“Out of the Ordinary” with Rev. Melanie Eyre
Busy and frazzled? Feeling off balance and distracted? In lieu of taking that two week vacation (ha!) let’s explore ways to find pockets of renewal and rest in the midst of our busy lives.
When available, a revised transcript of this week’s talk is provided below for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Prayers, readings, and songs from this week’s service are also provided below.
Community Circles – Are you left with questions after a talk, or did an idea so resonate with you that you want to explore it further? In our Community Circles, we build relationships with others, share ideas and insights, and support each other as we apply these principles in our daily lives.
Community Circles Discussion Group Wednesday August 4, 7:00 – 8:30 pm EDT. Please join us on the Zoom link below. I look forward to seeing you!
Peace be to this gathering and this moment. Here, beyond the confusion and rush of this world, may we glimpse new visions and renew weary faith. Here through quiet meditation, joyful communion and wisdom shared may we know the source of all being, that which is being itself, which we have named God, Elohim, Brahman, Allah, Ahura Mazda, Wakan Tanka, Olorun, and more. May we come to know the One, in which we live and move and have our being.
And so, in all the many names of God, we say Amen.
~ Author Unknown
A Prayer for the Dawn
May this be for you a day of blessing and peace.
May it be a day of safety and well-being.
May the rising sun infuse you with inspiration and hope. May your mind be filled with light.
May you give and receive only kindness.
May you accept and offer only healing.
May you come to know a deeper level of happiness, and may you move nearer today to true awakening.
May this be for all beings a day of blessing and peace.
May it be a day of safety and well-being.
May the rising sun infuse us all with inspiration and hope. May every mind be filled with light.
May we give and receive only kindness.
May we accept and offer only healing.
May all beings come to know a deeper level of happiness, and may we all move nearer today to true awakening.
~ Diane Berke
Out of the Ordinary
Welcome. Thank you for being here today.
We’ve been talking this past month about prayer, about connecting with the sacred. I’d like to give you my thoughts on it, as somehow I managed to schedule nearly every week in July with a guest speaker.
So I have the opportunity to share with you how I see, and experience, the sacred, and invite you to reflect on how you do as well. Prayer is important, but that’s not all of it. My journey has led me to appreciate that the sacred is all around us, and my life is richer when I can multiple doorways, if I can call them that, to experience.
So let me talk about prayer for a second, because it surely is one such doorway.
At the end of the day, prayer is one of the primary ways we have to touch the holy.
Prayer is a loaded word, especially to more nontraditional seekers who may have walked away from the houses of worship they grew up in. We all have associations with the notion of prayer. If you’re like me, you’ve been praying in one form or another since you were about two, starting out with bedtime prayers “now I lay me down to sleep” or a variation of it. You may have moved on to Sunday school prayers, or recited prayers out of a book in unison during a worship service. You may have stopped praying for a period of time, or radically changed your notion of what prayer is and how we go about it. You may have adopted different forms, such as chanting, prayer beads or malas, drumming, or walking. Our ways of reaching out to the Divine have grown and changed over the years as we have, and still will.
Scholar Mircea Eliade wrote that the heart of religious experience is our human awareness of the sacred. At the end of the day, prayer is one of the primary ways we have to touch the holy, to bring that connection into our own lived experience. Isn’t this what we’re doing when we pray? This moment of connection is at the heart of religious experience.
We move from our mind to our heart.
This is the same quality that theologian Rudolph Otto called the numinous – the nonrational awareness of the holy, or God. We move from our mind to our heart.
Don’t you know that such moments are how so many of our great faith traditions started? Folks don’t just sit down and plan to start a religion, or if they do it doesn’t last very long.
One person has an absolutely transformative experience – touches the sacred, whatever you call it – enlightenment, moksha, satori, bliss.
That’s the good news. The not so good news is that this person, just transformed by this experience, rushes out to convey it as best she can. The rest of us, who have not had this experience, then put systems in place to replicate it, institutionalize it, teach it, require belief in it. Instead of transformation, we have theology.
So our question is how to move back to those satori moments. And, to do it in the middle of our busy days. I don’t know about you, but my life doesn’t give me a lot of time for lengthy contemplative vacations. If I’m going to find God, she better be around here someplace.
The key is our willingness to see it, open to it.
The good news, I believe, is that she is. The key is our willingness to see it, open to it. Prayer or contemplation are surely important ways, done with intention, gratitude, and willingness. Are there other options for experiencing the holy in our daily lives? Absolutely – we can incorporate awareness of the sacred throughout our lives. For example, we humans make distinctions between what we see as sacred and what we regard as profane, or non-sacred. For example, we all have days that are special – our birthdays, anniversaries, wedding days. However, these days are generally not holy. They are just special, to us.
We have places that are special – where we got married, where we have special family memories. Similarly, we have items we treasure – heirlooms from our parents, special gifts from loved ones. Again, very special but not holy – they do not primarily call up in us a sense of the divine.
What makes the difference?
Those things, times, experiences we regard as sacred point to something beyond themselves . . .
Those things, times, experiences we regard as sacred point to something beyond themselves – something wholly “other”. That’s the difference between what we regard or experience as holy, and what we experience as profane.
The sacred leads us to the numinous.
It’s our perception of the sacred around us, our ability to understand the sacred in all around us, that reminds us that, as Karen Armstrong says, we are surrounded by the unseen. These items are doorways, or thresholds, that help us pass into awareness of the holy in that moment.
What are these doorways? Ask yourself – What are your doorways into the realm of the unseen? How do you find them, open them, pass through them? Every time we can do that, we are reminded that we are not humans looking for a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings growing through this human one. All aspects of this human experience help us move deeper into our own awakening. Henri Nouwen once said, “the spiritual life does not remove us from the world but leads us deeper into it.” At the same time, our human life in this world leads us deeper into our spiritual journey.
. . . there are two ways we generally experience the holy . . . theophanies, or experiences of God, and hierophanies, or experiences of the sacred.
Eliade suggested that there are two ways we generally experience the holy. He called these theophanies, or experiences of God, and hierophanies, or experiences of the sacred. It’s a useful way to think of these experiences.
Let’s think of theophanies, or experiences of God. We all have heard of examples of such events. In the Christian tradition, think of Saul on the road to Damascus.
In the Jewish tradition, think of Moses as he approached the burning bush, to hear the voice of God summoning him to free the Hebrew people from slavery. Think of Abraham as he heard God tell him he would send him to a land yet unknown and establish a great nation; Jeremiah as God touched his lips and assured him he would be a prophet to the Hebrew people.
Muslims might think of the Prophet Muhammad’s visitation from Allah’s messenger, the angel Gabriel, who stood before him on the Night of Power and three times commanded him to “recite” or “iqra.” What followed over the next 23 years was the Holy Quran.
These incidents might be described as theophanies, or experiences of God, or God’s messenger. Okay, we read about them in scripture, and we don’t expect them to necessarily happen to us tomorrow. I have never seen a bush that was burned but not consumed, and the voice of God has not come to me from one. We may not be sure they ever happened, but their purpose, among others, is to remind us that the divine is close, and is involved in our lives.
What about experiences of the holy?
A hierophany is anything that points us to the sacred reality beyond it.
Eliade points out that a hierophany is anything that points us to the sacred reality beyond it. In the Native traditions, elements of nature are hierophanies. We don’t worship that tree or that stone, but the sacred essence within it, and as it. It’s still a tree, or a stone, but it’s also so much more.
Finding the sacred within nature helps us live every moment within the sacred. All of creation is hierophany.
These doorways lead us to direct experiences of the holy, not simply information about the holy.
Our path here is to open to ways we can experience the sacred in our daily lives.
As William James wrote in his classic Varieties of Religious Experience, “Knowledge about a thing is not the thing itself.” Our path here is to open to ways we can experience the sacred in our daily lives.
So let’s talk about some categories of the sacred that can lead us deeper. Let’s talk about time, our awareness of time.
Sacred time has been described as “time out of time”, when our normal experience of the passage of time is suspended. In such moments, we step out of ordinary time into sacred time, for example, when we engage in rituals or practices that focus our awareness on a sacred aspect of life. For those within a particular faith tradition, these rituals may honor moments when tradition teaches the divine appeared or acted. When we remember or reenact these events, we enter that timeless space.
On the Jewish tradition, the holiday of Passover celebrates the night that God spared the firstborn of each Hebrew family as the angel of death visited every household. The youngest child at the table asks the four questions – why does this night differ from all other nights? Because God appeared and saved his people. Every time they retell that story, the miracle is reexperienced.
Sacred time gives us an opportunity to join ourselves to what has gone before.
To some extent, sacred time requires us to withdraw from our daily lives, to go within, to work a process of internal examination and change manifested through outer activity.
The way Muslims celebrate this sacred time illustrates this important point. For Muslims, sacred time includes the month of Ramadan, identified as the time the Prophet Muhammad received the Holy Quran from the angel Gabriel. Every year in the month of Ramadan, observant Muslims fast from dawn until sundown. The focus is on prayer, reflection.
We do that here at One World. Think about it, if you’ve participated in a burning bowl or white stone ceremony. Our energy and intention create those as sacred moments. We weren’t just burning paper, writing on rocks.
For many, sacred time is of your own making. What do we do in our lives to create such time, to give ourselves the freedom to simply be and rest?
Sabbath moments – to be free from the to do lists, from the constant distractions that dictate our lives. One of the best descriptions of this freedom is from Barbara Brown Taylor’s book Leaving Church. She first describes all the reasons she gave herself for keeping so busy and overcommitted: People need me. What would happen if I wasn’t there to tend to these details? Who else is going to do [fill in the blank].
While remembering the Sabbath really does involve a radical shift of priorities, these were all lies. Observant Jews have kept the Sabbath holy for millennia, even those caring for half a dozen children and elderly parents whose needs do not stop when the sun goes down. Sabbath is written into the ancient covenant with God. Remember the Sabbath, the rabbis say, and you fulfill all of Torah. Stop for one whole day every week, and you will remember what it means to be created in the image of God, who rested on the seventh day not from weariness but from complete freedom. The clear promise is that those who rest like God find themselves free like God, no longer slaves to the thousand compulsions that send others rushing toward their graves.
Sabbath moments – to rest, renew, be with creation and nothing else.
Sacred Places – a category of the sacred in all faith traditions. Think about this for yourself. What places have special meaning in your life, and how does being there renew you? For me, this room does – this is where my altar is, where I go to sit and be still. This is sacred space I created, and it has special meaning. It draws me, reminds me to take these moments and connect with the sacred and with myself.
But that doesn’t mean other places are not. That yard where I shoot – peaceful and lovely. My sister Tory right now is in Alaska – you cannot look at those glaciers, mountains, and not realize she is surrounded by the sacred.
For others, it may be their garden
We’ve all heard about places that are sacred to different faith traditions. If we had to identify a place most sacred to the most people, it would be Jerusalem.
Jerusalem exemplifies for us why space can be sacred. For each of the Abrahamic faiths, the sacred occurred here. Abraham, Isaac, and Jesus walked here; Muhammad walked here and went up to heaven from here. Events took place here that we commemorate and which form the foundation of our religious traditions.
By being in these locations, we somehow form a greater connection with these moments, these people. Their transformation can more closely touch us.
Sacred Objects . . . Sacred Practices
Sacred Objects. What are some examples here? Again, these are items invested with the sacred because of some connection they have with what we hold sacred. These may be items you place on an altar at home, beads you hold as you pray, a stone you carry in your pocket. These are items we invest with meaning.
Sacred Practices. We’ve talked about prayer. What are some other practices?
In the Buddhist tradition, gatha practice, popularized by Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh; short verses you say, mentally, in timing with your breath as you begin any activity. He calls them mindfulness verses.
Waking up this morning, I smile.
Twenty-four brand new hours are before me.
I vow to live fully in each moment
and to look at all beings with the eyes of compassion.
Talking on the Telephone
Words can travel thousands of miles.
May my words create mutual understanding and love.
May they be as beautiful as gems,
as lovely as flowers.
Sacred practices anchor you in the moment. They remind us of our true nature. Author Zachiah Murray gives us a good example: You can walk into your garden, or you can enter your garden mindfully, and repeat to yourself “entering the garden, I see my true nature. In its reflection, my heart is at peace.”
And again from Thich Nhat Hanh before you eat, as you look at your plate, “This food is the gift of the whole universe – the earth, the sky, and much hard work. We accept this food to realize the path of understanding and love.”
Simply performing these practices in and of themselves doesn’t bring us any closer to God. Done with awareness and intention, they cultivate an approach to life that all is sacred, that we are included in this living web of all that is sacred.
So I invite you this week to consider the question, what are your doorways into the divine? Are there some in your life you have forgotten? Are there others you can create?
About Rev. Melanie
Rev. Melanie Eyre is an ordained Interspiritual Minister and long-time student of the world’s many diverse faith traditions. She has served as One World’s Spiritual Director since 2015 and is the founder of the North Fulton Interfaith Alliance here in Georgia. Outside of One World, Rev. Melanie has a beautiful family and enjoys officiating traditional and non-traditional rituals and other special ceremonies that mark important life transitions – weddings, baby blessings, and celebrations of life.
For more about Rev. Melanie and her practice, visit her website: Memorable Services with Heart.
“Love Carry Me” written by Asha Lightbearer
“Prayers for You” written by Craig Bickhardt
This service aired on August 1, 2021