3 Jan

Light Bulb Moments
a sermon by the Rev. Dawn Cooley
Delivered at First Unitarian Church, Louisville, KY on January 1, 2012

PS: This sermon is incomplete in that I barely scrape the surface on what I wanted to say, but it was either this, or a book. I chose the shorter route.

by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, in Women Who Run with the Wolves

Creativity is a shapechanger. One moment it takes this form, the next that. It is like a dazzling spirit who appears to us all, yet is hard to describe for no one agrees on what they saw in that brilliant flash. Are the wielding of pigments and canvas, or paint chips and wallpaper, evidence of its existence? How about pen and paper, flower borders on the garden path, building a university? Yes, yes. Ironing a collar well, cooking up a revolution? Yes. Touching with love the leaves of a plant, pulling down “the big deal,” tying off the loom, finding one’s voice, loving someone well? Yes. Catching the hot body of a the newborn, raising a child to adulthood, helping raise a nation from its knees? Yes. Tending to a marriage like the orchard it is, digging for psychic gold, find the shapely word, sewing a blue curtain? All are the creative life.

Did you know that the 12 days of Christmas – famous for their lords a leaping and maids a milking, actually begin on December 25? I think I used to know this, but the focus seems to be on consumption from around Black Friday up through Christmas. That song that enumerates all the gifts the singer received from their true love? Well, I think many of us forget, like I did, that those 12 days begin, not end, on Christmas.

Instead, they end on January 6. The twelfth day of Christmas is the Feast of the Epiphany.

Now all of this is Christian liturgy, tied into Christmas being the birth of Jesus. And some of you might be a little ready to hear about something else, but bear with me on this.

The Feast of the Epiphany is when Christians celebrate the revelation of God as having taken human form in the baby Jesus. It is the day that the Wise Men arrived in Bethlehem, carrying with them the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They had followed the star, which led them to the manger, where Jesus and his family still were in residence. The wise men looked upon Jesus and recognized him as the Son of God . Mary, Joseph and the Shepard obviously were already on board with Jesus’ holiness. They knew Jesus was to be king of the Jews, but it was the arrival of the Magi that proclaimed Jesus as Savior of the Gentiles as well – the savior for all people. And so began the tradition of the Feast of the Epiphany.

This year, we celebrated our child dedication today rather than last week. Because really, if we are with Sophia Fahs when she says that each night a child is born is a holy night, it is really the Epiphany, January 6, when we recognize the importance of the child outside of his or her family – when we affirm that child’s place in the community.

Now, the meaning of the word “epiphany” has changed over time. Whereas in the early 14th century, it was limited to this festival on January 6, by the 17th century the word was used more generally to speak of any divine revelation. And by the 19th century, the word “epiphany” was used in the general literary sense as any manifestation or revelation.

These days, the definition is even more broad. We use the word epiphany to describe an illuminating discovery, or realization. A life-changing moment, or “the sudden intuitive leap of understanding…; an illuminating realization or discovery, [that can] often result in a personal feeling of elation, awe, or wonder.”

An epiphany is one kind of what we sometimes call light-bulb moments. There are other kinds of light bulb moments – such as a 2×4 to the head, or even a “gradual dawning”, or my favorite one growing up: a “clue brick.” The difference between these other kinds of light bulb moments and epiphanies is that epiphanies change who we are.

We have light bulb moments much more than we have epiphanies. We have light bulb moments when things click into place. Or when something we have been struggling with becomes clear, or we suddenly see our way through the darkness. Kind of like the star that led the wise men to the baby Jesus, light bulb moments help us figure out where to go when we previously didn’t have a clue. Or, as in our reading this morning, they can be “dazzling spirits” that provide us with a brilliant flash. Like the one I had in the middle of the night a few nights ago when the outline for this sermon suddenly presented itself and I had to wake up and write it down.

Light bulb moments, both big ones like epiphanies or littler ones like knowing what words to put next on the page, are times when the creative spirit manifests in our lives. They are times when the synapses of our brains align and something new emerges.

It feels apt to be talking about the creative spirit on January 1. Indeed –
it is no coincidence that “Creation” is our ministry theme for this month – it is what our Covenant Groups will be talking about, and there are reflection and discussion questions in this month’s Steepletalk and in today’s order of service.

It is apt because today, we have a whole year ahead of us. The year is like a blank canvass on which to create our lives as a masterpiece. We make resolutions as a way of providing some structure through which the creative might work, through which our resolve might solidify: We will create ourselves as smarter or stronger this year through learning a new language or exercising regularly. If our lives are the canvass, January 1 is the time to pick up the brush.

Whether you make resolutions for the new year or not, I think we have to recognize that human beings are inherently creative. From the earliest of human history, we have created cave paintings – artistic and religious expressions of our hopes and fears, capturing that which we hold sacred.

We draw, we sing, we garden, we invent, we improve, we engineer, we design. We raise children – an ultimate act of creativity that calls out the best and worst of ourselves. We commit to another person, we love. We live our lives. All of this is an expression of our power to create.

Abraham Maslow was a psychologist most famous for his Pyramid of Needs. Many of you are probably familiar with this. He says the bottom, or base of the pyramid that represents our lives, are our physiological needs: food, water, sleep and sex. The next level on the pyramid are our safety needs: shelter, structure, a good retirement plan. The third level is our belonging needs: love, affection, children, community. The fourth level is our esteem needs: respect from others, recognition of our inherent worth and dignity, a sense of self-respect. The fifth level is the top level in the pyramid and represents self-actualization: the idea of being all that we can be, or, apropos to day’s topic, “the desire to fulfill one’s own unique creative potential.”

According to Maslow, we can not progress to the next level of the pyramid until the previous step is secure. For instance, we cannot focus on our esteem needs (the fourth level) until we have assured our physiological, safety and belonging needs (levels 1-3).

Regarding the creative spirit, Maslow asserts that “The key question isn’t “What fosters creativity?” But it is “Why in God’s name isn’t everyone creative? Where was the human potential lost? How was it crippled?” Maslow says he thinks “a good question might be not why do people create? But why do people not create or innovate?” The answer, according to him, is that we are unable to create when these other needs, lower down on the pyramid, are not met.

Maslow’s theory and pyramid have been much critiqued, and certainly they are incomplete. For instance, the search for food can cuase some people to become exceedingly creative. However, I think that he is onto something when he says that “We have got to abandon that sense of amazement in the face of creativity, as if it were a miracle if anybody created anything.” Instead, creativity is inherent in our being human. It is not what makes us human – we know other animals are creative – elephants, chimps and dolphins come to mind. It might not be the single thing that makes us human, but our ability to be creative is a core piece of what it means to be human. As theologian, philosopher and Unitarian historian Charles Hartshorne wrote “To be is to create.”

And when we each bring our own, individual creative spirits (in the forms of ideas, opinions, history, experiences) into a conversation with another person, when we experience a sort of creative interchange, we enhance what business communication consultants call the “shared pool of meaning.” This means that more information and creativity is available to everyone involved than would be present in just one person alone. As we deepen the shared pool of meaning, better decisions be made – our creative power increases.

So now, these ideas – that “to be is to create” and that creative interchange increases our capacity for individual creativity, is the core of what is called Process Theology.

There are many different forms of theology – I learned a bunch of them in seminary. But Process Theology is unique among them. It was originally formulated by mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, his student Charles Hartshorne and their colleague, who was first ordained to the Presbyterian ministry but who later was fellowshipped with the Unitarians, Henry Nelson Wieman.

Process theology does not see the divine as an entity, as a being, but rather sees the divine as the creative process itself.

Wieman’s concept of “creative interchange” was as a way of integrating diverse perspectives so that people could understand each other, learn from each other, be corrected by each other, form a community with each other, and live in peace with each other. Wieman understood this creative interchange between people to be God, to be the divine.

This kinda gives a whole new meaning to Matthew 18:20, when Jesus says that “Wherever 2 or more are gathered, I am there” – doesn’t it? We often say that we come to church for fellowship with people with similar values. But perhaps what we really are coming for is this creative interchange that will help us better understand the world. Perhaps what we are really coming for is to participate in the experience of creating God, together.

The creative process, creative interchange, as the divine. It is a radically different way of looking at God, and it makes it absolutely impossible to talk about God as separate from humankind.

God as a process, not as an entity. The divine as creative interchange.

This theory of the divine as a process was radical for me. It was an epiphany that allowed me to reclaim the use of the name “God”. It was a life changing moment, not altogether unlike that of the magi, who together followed a star in order to gaze upon a babe. Not because that babe was anything other than human, but instead because that babe represented God itself – god as the creative force and potential that is inherent in all human beings.

Epiphany, epiphanies, light bulb moments, creative interchange, God. And then back again.

Every night a child is born is a sacred night, Fahs reminds us. And every child, every person, each of us, a child of God…creating the divine through the living of our lives.

For each and every one of us, may this year be a year of light bulb moments, maybe even an epiphany or two, and of creatively participating in the divine. Blessed be, and Happy New Year.

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