April 21, 2008
WORDS FROM THE WOODS
Like the Lorax of Dr. Seuss we like to speak for the trees, to protect them and affirm their verdant lives. In another way that the trees also speak for us, reminding us of who we are and what we should be. In the 96th Psalm of the Jewish and Christian traditions the poet proclaims that “all the trees of the forest will sing for joy before the Lord.” Yet we know the trees have no voices, no language like ours, and no words in the sense of consciously chosen sounds that confer specific meaning. Those of us who pay close attention know that the trees make sounds: the susurrus of wind in the branches, the water-like rush of leaves rustling against one another, the creaking and rattling of wood. Other sounds are brought from them, such as the hammer of a flicker’s beak on bark. Much of their conversation is silent, using pollen, scent, and light on leaf. They communicate with water and sunbeams and shade. Their long lives and growth speak volumes.
So it also is with the UU approach to religion, our greatest truths are unspoken. Certainly, our choice of words is important, especially as to whether we consciously include all genders, races, or orientations in our services. Our ideas must spoken so as to be exposed to the light of logic; they must be able to endure the acid of doubt that “eats away the false.” We argue, rightly, about if we are a ‘religion’ or if we are ‘Christian,’ or what we mean by the term ‘liberal.’ But our faith is expressed more powerfully in how we live, how we treat others, who we spend time with and to what ends we use our money. One of the core affirmations of our church is that Ultimate Truth is beyond all labels and names and thus is affirmed or lost in each moment of our living. Use of the word ‘God’ is rare in our worship and yet, for me, the reality to which that word points is always present. We affirm something by what we are. For example it is rare to see a wooded lot like ours in Muncie, though trees were once the norm in this area; nearly unbroken forest stretched for hundreds of miles in every direction. Thus we are less of an odd alternative and more of a testament to what could be normative and what is of highest worth: human beings living in harmony rather than in domination of, the web of life. To paraphrase the 19th Psalm, with the skies and stones and rivers, ‘Day after day the trees pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.’ Who among us can understand what they are saying?