Archive for May, 2010

What Shall We Say?

Sunday, May 30th, 2010
Click here to hear the sermon only.

Well, this is just fantastic. The dean decides to take Memorial Day weekend off and leaves me stuck attempting to explain the doctrine of the Trinity. Oh sure! No problem! It’s only the most complicated and contested doctrine in the history of Christian thought. Piece of cake! Nothing we can’t get sorted out in the next twenty minutes.

May we pray? Holy God; Holy and mighty; Holy and eternal. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our redeemer.
Oh dear. What exactly are we supposed to do here? Or more precisely, what shall we say? After all, to declare with the ancient creeds of the Christian church that divine life is one God in three persons is precisely that, a declaration, a form of speech.

To speak of God is always difficult, if not outright terrifying. What if we get it wrong? If we say something out of line, will God smite us where we stand? More importantly, what if someone believes us? If we are wrong, might we have sent them down a dangerous path? That there is so much at stake in our speech about God is hardly made easier by the fact that the object of speech, God, often seems so inaccessible. It is not like describing a stone that we pick up at the beach, washed ashore by the crashing waves. We can describe the stone to a friend and the friend can look and see whether or not our description meets up with their experience of the stone. But God does not fit in our hands. Saint Anslem said that God is “that than which nothing greater can be thought.” One of the implications is that God is so great that the power of human speech to be meaningful in describing God is compromised.

So, why bother to say anything at all? Why not just remain silent in the face of God, who we can barely comprehend? Is it not sheer hubris to attempt to speak of God at all? As a matter of fact, yes, it is sheer hubris to speak of God. Not that pride has ever been a particular deterrent to people going ahead and doing whatever it is they are determined to be about anyway. But there is more to it than pride. It seems that there is a human compulsion to speak. The very first lines of the Tao Te Ching say that “A way that can be walked is not The Way; a name that can be named is not The Name,” but it then immediately goes on to say that “Tao is both Named and Nameless. As Nameless, it is the origin of all things; as Named, it is the mother of all things.” Similarly, with regard to the Trinity, Augustine notes: “Yet, when the question is asked, What three? human language labors altogether under great poverty of speech. The answer, however, is given, three “persons,” not that it might be [completely] spoken, but that it might not be left [wholly] unspoken.” To fail to speak, it seems, is as great a sin as the pride of speaking.
This should not be entirely surprising to us. We gathered here in the nave of Marsh Chapel and listening over radio waves and internet signals are a community, and communities are formed out of shared experiences that are then shared again and again in common patterns of speech, in the telling and retelling of stories. Without speech, we would not be. This is the truth of the beginning of the Gospel according to John: “In the beginning was the word.”

All right, so we can’t speak well, and yet we must speak. But what exactly are we doing when we speak? To speak is not simply to state a fact. Yes, there are what philosophers of language and linguists call locutionary aspects of speech. When we speak we make sounds that are strung together in patterns that comprise words, which are in turn strung together in sentences with grammar and syntax and thus have meaning. However, this is not all that is happening when humans speak. In addition to locutionary aspects, human speech also has illocutionary aspects, in which meaningful words and sentences are spoken in a context so as to bring about some outcome. Human beings speak with intent. Sometimes that intent is merely to describe. “It’s really hot outside.” More often, however, the intent is to more than merely descriptive. After service, if you find yourself standing on the plaza chatting with a fellow congregant, and that person says “it’s really hot outside,” it is more than likely that they are suggesting that the two of you should continue your conversation in some nearby shade. You can tell this because if your response is simply to agree, “yes, it is really hot outside,” your conversation partner will likely roll their eyes and make the request more explicit, “why don’t we go sit in the shade and chat?” Under the illocutionary aspect, we do not merely make intelligible sounds, we ask, request, promise, greet, warn, advise, challenge, encourage, deny and otherwise initiate actions. In speaking, we expect a response.

What kind of action are we undertaking when saying that God is Trinity? And to whom are we speaking? There are two primary contexts in which we speak of God. The first is in the context of worship. It is traditional in the history of Christian worship that following the sermon and leading into the celebration of Holy Communion the congregation would recite together a creed, often the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. The creed usually begins, “I believe.” This identifies the creed as what philosopher John Searle identifies as a declarative speech act, one that commits the speaker to the truth of what is said. Entering into a common action of committing to a common truth is a powerful way of drawing people together under what all affirm as the same experience of the same God. This is one way of overcoming the difficulty of the inaccessibility of God to easy perception and thus description.

The other context in which God is spoken of as Trinity is in the context of theological explication. In this context the theologian is enacting what Searle calls a directive speech act that seeks to cause the hearer or reader to do something, usually in this case to believe in God as Trinity as the theologian has laid out the case. Trinitarian theologians seek to make the case that believing in God as Trinity allows for a coherent, consistent, adequate and applicable understanding of God, the world, and our place in the world. Because the account provides coherence, consistency, adequacy and applicability, categories I am borrowing from Alfred North Whitehead, then the hearer or reader is justified in assenting to the theologian’s claims.
These then are the two contexts in which we speak of God: worship and theological explication. In the first our speech is declarative, and is addressed to God and to each other, binding us together in a common community. In the second the speech of the theologian is directive, and is addressed to us, calling us to believe in God as Trinity because such belief is justified. At least, these are the ways that talk of God is classically understood. I would like to suggest that limiting ourselves to these two understandings of God-talk is missing an important active dimension in what we are doing when we speak of God.

Speaking of God is not merely declarative, committing ourselves to the truth of what we say, nor merely directive, asking others to believe as we do. To speak of God is to enact a type of speech act that Searle distin
guished as declaration. A declaration does not merely commit the speaker to the truth of what is said, but changes reality to accord with what is said. In a criminal case, when the judge hands down the sentence, the reality of the defendant is no longer ‘defendant’ but either the one who committed the crime, ‘guilty,’ or the one who did not commit the crime, ‘innocent.’ At a wedding, such as the one at which I will officiate this afternoon, the words “I now pronounce you…” are what make the marriage legal, and so are a significant part of what makes the marriage real.

While I identified the declarative and directive classes of speech acts as the classical interpretations of the nature of God-talk, they are so only in terms of a modern western conception. The idea of speaking of God as a declaration that changes reality is actually quite old when we turn to south Asian religious traditions, and also to some very early Christian sacramental theology, some of which survives to this day. In both cases, the understanding that speech has the power to make reality as it is arises in the context of ritual. In south Asia, it was believed that enacting rituals, and particularly speaking the right words in the rituals, maintained the very existence of the world. This belief was crucial to the religious heritage of the region and speech remains central to Hindu theologies. For Christians, the idea of anamnesis is that in reciting salvation history in the Eucharistic prayers, time collapses together to make the ritual expression of the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus one with its first occurrence in first century Palestine and with every other anamnetic retelling past, present and future. Thus, the Eucharistic prayer is not simply a retelling of what happened, but the actual happening of salvation history, the enactment of the reality of salvation history. The declaration of the story makes it so.

Of course, it is one thing to say that declaration makes socially constructed realities so, but it would seem to be nonsensical to believe that simply saying that “the sky is chartreuse” could make it so. Indeed, there is a significant difference between social reality and brute reality. And we run into trouble if we say that the declaration of God as Trinity makes God Trinity because most of us would like to believe that God is a part of brute reality, something given to be experienced, not a projection arising out of common affirmation. But this is indeed what South Asian and early Christian theologies claimed, that the very being of the brute world is dependent upon ritual. Today we may wish to dissent from this strong claim about the capacity of declaration. But perhaps we need not protest too much.

Recent work on ritual by Boston University professors Adam Seligman and Robert Weller make the case that ritual, broadly understood, creates subjunctive, as-if spaces that allow us to cope with the broken, disjunct, fractured experience of life. Ritual gives us the ability to draw together the strewn about pieces of our lives and our experience of the world into something resembling a unified whole. The fact of the matter is that our experience is not normally coherent, consistent, adequate or applicable across the many arenas of life in the world, and we ourselves are not coherent, consistent, adequate or applicable. This is why in religious life we acknowledge the deep chasms and fissures of the human condition. As Stephen Prothero, another BU professor, so carefully points out in his most recent book, God Is Not One, different religious traditions make different claims about the contours of those chasms and fissures, and therefore prescribe different ways of unifying them. Nevertheless, it is fundamental to religious life that there is something wrong with the world, that we ourselves are not well suited to overcoming those wrongs, and that it is only by acknowledging and giving ourselves over to the ultimacy of ultimate reality that we can get by. As Paul says, “We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts.”

To speak of God is to create a ritual, subjunctive, as-if space in which all of the chasms and fissures of our broken lives and experience fit together coherently, consistently, adequately and applicably. But our speech about God must in some way acknowledge the subjunctive character of the space. The Christian doctrine of the Trinity does this, as do other conceptions of ultimate reality. The doctrine of the Trinity insists that God is one, thus creating the subjunctive space of wholeness. But the doctrine of the Trinity can only understand God to be one in terms of three persons, three expressions, thereby acknowledging that the reality of God can only be coherent, consistent, adequate and applicable to us in our brokenness and our disjunct lives in a fractured world insofar as God is not one. This is to say that God participates in our desire for unity and God participates in the reality of fractured existence. How God can do this, how God can be both transcendent and immanent, is not something that we can speak as a fact but is something that God speaks as a declaration. The unity of God, how it is that these three are one, is not something that we can bear; it is a mystery. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” The declaration of God is that ultimate unity – ultimate coherence, consistency, adequacy and applicability – is not for us now, except in the glimpses of grace we experience when we make our own declaration of God the Trinity. Amen.

~Br. Larry Whitney, LC+
University Chaplain for Community Life


A Dog’s Life

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

The twin powers of gathering and hearing are at the heart of Pentecost. In a combination of community and audibility Spirit arrives.

Our understanding of the Acts of the Apostles has deepened and sharpened over the last two hundred years. How we interpret the church’s first history is a matter of some debate. Is the book, written by Luke, a sourced, reliable, historical document, rendered for the benefit of the church as an actual account of its earliest life—a kind of stylized ecclesiastical baby-book? This would be the traditional, often the British view. Or is the book, written by Luke, a selective memory, presented to make a point and to offer a perspective—a kind of ecclesiastical court brief? This would be the critical, often German view. Long after WWII ended, this particular biblical studies conflict between London and Berlin (really Cambridge and Tubingen) continues. How much of Luke’s history is Luke and how much is history? How much of Acts 2—wind, tongues of fire, drama, miracle—is what Luke thought, and how much is what Luke thought happened? Both bear truth and meaning, both are holy and good, both have precedent in religion and Scripture. How much of this is history and how much of this is theology, granted that both history and theology are good things?

It may be that there is some merit to both views, but that the needle points toward theology. That is, our Holy Scripture in Acts 2, we might decide, was not written chiefly to record or fend off a charge of drunkenness against Peter from early one morning, nor to catalogue the nationalities of that day’s immigrants, legal or illegal, who appeared at the birthday party of the church. The passage is written to communicate, lastingly, good news about Spirit, good news about how the power of gathering inspires the power of hearing.

A delight for this day is found here. Our epistle lesson from Romans 8 squarely interprets spirit as that which gathers, which includes, which gives lineage, which names heirs—the religious dimension of belonging. Our gospel lesson from John 14 squarely interprets spirit as truth heard, as speaking which was understood, as the gift of ‘a self-correcting spirit of truth loose in the universe. Acts announces the power of gathering inspires the power of hearing. Romans reminds us about gathering. John reminds us about hearing.

Today’s lessons do not exclusively assign Spirit a religious wardrobe or zipcode. Although these readings are later to become building blocks for religious building blocks, they are not in their birth swaddled only in the birth cloths of religion. John least so, as he speaks fiercely of truth. Paul hardly so, as he writes of children lisping at the urging of an inner voice. Luke in Acts, barely so, as he gathers Medes and Persians, and heralds the hearing of Parthians and Edomites. Spirit on Pentecost has yet to don its religious robes. Spirit is loose in the universe. Our readings hold up for us the possibility that we may meet Spirit on the street where we live. Our readings hold up for us the possibility that we may hear Spirit in our own tongues, our own hearts. We may have had a foretaste last week. For example, to take one example, to take one common example of gathering and hearing, last week’s Commencement, The Boston University terrier, the dog of this sermon’s title, is fully alive. There is a common Pentecost, a part of our everyday experience, that arises wherever the power of gathering inspires the power of hearing.

Your life is nourished by the pentecosts of your life. The nourishment may come through the regular gathering and hearing in worship that focuses on a sermon. Or it may come through a regular family gathering, that focuses on a meal and stories of encouragement. Or perhaps through a regular reunion, relational or professional, that focuses on fun and reflection. Gatherings which inspire hearing are crucial to your personal, spiritual life. The same is true for a university like ours.

We gathered Friday at the Tennis and Track Center for the Dental School Commencement. Some of us help others choose, and some help others chew, and both are vitally important. At the dental school commencement ceremony, the fine speaker, Dr Shadi Daher, warmly introduced by Dean Hutter, had a profoundly insightful bit of wisdom and encouragement to offer. “Try to find something new in every case, and learn from it. Find the new learning in even the most repeated and routine procedures. Learn something new every day. For the biggest challenges are not outside us, they are within us, in our attention, our attitude, our emotions, our thoughts and feelings.” The radiant life, and the rich range of diverse human presence—in age, gender, race, nationality, ethnicity—at the dental school was a joy to behold!

Then on Saturday afternoon, the ROTC commissioning ceremony was held in historic Faneuil Hall. It is very moving to see the parents of these young soldiers pin signs of rank upon their children’s shoulders. This year, a young couple going off to ministry in the military chaplaincy joined us, which made the ceremony even more meaningful. Senator Scott Brown spoke an encouraging word to the commissionees, and connected his own experience in years past with their coming years of service.

Dr Douglas Sears speaks each year for the University. He is the administrative head of the program at BU. He reminds us that academic freedom is a subset of political freedom, and that the broader political freedoms we enjoy are not free: they come with costs in service, sacrifice, and devotion. Freedom is not free. He also reminds us that with our religious history rooted in the Methodist tradition, he can say to the young people not only good luck, but also Godspeed.

We went from Scott Brown in Faneuil Hall to James Carroll in Marsh Chapel. (☺) We have looked at life from both sides now (☺)!

For last Saturday night this Marsh chapel was full with 250 members of the BU class of 1970. That class did not have a formal graduation, having been sent home in the danger and chaos that followed Kent State. So they were invited back, this year, to ‘walk’ (to receive their diplomas at Commencement, in robes, on the field). In preparation for their arrival, I talked by phone with some members of the class. One told me that he received his diploma by mail one summer afternoon in 1970. He was alone in the house, except for his two dogs. He opened the diploma and showed it to his dear pets. Then he put it in a drawer. “I had a canine commencement of my own”, he said. He was with us Saturday. The power of the gathering here in the nave was palpable. It was thick like a fog on the ocean at dawn. A soloist sang ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’. A pianist played the sound track of 1970. There was a litany and a time of silent remembrance. Then the catholic chaplain of the time, James Carroll, now a columnist for our city’s paper, piercingly addressed the gathering. He briefly called up the memory of that spring forty years ago, focusing on a perilous confrontation between students and those trying to keep the peace. But then he turned with emotion and asked the congregation (for by now this was an addressable community, a congregation that is) ‘So what are we doing here?’ Are we here to find
healing? Are we here to hunt for some completion? Are we hear to seek some inner peace? In preaching terms, he moved deftly from the prophetic to the pastoral. The soloist began then to sing ‘Let it Be’, but the solo quickly became a hymn, as all joined in. And yes, as foreshadowed a moment ago, the pianist, Jan Hill, played us out with ‘Both Sides Now’. Gathering and hearing. You can read about in the New York Times. Gathering and hearing. You can read about it in Acts 2.

There is something about the intersection of gathering and hearing, the twin powers of Pentecost, which ushers in a new wind. Boston University’s metaphorical mascot, the terrier, the dog of this sermon’s title, showed Spirit Life last weekend. I do not find references to the Book of Discipline, to the Book of Order, to the Book of Common Prayer, or even to the hymnal, in the Scripture lessons for Pentecost. I do read about a spirit of truth. I do read about a spirit of sonship. I do read about a mighty wind. The church may have to think more broadly about the nature of the church than we inside the church have been accustomed to do.

Here in church last Sunday our Baccalaureate speaker, Dr Wafaa El-Sadr, spoke about her work with AIDS patients. She urged us not to oppose a ‘culture of no’. Then she told of a patient, who said of her illness: ‘AIDS is the best thing that has happened to me. Once I got it, I left the street, I left the hustle, I left the drugs, and I cleaned up my life’.

How long has it been since you were immersed in the gathering and speaking of a graduation? The atmosphere teems with aspiration, promise, foretaste, and hope. When 25,000 people stand to applaud a civil rights legal champion like William Coleman, awarded an honorary degree last Sunday, you feel the earth shake a little bit. All together know the power of that gathering and that hearing. All the ‘laudes’ From summa to ‘thank ya’, all the graduates know, and so does everyone else. It is not only in Methodism that gathering and speaking have announced spirit (we would say conference and preaching of course). Life itself does. Wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is that kind of freedom.

Then came the gathering of 25,000 under the sun at Nickerson field, and with it, speaking and hearing. Graciously introduced by President Brown, Commencement speaker Attorney General Eric Holder addressed the gathering: “I am reminded of Dr. King, not only because he blazed the trail that allows me to stand on this stage as our nation’s first African-American Attorney General; and not only because his dream of a more just and inclusive world remains one of our most important guideposts. Today, I am reminded of Dr. King because he, too, took leave of this campus at a difficult, and defining, moment in America’s history. “I know,” he said, “that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.”


The best moment of Commencement came with the student address, preached by a young African American man from Mississippi, Jonathan Priester, on behalf of the class of 2010. You will not surprised, once you hear his words, as to the reason for my personal ‘hallelujah’ in response:

“As this day has approached – the end of my stay at Boston University as a student – I found myself walking around campus trying to remember as much as I can about this place. A place that has been my home for the last four years. While attempting to retrace my numerous adventures on this campus, I noticed the inscription on a wall in Marsh Chapel. It reads, “we hope that the procession of immortal youth passing through the halls of Boston University for the next thousand years will be vouchsafed a vision of greatness and that that vision of greatness will become habitual and result in moral progress.” I like that line. At its center is my favorite word: progress.

“Our challenge is to do just what is said on the wall of Marsh Chapel. We must make greatness habitual in order for moral progress to be the result of our lives’ journeys.

“The University itself gives the best example of the truth and direction offered by the inscription in Marsh Chapel. This University has made greatness habitual. Boston University has struggled and survived… and has managed to continually emerge victorious over ignorant, regressive traditions that had long gone unchallenged…Let’s reclaim the energy, optimism and fire that gave the founders of Boston University the courage to establish our great school.

Remember the words of Boston University’s very own Dr. Howard Thurman: “There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have.”

Can somebody say Amen? I can.

The gathering turned to speaking—the dog’s life on display last weekend—concluded with our high school graduates, who are honored every year in a most dignified commencement of their own. Speaking of history and theology, listen to Head of School James Berkman’s charge to the senior class of BU Academy, on Monday morning:

“Continue your educational adventure, knowing it will lead you to a variety of life roles. Be sure your life’s work has three components: To love what you do every day like Odysseus, to bring the poetry of the spirit into it like Chaucer, and to be sure anything you do well and invent serves the good of others like Ben Franklin.”

A closing image. Late on Saturday evening, a full Symphony Hall listened to the music of John Williams, as he conducted the Boston Pops. At the end, as the patriotic fanfare proceeded, a certain familiar dog, full of life, a Boston Terrier, full of life, scampered up one aisle and down another. In that assembly and in that audition, focused on that dog’s life, we were reminded, as we were again this morning that the power of gathering inspires the power of hearing.

May your summer breathe, breathe with little pentecosts of assembly and audition!

~The Reverend Dr. Robert Allan Hill,
Dean of Marsh Chapel

Baccalaureate Service

Sunday, May 16th, 2010
Click here to hear speech only

There will be no sermon text for this week.

~ Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr

This I Believe Meditations

Sunday, May 9th, 2010
Click here to hear Sermon only

John 14:23-29
My name is Andrew Moses, I am a senior graduating with a degree in Biology with a focus in Neuroscience. Over the years these four walls of marsh chapel have seen my faith evolve and change with the lessons I’ve learned and the people I’ve met. With a humble breath, I give you what my faith means to me now.

I believe in God. I may have rejected the anthropomorphic father with a flowing white beard for something that resembles the Force more than father time, but still it is a divinity. I may not be able to understand it but I can surely recognize it, in the songs we sing in the faces of those I love and in the simple caring hug that speaks volumes and calms a wounded heart. I believe in a loving God that loves us enough to let us make mistakes, which brings me to the second point:

I believe in Freedom. I believe that all people are free to be whoever they want to be. As john connors once said, there is no fate but what we make. Only our own actions and choices can dictate which of the infinite possible futures that can come into fruition does in fact come into being. God may have written the beginning of the book for us with a few of the main characters, but we are the editors with an infinite supply of red ink. It is up to us to create a main character we can be proud of and surround ourselves with people whom we love. Which brings me to the third point:

I believe in companions. No, not just friends companions but those that travel through life with you because they are companionem from the latin com “with” and panis “bread”, those that you break bread with, and commune with. After his resurrection Jesus was not recognized save in the breaking of the bread, and I have come to recognize my Lord in unexpected and wonderful ways. Every meal with believers, nonbelievers, and everyone in-between has shown me that spark of divinity that lives in all of us. It is in this peace that comes from sharing a meal that I believe the spirit of communion can truly be found.

Through my companions I have found the loving community of Marsh chapel, where I have learned about music, life, love, and faith. I have sung more Bach than I knew existed and am a better person for it, with thanks to Dr. Jarrett. Because of communion and community I appreciate the harmony that transcends time and illuminates different facets of God, thank you Dean Hill, and better appreciate the religion that I have shared every Sunday morning. It is here that I learned the true meaning of ‘passing the peace’ in every embrace and smile with those I love. And it is here that I learned how to best abide with God as he surely abides in me. So I leave you with a bible verse that has helped me through these many years: Isaiah 40:30-31 “Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Andrew A. Moses

***

I will graduate from Boston University on May 16, 2010. This is an honor for me because of the University’s reputation and the culmination of hard work that my degree represents. Most of all it is an honor to graduate from Boston University because my best friend and grandmother, Barbara Farrell McCauley, attended BU seventy years ago. Unfortunately, she will not be here in to share my accomplishment as she passed away on my sixteenth birthday – but she is always in my heart and often life reaches out to remind me that her love endures.

Four years ago as I sat quietly on my coach, heart pounding with anticipation that the envelope in my hands might be an acceptance to Boston University I knew she was with me. And when I pulled out the packet, all shiny, red and white – we are pleased to inform you . . . . . I knew she celebrated with me.

Throughout my childhood my grandmother and I were united by our purpose to help my mother, who worked full time, with her daily tasks. We loved completing a daily “to-do” list. One day we made a special stop to pick up some bulbs at the flower shop. We planted these daffodils – our secret – outside the kitchen window so when they bloomed in spring they would serve as a surprise Mother’s Day gift for my mom. Daffodils hold special meaning for me and remind me of my friendship with my grandmother and her great gift of faith that she shared with me.

Throughout my college experience there have been challenging times when I relied on my faith that my grandmother and God were with me. During a particularly challenging day this spring, answers to what I would do after graduation eluded me. On that day I received an email that reminded me to keep the faith. This was the story sent to me in the e-mail:
The Daffodil Principle written by . . . Anonymous.

Several times my daughter had telephoned to say, “Mother, you must come to see the daffodils before they are over.’ I wanted to go, but it was a two-hour drive.”I will come next Tuesday,” I promised a little reluctantly on her third call.

Next Tuesday dawned cold and rainy. Still, I had promised, and reluctantly I drove there.

After about twenty minutes, we turned onto a small gravel road and I saw a small church. On the far side of the church, I saw a hand lettered sign with an arrow that read, “Daffodil Garden.” We got out of the car, each took a child’s hand, and I followed Carolyn down the path. Then, as we turned a corner, I looked up and gasped. Before me lay the most glorious sight.
It looked as though someone had taken a great vat of gold and poured it over the mountain peak and its surrounding slopes. The flowers were planted in majestic, swirling patterns, great ribbons and swaths of deep orange, creamy white, lemon yellow, salmon pink, and saffron and butter yellow. Each different-colored variety was planted in large groups so that it swirled and flowed like its own river with its own unique hue. There were five acres of flowers.

“Who did this?” I asked Carolyn. “Just one woman,” Carolyn answered. “She lives on the property. We walked up to the house.

On the patio, we saw a poster. “Answers to the Questions I Know You Are Asking”, was the headline. The first answer was a simple one. “50,000 bulbs,” it read. The second answer was, “One at a time, by one woman. Two hands, two feet, and one brain.” The third answer was, “Began in 1958.”

For me, that moment was a life-changing experience. I thought of this woman whom I had never met, who, more than forty years before, had begun, one bulb at a time, to bring her vision of beauty and joy to an obscure mountaintop. Planting one bulb at a time, year after year, this unknown woman had forever changed the world in which she lived. One day at a time, she had created something of extraordinary magnificence, beauty, and inspiration. The principle her daffodil garden taught is one of the greatest principles of celebration.

The End.

I wondered, like so many other experiences, was this email a coincidence, or a message of love from my grandmother? It reminded me that the most valuable answers are often also the most straightforward. I believe God is present in the little “to-dos”, the planting of each bulb, a perfectly timed email. For me this means having enough faith to take the first step after BU toward a career I love without worry, having faith that the big picture will unfold.

Taylor Ferry

Growing up, I always struggled with my faith. It wasn’t that I hadn’t any, seeing my mother battle with cancer and my father’s frequent visits to the ICU on account of various heart failures had planted me firmly on the spiritual side. It was that I wasn’t sure how to properly express it. My father was born a catholic though never practiced, and my mother after experimenting with many churches finally decided on Methodist, though to this day she stands firmly in her status as non-denominational. I would go to church with my mother every Sunday, though I never quite felt at home and began dedicating myself to volunteering in the nursery during service. I found that I enjoyed playing with miracles rather than listening about them.

I soon left the church in search of other spiritual paths. I loved Buddhism, though didn’t practice enough to call myself Buddhist. Hinduism I found to be fascinating, though in need of far more research than what I was able to devote. After years of dabbling, I ceased my search. There must have been a religion that fully encompassed my spirituality; I just hadn’t been able to find it.

Then I moved to Boston. My move to the north was a planned adventure. It was a time for me to break away from home and establish who I was. I hadn’t planned for this renaissance of self to be inclusive of my faith, but as is with all great epiphanies, it happened completely by accident and unexpected.

One day, I was on the train coming home from the city. I had just finished a conversation with my brother, and when I hung up my cell phone I began my favorite train riding hobby and listened to the people around me. I kid you not, every single person was engaged in a conversation, but each was speaking a different language. The train was packed, and not one person was speaking English. I was surrounded by voices in different languages that fused together to create a wonderful feeling of unity. Here we were, complete strangers from different walks of life, all speaking in different tongues, yet on a similar path. Some just recently entered the train, some would reach their destinations before others, but we were all taking the journey together.

This is what faith means to me. Whether it be Taoism, Sufism, Christianity, Buddhism, faith is faith no matter what form. I found that day that my faith is comprised of tidbits from conversations of each, for in the end, though we may speak completely different religious languages, we are all speaking to the same power. And though we may end up in different destinations, inevitably we are all travelers on the same spiritual journey. This I believe.

Desa Larkin-Boutte

Bach and Belief

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

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John 13:31-35

There will be no sermon text this week!