Pillar and Cloud

I have to admit that there’s one thing about living in Prescott that beats where I’ve lived on the east coast hands down, and that’s the night sky. The other night I sat outside on my deck and looked up at the most amazing panorama of stars- and planets. Some of the points of light that were glowing in the darkness were so big that I knew they couldn’t be part of the milky way. A quick internet search led me to a website that listed all of the planets you could see in the Phoenix area that night, and sure enough Saturn and Neptune and a couple of others were all scheduled to be visible at one point or another. The big yellow shimmering blob that I was able to bring into view with my binoculars was Saturn for sure. Even though my hands were not steady enough to keep the object from moving around in my binocular lens, it was big, and bright, and well, Saturn-ish.

For me, looking up and seeing the wonder of the universe is a spiritual encounter with creation. My mind swirls with thoughts of the Big Bang and how things happened from there. Like snowflakes, no two galaxies are the same, and yet they all sprang from the same place at the beginning of time. My logical side feels that everything in the universe should be predictable. All you have to know is how much force hits an object and what direction it moves in to know where it going to end up. But our Milky Way galaxy and all the other galaxies we are able to see seem to be arranged at random.

And we know that subatomic particles sometimes act randomly, seemingly defying the laws of physics that we humans have to live by. Could there be a relationship between quantum physics and love? They seem to have so much in common.

Some years ago I read a book that described Einstein’s theories of relativity in layperson’s terms. For a brief period of time I got it. I really did. I understood why the speed of light is the cosmic speed limit, and how time dilation works. But then I learned that, even though there is no way anything having a positive mass can travel as fast as a beam of light, the universe is nevertheless expanding faster than the speed of light.

So one day the light from our nearest galaxy won’t go fast enough to be seen by our most powerful telescopes here on earth. So our galaxy will feel like it’s the only one there is, even though there are millions of others whose light will never reach us.

That makes me feel sad, even though our sun will likely have run out of fire by the time that that happens. I wonder whether there are other universes out there that we might once have been able to see before our own universe got too big? My wonderment gives new meaning to the word Universalist – one who affirms the existence of other universes.

Maybe we humans just aren’t meant to understand everything there is to know about the cosmos. Humanity’s quest for a unified theory of everything could well turn out to be a fool’s errand. We can theorize and theologize about whether the universe is the result of divine creation, and if so whether the creator is teasing us as each discovery opens up new questions. Or we can sit back and enjoy being swept up by the mystery of it all.

As Unitarian Universalists we affirm and promote a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. But we never claim to have all the answers.

Looking up at the night sky over Granite Dells, I would like to keep it that way. To preserve the wonder and awe I feel simply by looking up at the light that took millions of years to reach us.


Pillar and Cloud

If you had told me ten years ago that I was going to change careers and become a Unitarian Universalist minister I probably would have told you that you had mistaken me for somebody else. I also would have seen my moving to the beautiful place that is northern Arizona as likely as my setting up residence on Mars.

But life has a way of being unpredictable sometimes, and one change can lead to another, and then another. That is how it came to be that a few years ago years ago, during a period of introspection, I felt a profound call to devote my remaining working years to Unitarian Universalist ministry. It felt as if something greater then myself was at work in my life, and that I needed to follow a path set out before me. In some ways my new calling feels a bit like the story of the Israelites’ escape from Egypt as recounted in the Hebrew Bible:

The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people. (Exodus 13:21-22)

In following my path to ministry I have felt the presence of the pillars of cloud and fire leading the way. That is why I decided to call my monthly column for the congregation I served before coming to Granite Peak Pillar and Cloud, to recognize my personal spiritual journey. It seems only fitting to use the same title for my monthly column during my year as your interim minister.

Unlike the ancient Israelites, however, I’m not looking for the Promised Land someplace else. Instead my call to ministry means working to help make this land fulfill its promises, promises expressed and implied in our national constitution, and embodied in our seven Unitarian Universalist principles.

As I write this column, my first for GPUUC, our third UU principle – acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations – is uppermost in my mind. For too long our country and our national leadership has gone down the path of becoming more and more polarized, and our national dialog has become increasingly more rancorous as a result. How can I, and how can we, as spiritual beings, help to promote acceptance of a diversity of opinions in the larger community? After all, isn’t acceptance of diversity one of the things that our constitution is supposed to encourage?

It seems to me that spiritual growth in the wider community ought to be a new national priority. Regardless of where one stands on the theological spectrum, from atheist to theist and all points in between, the work of social justice is not just a moral or ethical issue. It is a spiritual issue as well. That is why most of us recoil in horror when we see young children separated from their parents by US border officials acting at the behest of unfeeling individuals far removed in Washington D.C. Justice is a spiritual response to the kind of injustice that denies the human spirit its freedom.

In the year ahead I am looking forward to my own spiritual growth as I serve as your interim minister. And I look forward to all of us sharing our spiritual journeys with one another as we engage in our shared ministry of living according to our Unitarian Universalist principles and values. May a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night lead us all as we undertake that journey together.

May it be so.
Terry Cummings, Interim Minister

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