And every Sunday we read the Scientific Statement of Being.

“There is no life, truth, intelligence, nor substance in matter. All is infinite Mind and its infinite manifestation.” Manifestation? I think that Jesus is probably the man at the station, and I picture him waiting for the bus in his white robes. When we go downtown, I look for him, even though I don’t understand why Jesus would be waiting for the bus in Racine. But it is one of those mysteries I learn about in Sunday school.

The Scientific Statement Of Being goes on to say, “for God is All-in-all. Spirit is immortal Truth; matter is mortal error.” [none of this makes sense] “Spirit is the real and eternal; matter is the unreal and temporal. Spirit is God (and this is where I can begin to understand…), and man is His image and likeness. Therefore man is not material; he is spiritual.”

I know that I am included in the word ‘man’. I know beyond a doubt that I am created in God’s image and likeness. When things are not going well at home or we feel sick, my mother reminds us to ‘know the truth’ about ourselves and to remember that we can demonstrate healing on ourselves the way that Jesus did for others. This gives me a great sense of possibility.

So my life of spiritual practice was set down as a deep foundation in my soul that I didn’t even appreciate was there for a long time – a spiritual practice that has emerged over the years.

Part Two: I am standing on the front porch of our camp on Turtle Lake, a small lake on the edge of Turtle Valley, rich farmland carved out by the Wisconsin glaciers. My dad and I are watching the storm come across the valley. My mom – terrified of thunder and lightning – is urging us to hurry into the house. My dad is saying, “Look at that! Just take a look at that!” so deeply thrilled to be in the middle of this phenomenon as the thunderheads cross the valley from the west and the line of rain comes marching in a perfectly straight line across the lake toward us until we are impossibly wet, the lightening is getting closer, and we have to go in.

That’s what he did – the farm boy who moved to the city – he would pull the car to the side of the road and make us look up from our comic books. “Look at that! Look how far you can see from here! Look at that field of alfalfa – that long-legged bird over there in the marsh!” He was the one with the map, the binoculars, the camera and the sense of reverence.

Part Three (much later): I am reluctantly attending my first 12-step meeting in Cambridge at 4:00 in the afternoon on June 28, 1982 after a few years of hiding the extent of my nightly addiction: I have been sneaking gulps out of the wine bottle in my closet and walking around my house in a blackout every night – and it’s getting worse. On that day in June those many years ago something happened, and I haven’t found it necessary to pick up a drink since then. People ask, “How does it work, this 12 step thing?” The answer, “Just fine.”

Part Four: A summer watercolor workshop in Taos, New Mexico with my sisters: we are outdoors at Ranchos de Taos and everyone in the group has found a place to set up their easel to make a portrait of the church. I am trying to paint the adobe structure, but the clouds above the church are so beautiful – their shapes, their colors, their changing, moving countenance. There are no mistakes in the sky, no errors. Clouds are unruly and fantastical, they are perfect no matter what they do. Putting up an easel under the sky and putting hand to paper is a time out of time, no thoughts, no agenda, just what’s in front of me.

Part Five: Chuck is leaving for one of his international assignments. “Would you like to use this camera since it’s too heavy to lug around in a backpack?” I take my binoculars off from around my neck and strap on the heavy camera. I photograph the clouds reflected in the river. An old friend from high school sees my pictures on facebook. “These pictures are very Miksang”, she writes. I look it up and learn that it is not simply a method to shoot pictures, it is a way of living, of meeting the world, which allows you to be aware of the beauty that is always there, ‘contemplative photography’. “Water”, she writes, “is a good friend of Miksang”. And I am thinking…yes, and so are clouds.

Conclusion: Much like the fluid reflections of clouds in the water, changing, moving, I see that my spiritual life has also been a reflection of underlying principles and experiences of mysteries and wonders, also changing, moving – that have kept me connected to a power greater than myself. My understanding and faith have grown out of my journey and from those who encouraged me to look around, to look up, to look inside – to take time to be an observer of mist and vapor, of that which is elusive, ever-changing unruly and improbable, with no mistakes.

PS: I just joined the Cloud Appreciation Society whose philosophy in part is “We believe that clouds are for dreamers and their contemplation benefits the soul.”