“You have to know your body as the home of God.” – Rebecca Parker
At the close of our service on prayer last Sunday we sang, “I Need You to Survive.” It is a Hezekiah Walker song that has become closely associated with the Black Lives Matter movement. You might want to listen to Williams, himself, offering these lyrics and that melody.
I remind you of that recent experience of singing not to compare First Unitarian to Hezekiah Walker. It is worth noting the expansion of our musical repertoire and the increased range of musical expression that DeReau is bringing to the church.
I also want to make a space to discuss the theology of “I Need You To Survive” and reflect on how it mirrors, in many ways, the theology that is our own religious work in process.
“I need you
You need me
We’re all a part of God’s body
You are important to me
I need you to survive.”
The first two lines of the chorus (I need you. You need me.) clearly affirm the importance of relationship. That is a theological space where most of us are comfortable. Ours is a
covenantal faith, grounded in the promises we make to one another and grounded also in our practice of living, how we bring those promises into the world. We are good with the lyrics that far.
But when the song adds, “We’re all a part of God’s body” I am fairly certain that felt like new theological territory for some of us. Actually, I am certain it did, because some of you mentioned it to me.
We comfortably extend the language of the “inherent worth and dignity” of every person to proclaim that we are all, each and every one of us, already lovable and already loved. And you have heard me with some frequency speak of the “spark of divinity” within each of us. That theological point of view has deep roots in our tradition, going back at least to William Ellery Channing. Likeness to God is one of Channing’s most important and famous sermons.
I think it is possible that we are comfortable with that “spark of divinity” language because it seems more about us than about God, however we may name the holy.
“We’re all a part of God’s body.” Can God be in us and in everything? Can we understand ourselves to be living embodiments of the holy, elements of a larger spiritual expression of the Spirit of Life?
That understanding may not be that foreign. Remember that the Mosaic, created by the children of First Unitarian decades ago, that is being lovingly repaired this year, is entitled: God is Everywhere.
The notion of “God” or the Spirit of Life being present in each of us and in everything is called Pantheism and is re-emerging as an important way to think about who we are and about the world we live in. It informs the work of our Animal Ministry and the initiative to change the language of our first principal from the inherent worth and dignity of every “person” to every “being.” Animals carry that spark as well. It speaks to vegetarians and vegans. It places our concern for the environment on solid theological ground.
Like most ideas about God, pantheism is not without its challenging implications. If God is in everything, or if everything is of God (to put it slightly differently), then the evil and violence in the world is also of God. That puts to rest any lingering impulse to see God or the Universe as singularly benign. As ethicist Sharon Welch asserts, the Universe is amoral. Divisiveness and violence are always possible. There is no ethical imperative for love. And that means that love is a choice and that our choices matter.
When we get to that place in our theological reflection, most of us are fully on board. What we do matters. Our choices are important. And the fundamental question becomes not the nature of God but how we choose to live. And if God is in everyone and everything around us, how do we choose to relate to what is holy in everyone and everything around us. “I need you to survive” is not a bad mantra.
Again, from Rebecca Parker:
“This is the key to the mystery,
The Word became flesh.
We are the dwelling place.
Now; How will you live?”