University Congregational Church
Sept. 10, 2017
“The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life”
Henry was a man in his 60’s who had loved fishing for all of his life. He was a top-notch fly-fisherman with the help of a special lure, the “bead head wooly bugger,” as it was called. Henry also was a Christian, and had a special affinity for theological books. He owned a whole library of theological works. But over the years, a strange thing happened. He became a world-renowned expert on fly-fishing and especially bead head wooly bugger, and he knew all about theology, and could quote theologians with the best of them. But … he no longer actually fished and he no longer attended church.
One day when his wife asked him to attend church, he declined in a rather condescending fashion. In anger and sadness and outrage that had been brewing for a long time, she marched up to him at the breakfast table, ripped the newspaper from his hands, and yelled, “Henry, you never go fishing anymore, and you don’t go to worship. Don’t you see what has happened to you? You have become a THEOLOGIAN and a FRAUD.”
Properly chastised, Henry went to his study and looked at the trophy case, with all his fishing prizes and honors encased in glass, and then he looked at the whole book collection sitting on shelves. He took out a simple bamboo cane pole, drove to the little pond he had fished in as a boy, and caught a few small bream. He took the catch and gave it to a poor family that he knew needed and would appreciate the gift of fresh fish for dinner. He noticed one of the little boys in the family looking at the fishing pole, and it wasn’t long before Henry had taken that little boy to the pond and taught him how to fish. And the joy that Henry felt watching that little child catch his first fish was greater than anything he had ever felt when he was catching prize trout. Henry also went back to his local church where he found people he had been missing and a serenity he could not describe. -From a sermon by Richard Belser, Rector, St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.
How many of us can identify with Henry? We find ourselves going through life, plodding along, accepting things as they are, but losing a bit of our deep connection to the things we love each day. A few months ago, Paul introduced me to a book, The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life, by Thomas Moore. I was so moved by its ideas that I wanted to share it with you. In the book, Moore shows how we can care for our souls by paying attention to our surroundings. He urges us to engage with and find joy in everyday things like nature, clothing, food, architecture, language, ecology, ritual, art, etc.
Thomas Moore was a monk in a Catholic order for twelve years and has degrees in theology, musicology, and philosophy. This is a deeply spiritual book he has written, and can be applied to any person whether or not they are Christian.
Each week this fall, we will look at an area of our everyday lives which can provide enchantment. Moore defines enchantment as “a spell that comes over us, an aura of fantasy and emotion that can settle on the heart and either disturb it or send it into rapture and reverie.” He says that enchantment can be a time when our soul is so enchanted that all the concerns of life can fade into the background. We need this kind of experience as much as our bodies need food and our minds need thought. When was the last time you felt actual enchantment?
Our traditional word for today is an echo of what Moore says. Psalm 37: 3-4:
Trust in the Lord, and do good;
So you will live in the land, and enjoy security.
Take delight in the Lord,
And God will give you the desires of your heart.
Do you remember being in grade school and what it felt like to day dream? We might have been looking out the window and dreaming about what we would do when that school bell finally rang at the end of the day…
… or if there was snow, how we would build the biggest, best snow person in the neighborhood!
… or if there was heat, where we could dive into a cool pool
… or fantasizing about what we might eat for lunch
… or questioning whether fairies and dragons were real
… or what friend we might invite for a sleep-over
… or wondering how we could convince our parents to buy a special new kind of tennis shoes
Daydreaming is an important part of our development. At the same time, we were responsible for learning other things too – how to add and multiply, what the Bill of Rights says, the definitions and spelling of words, and how the world of science works.
As we continue our educations, the tendency is to let the world of theories and facts take over and leave little time for fantasy and imagination. Re-enchantment asks us to search for our lost childhoods and discover anew what we have forgotten. We must spend more time in gardens and with our fantasies, enjoying music and poetry, playing and doing nothing. It isn’t that we leave intellect and learning behind – it is that we balance these things in a steady rhythm of experience and imagination. We must live in a world of both facts and holy imagination. Wisdom and intelligence actually require an honest appreciation of mystery.
• Plato imagined a time and place where all things were in harmony.
• The Hebrew Bible tells the story of human life beginning in a garden, where there were no worries or work; a place of pure play.
• Most religions teach about a paradise where our souls live in happiness and bliss.
• We, too, attribute to a time gone by – in the 40’s, 50’s or 60’s – a more idealic time.
• And we dream of our own personal time that life will be more delightful – when we are in or out of a relationship; in or out of a job or retired; in better health – imagining when our tired bodies and emotions are healed.
Moore writes, “The answers to our problems surround us in the many voices of enchanted nature and in the haunting words and images of our artists and religious visionaries. All the insight we need could be found in a library, in the great literature of the arts, humanities, and religions, or in meditation on a single flower in a tiny garden outside the most ordinary house, because nature, as the medieval monks taught, is a book too, teaching those who are willing to be its pupils.”
“The world is shouting at us, offering us guidance, but when we’re too busy making up our own inadequate answers, we can’t hear its voice. We have to become as children, as Jesus taught when he said, ‘Whoever among you becomes as a child shall know the Kingdom’.”
I have to admit that I have spent the last 20+ years or so of my life learning and working on philosophy and theology and had less and less room for mystery and imagination. As I was reading Moore’s book, I realized how rigid I have become in my thinking and how much I have to learn about playing, and enjoying, and dreaming. So, I have a personal goal through this sermon series and it is to experiment in my own life with these lost activities. As I looked back, I realized that this summer I have only been in a pool once and in a lake once. Since summer is my favorite season, and water is primal to me, this is an indicator that I am out of balance. I will also confess that when I did get in a swimming pool, I made a point not to even get my hair wet! I hope you will join me in becoming more playful and taking time to enjoy brief moments with abandon as we become re-enchanted by life!
Dr. David Abram, an American philosopher, wrote in The Spell of the Sensuous, “The breathing, sensing body draws its sustenance and its very substance from the soils, plants and elements that surround it; it continually contributes itself, in turn, to the air, to the composting earth, to the nourishment of insects and oak trees and squirrels, ceaselessly spreading out of itself as well as breathing the world into itself, so that it is very difficult to discern, at any moment, precisely where this living body begins and where it ends.”
This calls us over and over again, Abram tells us, to give birth to a philosophy that explains the world not from a position from outside of it, but from a position immersed within it. We are all participants and not the kind of participants that can walk away. There is no place to go. We move and are moved by the world around us. We move in tandem with the world around us, in response to it, in step with it. Or, in the words of Mary Oliver, “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting- over and over announcing your place in the family of things.”
The next time something aches inside of you, something really hurts that you just can’t shake, a loneliness or a memory that is of long ago or just a few minutes ago, sit on a park bench or watch out of your window at the birds and rabbits and trees and sun and grass and just imagine yourself, your very flesh, as part of it all, as among it all, as inhabiting the same environment, as breathing in what the trees and plants breathe out, as needing so much of what the animals and birds need: food, shelter, protection, comfort. Know yourself as part of this great landscape and that everything you do influences this landscape, changes it, affects it, like the observer changed the electrons from particles to waves, we are a finger on a hand of the world, we are a cell on the skin of the world, what we take in and put out matters, changes everything. Notice how things change as you walk and move through the world. Notice how the grass bends, the breeze shifts, the leaves change, the birds’ song moves in and out, up and down, watch, and listen. This recognition is enchantment. Will you join me as we fall in love again with life? Invite friends to come with you and learn to be enchanted all over again!
Moore, Thomas. “The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life”. HarperCollins. 1996.
Simmons, Rev. Linda. “The Re-enchantment of Our Lives”. Dec. 1, 2013.