Beyond the divisions there is a field
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there. (Rumi)
THIS YEAR’S ELECTION cycle, even more than previous cycles, is demonstrating just how divided our society is, divisions seen not only between political parties but also between religious institutions.
I know, for example, how horrified so many in the congregation I serve will be if the Republican nominee wins the presidency; and I also know that the horror will be equal in other congregations in our community and country if the Democratic nominee wins.
But the vocation of religious institutions is — or ought to be — larger than that of being adjuncts to political parties and their candidates, deeper than that of representing the values of one’s tribe or denomination only.
Religions, while they provide a “spiritual home” and a “place of identity” for their adherents, also typically push their members to consider such questions as “Who is my neighbor?,” “What hospitality should I provide to the stranger at my gate?” and “How does one love one’s ‘enemy’?”
Thus, as a minister, I’ve found myself delivering two types of sermons during this current election cycle:
In one category of sermons, I speak about the values I see at stake in this presidential election — sermons that differentiate and divide, distinguishing “our” values from “their” values.
In the second category of sermons, I find myself paradoxically dealing with the divide that I’ve perhaps helped create — sermons that point beyond the divisions to a deeper unity.
This second category of sermons, I believe, is religion’s truer vocation.
“Religion” is derived from the Latin “religio” and its root word “lig,” meaning “to tie” or “to bind” or “to join,” as do “re-tying,” “re-binding” and “re-joining.”
Thus, religion has to do with helping us see and feel how we, as the part, are connected to the larger whole of things, both at cosmic and societal levels.
The deepest and most emotionally moving “religious experience” is the experience of this connection — a connection that might be found anywhere.
As one who follows professional golf a bit, I witnessed an outstanding example of how the polar opposites can be part of a larger whole while viewing the Ryder Cup Golf Tournament on television last Sunday afternoon (following our “religious” services).
The Ryder Cup is an every-other-year tournament that pits the best golfers of the U.S. against the best golfers of Europe, the location of the tournament alternating between U.S. and European soil, this year held at the Hazeltine National Golf Club near Minneapolis.
The first match of this past Sunday’s concluding day of the tournament featured Europe’s current top golfer, Rory McIlroy, up against Patrick Reed, the U.S.’s hottest player in the tournament.
As this opening match began, both golfers were playing their very best, matching shot for shot and combining for six birdies and one eagle in the first seven holes, the partisan U.S. crowd energizing both golfers, though in different ways.
The contest’s high-voltage mark reached its peak on the difficult par-three, eighth hole when McIlroy’s 55-foot putt, after wandering over hill and dale, disappeared into the heart of the cup for yet another birdie.
Somewhat silencing the jeering crowd by unexpectedly holing such a lengthy putt, McIlroy cupped his hand to his ear, mouthing the words, “I can’t hear you,” a gesture that set the crowd’s teeth even more on edge.
Now, it was Reed’s turn to play: a 20-foot putt from near the edge of the green.
Implausibly, and to the crowd’s great delight, his shot also curled into the hole for a matching birdie.
With the crowd roaring, Reed looked first to McIlroy, admonishing him with his forefinger about too quickly counting his gain; then, turning to the spectators, with both arms flailing wildly, he brought them to a near-frenzied pitch.
The stage was thus set for the boisterous crowd to heap a venomous load of abuse on McIlroy, which it was proceeding to do … when the beautiful moment arrived:
As Reed strode off the green, he gave McIlroy a knowing smile and engaged him in a friendly fist-pump. They slapped each other on the back and together headed off toward the ninth hole.
The assembled crowd and the millions in the television audience had witnessed what I would describe as a “religious experience” — the recognition of a unity that may be experienced in, through and beyond our oppositions, conflicts, divisions and enmities.
Central to my ministerial role, as I take it, is the work of pointing to and raising up such “religious experiences.”
This particular “religious experience” took place on a Sunday, all right, but not in the sanctuary of a church (or temple or mosque); it took place in the “secular” arena of professional sports.
But it was, as I experienced it, a “holy moment” — a moment where the wholeness of things is demonstrated and felt.
May we in this season of bitter political and social polarization look for, attend to and help create such “holy moments,” moments where the underlying, embracing light of our oneness and unity may be seen to shine forth within, between and beyond our divisions.
Issues of Faith is a rotating column by five religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. The Rev. Bruce Bode is minister of the Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Port Townsend. His email is [email protected].