Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, February 4, 2018
Today I bring you a question, a big question. Is there ONENESS deep down at the center of things? Is there? Do you believe there is?
If you do not think there is oneness deep down at the center of things, what is your picture of the cosmos where you find yourself? Can you make sense of things? Can you share things with others? Or is it all a giant wreck, everything in pieces and shards?
If you do think there is oneness deep down at the center of things, what is your experience of that oneness? What is your perception, your understanding? What do you make of that oneness — no matter how dimly you grasp it?
That’s the question, the big question for today.
Quakers have always been drawn to the Gospel of John. The opening verses of that Gospel assure there is oneness deep down at the center of things. Here’s the familiar, puzzling rendering in the King James Version of it:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 The same was in the beginning with God.
3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
The author of this Gospel speaks of the Word, not the words. Of Light, not lights. No doubt a big Light, but just one Light. Word, Life, Light: all one.
The gospel writer says “All things were made by Him.” There is one maker, one source. The gospel writer of John believes there is ONENESS deep down at the center of things. Do you?
I know it is a very spacy kind of question: abstract, philosophical, even transcendental. Not an everyday question, but bear with me this morning.
I’ve been reading a new translation of the New Testament. It’s by David Bentley Hart, an Orthodox Christian scholar who currently is a professor at Notre Dame. His rendering of the first verses of John are different largely because of the word “Word.” He doesn’t think that’s a good translation of the Greek. It calls up something too small, too ordinary to us today. The Greek word is “LOGOS.” He doesn’t think there is an English language word that captures what it means for the Gospel writer. So here is Hart’s translation of those opening verses in John:
1 In the origin there was the Logos and the Logos was present with God, and the Logos was god;
2 This one was present with God in the origin.
3 All things came to be through him, and without him came to be not a single thing that has come to be.
4 In him was life, and this life was the light of men.
5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not conquer it.
6 There came a man, sent by GOD, whose name was John;
7 this man came in witness, that he might testify about the light, so that through him all might have faith –
8 But only that he might testify about the light; he was not that light.
9 It was the true light, which illuminates everyone, that was coming into the cosmos.
Origin, being, life, light. Logos.
So much does David Bentley Hart think the word LOGOS is hard to render into English that he adds a postscript to his entire translation of the New Testament. It’s titled “A Note on the Prologue of John’s Gospel; An Exemplary Case of the Untranslatable.” It’s those first twenty or so verses of John he thinks are toughest to translate.
Hart wants you to know how freighted with deep meanings was Logos when the author of John used that word. He says, “Over many centuries, logos had come to mean ‘mind,’ ‘reason’, ‘rational intellect,’ ‘rational order, ‘spirit;’ as well as ‘expression,’ ‘manifestation,’ ‘revelation’; as well as ‘original principle,’ ‘spiritual principle,’ and even ‘divine principle.’”
So we might say, in the origin, there mind. Or, in the origin, there was rational order. Or, In the origin there was divine principle…. However we say it, it’s oneness, and it’s a oneness that holds everything together in an important, meaningful way.
Enough Prologue. I don’t want to get lost in scholarship or Greek. I just want us to start with the realization that Logos is Big Stuff – and its Oneness
Is there ONENESS deep down at the center of things? Do you believe there is? That’s the big question I want to lift up today. That’s the big claim at the beginning of John.
Is there ONENESS?
This question is raised up for us today. Is there ONE GOD, or many Gods?
Before Jesus, Jews worshipped their God, YHWH, their God with the unspeakable name. He was their God with whom they as a people had a special relationship, a covenant. Their God had promised to bring them to the Promised Land.
Mind you, other peoples had their Gods. Some had Baal, for example, or Ashtoreth, or Dagon or Marduk. The First Commandment does not say ‘Thou shalt have no other Gods.” It says “Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.” Perhaps back then they didn’t believe in a oneness deep down at the center of things.
But After Jesus, we are asked to believe in one and only one God for all. We are asked to truly believe there is oneness deep down at the center of things.
This question is posed for us today. Do we all worship the SAME GOD?
Today, when Jews gather in worship on the Sabbath, are they praying to the same God to whom we pray on Sunday?
When Moslems roll out their prayer rugs facing east, do they pray to the same God to whom we pray when we say grace or say our prayers before bedtime?
If we do not all believe in the same God, are we accepting a world of endless strife? If we do all believe in the same God, what is asked of us in daily life that we are all children of that one God?
What is the NAME of the Oneness? Is it God, is it Allah, is it YHWH? Can it be said? Can it be known? Does it matter so long as we know there is oneness?
This question is raised up for us today. Are we ONE HUMAN RACE or many races?
That question is posed for us in the courts, at the ballot box, in where we choose to live, and with whom we keep company. That question is posed in whom we choose to aid and comfort, and whom we choose to shun or expel. That question comes up in whom we take to be our neighbors.
Are we one human race or many? That question comes in Burma, in Syria, in Israel/Palestine, in Turkey, in France, in Mexico, in Haiti, in England – and yes, in the United States, even here in Maine.
This question is raised up for us today. Is there one TRUTH or are there many truths?
Is there one truth or are there many truths that clash or contend? Is there one truth, or just my truth and your truth? Are there many truths clamoring to be heard, irreconcilable, seeking to establish themselves as the dominant truth only through power?
Is there oneness deep down at the center of things?
We Quakers speak of LIGHT, but we also speak of darkness. Are these two things? Are these two things in conflict with one another? Or is there one thing and its absence?
The question is posed for us today. Is there one GOODNESS?
Is there one GOODNESS, or are there many competing, clashing goodnesses? Is wrongdoing a matter of opinion – your opinion and my opinion and their opinions? Are there just your wants and my wants? Your preferences and my preferences? Or is there one Goodness deep down at the center of things?
In Meeting for Business we seek UNITY. We may begin with different points of view, different perspectives, but we seek unity together through worship. Why do we believe such unity is possible? How can there be a common, shared, joyful unity unless there is a oneness deep down at the center of things? Do we believe there is both truthfulness and goodness in that unity?
This question is posed for us today. Even though we are each BROKEN, even though we are each given to making mistakes, do we believe there is a wholeness to God’s creation? A Oneness?
This question is posed for us today. Do we LIVE like there is oneness? Do we strive for unity with one another? For harmony?
What does this ask of us, to live as if there is oneness? What is the wholeness and unity we are seeking. How do we see it? How do we work for it? Is that oneness PEACE? Do we seek it through PRAYER? Do we seek it through LOVE?
Oneness may not be easy to see. Oneness may not be easy to grasp. It may seem blurry or out of focus. It may seem partially obscured for all we can see of it. Nevertheless, do we believe there is oneness?
Is the fuzziness, the divergent perspectives, the double vision all there is? Or do we believe we can see the oneness whole, together?
Close your eyes. Take a deep breath, take another, and then another.
What does Oneness feel like? Where do you encounter it, and how? Do you trust that oneness? Is the oneness a thing of WONDER?
Do we believe there is oneness deep down at the center of things, whatever we call that oneness: God or Allah, Logos or Light?
Do we believe that in the ONENESS is both TRUTH and GOODNESS?
Do we trust that oneness? Can we trust it more when we find unity together?
What are we prepared to do because we have trust in that ONENESS?