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December 5, 2010: “What If God Was One of Us”


The Different Drum Version
by Dr. M. Scott Peck

The story concerns a monastery that had fallen upon hard times. Once a great order, as a result of waves of antimonastic persecution in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the rise of secularism in the nineteenth, all its branch houses were lost and it had become decimated to the extent that there were only five monks left in the decaying mother house: the abbot and four others, all over seventy in age. Clearly it was a dying order.

In the deep woods surrounding the monastery there was a little hut that a rabbi from a nearby town occasionally used for a hermitage. Through their many years of prayer and contemplation the old monks had become a bit psychic, so they could always sense when the rabbi was in his hermitage. “The rabbi is in the woods, the rabbi is in the woods again’ they would whisper to each other. As he agonized over the imminent death of his order, it occurred to the abbot at one such time to visit the hermitage and ask the rabbi if by some possible chance he could offer any advice that might save the monastery.

The rabbi welcomed the abbot at his hut. But when the abbot explained the purpose of his visit, the rabbi could only commiserate with him. “I know how it is,” he exclaimed. “The spirit has gone out of the people. It is the same in my town. Almost no one comes to the synagogue anymore.” So the old abbot and the old rabbi wept together. Then they read parts of the Torah and quietly spoke of deep things. The time came when the abbot had to leave. They embraced each other. “It has been a wonderful thing that we should meet after all these years,” the abbot said, “but I have still failed in my purpose for coming here. Is there nothing you can tell me, no piece of advice you can give me that would help me save my dying order?”

“No, I am sorry,” the rabbi responded. “I have no advice to give. The only thing I can tell you is that the Messiah is one of you.”

When the abbot returned to the monastery his fellow monks gathered around him to ask, “Well what did the rabbi say?” “He couldn’t help,” the abbot answered. “We just wept and read the Torah together. The only thing he did say, just as I was leaving –it was something cryptic– was that the Messiah is one of us. I don’t know what he meant.”

In the days and weeks and months that followed, the old monks pondered this and wondered whether there was any possible significance to the rabbi’s words. The Messiah is one of us? Could he possibly have meant one of us monks here at the monastery? If that’s the case, which one? Do you suppose he meant the abbot? Yes, if he meant anyone, he probably meant Father Abbot. He has been our leader for more than a generation. On the other hand, he might have meant Brother Thomas. Certainly Brother Thomas is a holy man. Everyone knows that Thomas is a man of light. Certainly he could not have meant Brother Elred! Elred gets crotchety at times. But come to think of it, even though he is a thorn in people’s sides, when you look back on it, Elred is virtually always right. Often very right. Maybe the rabbi did mean Brother Elred. But surely not Brother Phillip. Phillip is so passive, a real nobody. But then, almost mysteriously, he has a gift for somehow always being there when you need him. He just magically appears by your side. Maybe Phillip is the Messiah. Of course the rabbi didn’t mean me. He couldn’t possibly have meant me. I’m just an ordinary person. Yet supposing he did? Suppose I am the Messiah? O God, not me. I couldn’t be that much for You, could I?

As they contemplated in this manner, the old monks began to treat each other with extraordinary respect on the off chance that one among them might be the Messiah. And on the off off chance that each monk himself might be the Messiah, they began to treat themselves with extraordinary respect.

Because the forest in which it was situated was beautiful, it so happened that people still occasionally came to visit the monastery to picnic on its tiny lawn, to wander along some of its paths, even now and then to go into the dilapidated chapel to meditate. As they did so, without even being conscious of it, they sensed the aura of extraordinary respect that now began to surround the five old monks and seemed to radiate out from them and permeate the atmosphere of the place. There was something strangely attractive, even compelling, about it. Hardly knowing why, they began to come back to the monastery more frequently to picnic, to play, to pray. They began to bring their friends to show them this special place. And their friends brought their friends.

Then it happened that some of the younger men who came to visit the monastery started to talk more and more with the old monks. After a while one asked if he could join them. Then another. And another. So within a few years the monastery had once again become a thriving order and, thanks to the rabbi’s gift, a vibrant center of light and spirituality in the realm.

What if God was one of us Joan Osbourne

If God had a name, what would it be/And would you call it to his face If you were faced with him in all his glory/What would you ask if you had just one question

And yeah yeah God is great yeah yeah God is good yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah

What if God was one of us/Just a slob like one of us Just a stranger on the bus/Trying to make his way home

If God had a face what would it look like/And would you want to see If seeing meant that you would have to believe In things like heaven and in Jesus and the saints and all the prophets

And yeah yeah god is great yeah yeah god is good yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah

What if God was one of us/Just a slob like one of us Just a stranger on the bus Trying to make his way home He’s trying to make his way home/ Back up to heaven all alone Nobody calling on the phone/ Except for the pope maybe in Rome

And yeah yeah God is great yeah yeah God is good yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah

What if god was one of us/Just a slob like one of us Just a stranger on the bus/Trying to make his way home Just trying to make his way home/Like a holy rolling stone Back up to heaven all alone/Just trying to make his way home Nobody calling on the phone/Except for the pope maybe in Rome

“If you always assume that the one sitting next to you is the Messiah, waiting for some simple kindness, you will soon come to weigh your words and watch your hands, and if he or she chooses not to reveal him or herself in your time, it will not matter.” Anon.

        What if God was or is one of us? Who is the Messiah? One of us? The term Messiah in Greek is 'Kristo' and in English, Christ, but literally means in Hebrew, 'The anointed one.'  The term, 'God's anointed one' is actually also used for kings and leaders in the Jewish scripture. The messiah is thought to be the redeemer of humankind, and all three religions of the West, called Religions of the Book by Moslems, believe in a messiah figure. But the messiah is not the same as God, except when applied to Jesus in traditional Christianity where Jesus is considered divine, one of the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, or in new inclusive language, in the Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.

        One of the main differences among the three religions is that Judaism and Islam believe in a Messiah to come, and traditional Christians believe that Jesus is the Messiah, though they believe he will come again at the end of time.

        To confuse matters even more the name of God, or more properly the name, God, is only one name for the divinity used in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. "ELOHIM" is the first name for God found in the Bible, and it's throughout the Old Testament over 2,300 times. It is from the Hebrew root meaning "strength" or "power", and has the unusual characteristic of being plural in form

“Yahweh, is the other common name,” the Hebrew word that translates as “LORD”. YHVH. It is used more than any other name for God (approximately 7,000 times), YHVH comes from the Hebrew verb “to be”

and is the special name that God revealed to Moses at the burning bush. “And God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM; and He said, thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, I AM has sent me to you… this is My eternal name, and this is how I am to be recalled for all generations'” (Exodus 3:14-15). There are many more names for God used as well through both the Jewish and Christian scriptures because as we know God is not God’s name.

        In a Kudzu cartoon, the Reverend Will B. Dunn is sitting at his old typewriter, ready to write his "Tell It to the Preacher" column.  He reads a letter that looks pretty serious: Dear Preacher, Do you address the Supreme Being as the Eternal Thou like Buber or do you prefer Tillich's Ground of Being or Whitehead's Principle of Concretion or do you use Hegel's Absolute Spirit or even Otto's Mysterium Tremendum? --[signed] Seeker.

        Reverend Dunn answers: Dear Seeker, I address the Supreme Being as God, but, you say it Yahweh and I'll say it mine."

        Names are important, of course, and my colleague Forrest Church is known for his way of describing God as NOT God's name: 'Because God is the biggest imaginable metaphor for meaning. To cultivate both awe and humility, the two cornerstones of a mature spiritual life, we must not cap our search with some arbitrary ceiling. Besides, theology is not science, it is poetry. The ancient Hebrews recognized that "God" is not even God's name. God is our name for a power that is greater than all and yet present in each: the life force; the Holy; Being itself.  Simply because others' theological imagination may be mean and crimped doesn't require us to suspend our own.'

        Indeed the mystic of all religions have always felt a connection to the mystery of the divine, however we might define it as well. To know how to answer if God was one of us, we must, of course, figure out, or should I say, experience what or who we might call God.

        The great Sufi mystical poet, Rumi, is one of those poets of God who is always searching. One of my favorite Rumi poems is

Love Dogs

‘One night a man was crying Allah! Allah!/His lips grew sweet with praising, until a cynic said, ‘So! I’ve heard you calling our, but have you ever gotten any response?’
The man had no answer to that./He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.
He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,/in a thick, green foliage.
‘Why did you stop praising?’ ‘Because/I’ve never heard anything back.’
‘This longing you express/is the return message.’
The grief you cry out from/draws you toward union.
Your pure sadness/that wants help/is the secret cup.
Listen to the moan of a dog for its master./That whining is the connection.
There are love dogs/no one knows the names of.
Give your life/to be one of them.’

        Imagine 'This longing you express/is the return message.' What could that mean? That God is the prayer or the praying?
        So I tried my hand at mystical God poetry: 'Would it be better not to use God's name?'

Would it be better/not to use God’s name? Would it help to pretend atheism to trick the spiritual consciousness/into giving up its favorite idolatry/ of believing in God?
Would the mystic connection/be baggage too heavy to carry/on the journey towards the One?
Be neither worshipper of the finger pointing/nor the worshipper of institutions.
Be not just a solver of sacred riddles, /but be patient until all the pieces /of the puzzle named God/are found and joined.
One name for God/is yours/if your name is Love./That’s the One/I
choose. -AGS

        One could imagine the incarnation, the God within, in the story of Jesus, or of the love of God Muhammad had to feel to be able to hear the angel Gabriel, the same angel, do you suppose, that talked to Mary in the nativity story, to tell him to listen and God would reveal the divine message again in another land and time and heart.

        If God was one of us, what would we do? The Rabbi's gift to the Christian monastery was to tell them that one of them was the messiah and it made all the difference because we would treat each other differently if we knew or thought or merely suspected that God or the messiah was one of us. Is God being? A Being? Supreme Being? Love?  Life Force? Supernatural, SUPRA-natural, or nature itself? All of the above? None of the above? Is there one God or more than 6 billion, since everyone has a slightly different idea about God?

        The rabbi's gift of telling the monks that one of them was the messiah enlightened them to loving everyone including themselves despite their outer appearance, behavior, intelligence, etc., because if anyone could be the messiah, everyone suddenly looked more holy, including the possibility that we ourselves might be the messiah and thus would start to behave differently as well. We would all be religiously/spiritually/ psychologically transformed into living lives that mattered, into being loving, kind, godlike! We would be so full of love that peace on earth might brake out!

        One of my favorite Xmas readings is from Sophia Lyon Fahs, the woman who really created modern UU Religious Education:

And so the children come.
And so they have been coming.
Always in the same way they come —
Born of the seed of man and woman.
No angels herald their beginnings,
No prophets predict their future courses,
No wise men see a star to point their way
To find a babe that may save humankind.
Yet each night a child is born is a holy night.
Fathers and Mothers —
Sitting beside their children’s cribs ‘
Feel glory in the wond’rous sight of life beginning.
They ask: “When or how will this new life end?
Or will it ever end?”
Each night a child is born is a holy night.’

        May the spirit of the holidays that bring love, help, joy, and peace be with us and in us as we fully participate in life by being the best people we can be and by helping one another and the world.

Peace, Shalom, Assalaamu Alaikum, and Vaya con su Dios

Opening Words

        Cycles of reflection: On the Mystery  and Challenge of Living, Robert E. Senghas 'Let us address the spirit of life within each of us which, if we will open to it, mirrors our shortcomings and calls us to a higher, more noble life. Let us be concerned, not with our faults, limitations, and shortcomings, but rather with how we may henceforth act toward others and ourselves so that neither we nor they become victims of what we have done or left undone and more concerned with what we may now do or avoid doing. In this way may we become free from the burden of elf and instruments of light, justice, and love.

‘Each of us is the incarnation of the spirit of life: if the Messiah is to live in us, it is each of us who must be the Messiah. Within each of us is the Messiah waiting to be born, after the time of waiting in the darkness. There must be times of waiting in the darkness, but there is something alive in us, waiting to be born.