THE MYSTERY OF HOME Rev. Charlie Tyler December 4, 2016
This morning I'd like to invite you to a mystery. The mystery of why home is so vital and yet so very elusive.
I'm not exactly sure why this is important to me. Perhaps because of a childhood filled with constant moves. 11 different houses by the time I was 13. A third grade in 3 different schools, 2 different states all of which included a 6 week stint in a Thunderbird motel in Jacksonville, Fla. I know it sounds like I grew up homeless. However all those moves were due to a father that was working as hard as he could to provide for his family. We stayed in that motel 6 weeks while a house was being constructed. I also know that many of you had similar lives of moving and inconsistency and have adjusted just fine.
But that's my life experience and it shapes me. So...I ask myself about 'home' and where is it and why is it so elusive, why such a mystery. And...during this holiday season, whatever your faith base or absence, most of us are turning our minds, thoughts and eyes toward 'home'. Some among us have a physical ability to either 'get home' or 'stay home', but it's real and accomplishable. Others among us will only have 'home' as a suggestion, a wish, a hope. There is inside of me, and perhaps it's important to you too, a desire to know 'where I come from'. I have been able to walk on the soil, the dirt of a middle sized antebellum home in eastern NC. Built in the 1840's by a man born in the latter part of the 1700's whose middle name came from a woman born in the 1600's. Perry Cotten Tyler established a few thousand acres of low country farmland...and over 2 dozen slaves, and a small fortune. 2/3s of his name is my name. The Great Depression dismantled all that, but it's special for me, just me, to walk on the ground upon which my ancestors walked.
But that family history does not satisfy me, for some reason it doesn't answer the question for me; where am I from and where is my home?
As a child I was intrigued with all things old. Not necessarily antiques, or old people. However I am very interested in both. But as a 7 or 8 year old I was intrigued by the great ages of rocks. One of my earliest sentient thoughts that I remember is picking up a small stone in our driveway. In hindsight it was nothing more than a thumb sized bit of driveway gravel. But I remember and still can feel the coolness of that stone in my hand, and taking that stone to show it to my mother and pronouncing that that granite stone was millions of years old and I, I, I had just discovered it! And wasn't that amazing!
In my late teens and 20's my theological journey took me deep into conservative evangelical Christianity. Great ages were forbidden. A young earth was mandatory. And for decades I embraced willingly and at times unwillingly a world view absent of the wonders and the mysteries of millions, billions of years and distances measured only by the speed of light. Through an unexpected process, a journey I have only just begun to find my way back to my childhood wonder of all things ancient...and in that journey, I have become suspicious I have, perhaps, found home.
Question: HOW many of you find yourself utterly lost watching a fire in a fireplace, or a camp fire? I do, many of you do too. Why? What is it about the flame, the shifting images in the fire and the coals, what is it that's so...transfixing? Scientists have found that there is a 5% drop in blood pressure by most people who are exposed to the fire and the crackling sounds it makes. May I suggest to you, as I have allowed myself to receive just such a suggestion, you are looking at early imprints of our first home.
As I have shaken off the constraints of my conservative prison I have now been allowed to sit at the feet of science and scientists who have come to understand that over the last million years or so it was around the 'fire' that the unique essence of who we are as humans was born. It was at the fire that desperate beings drew comfort from each other and from the warmth of the flame and the transformation of raw meat to a more digestible form (medium rare). Even more importantly scholars tell us that it was at the fire that our ancient ancestors created speech, words, and the ability to communicate, organize, tell stories, pass on knowledge.
In an article taken from the online Smithsonian Mag Harvard biologist Richard Wrangham believes that fire is needed to fuel the brain that makes possible all the other products of culture, language included. It seems it is at the fire, over enormous expanses of time we were transformed. And I'd suggest that transformation was embedded into our DNA. Vestiges of the significance of that transformation lays sleeping in our souls...until we walk by a fire. And we stop, and we stare and oddly, perhaps, have a feeling of something far deeper than our street address. We, I may well be sensing...home. Actually I believe the mystery of our hearts content at the fire place...is home. Or at least one of the sources of our sense of home...
Question: Who here is an 'ocean' person? Millions, perhaps billions, flock to the water's edge, all over the world in very many divergent ways. Some come to relax, some come to make a living, some come because it's where they live. But most of us connect with that 'other worldliness' of the ocean, of water. There is something mesmerizing about being at the ocean. What is it? What inner tug draws so many. What wordless whisper says to our spirits, 'come'.
Science has told us for a long time that we are 70% water. Human fetuses still have 'gill slits' structures in their early stages of development, we spent the first 9 months immersed in the watery environment of our mother's womb. Our brains are 80% water, our bodies as a whole are almost the same density as water (it's why we can float). The cells in our body contain contain water that is the same mineral composition as the water in the sea. Science writer Loren Eisley once described human beings as 'a way that water has of going about, beyond the reach of rivers'.
We are transformed in the presence of water, particularly the sea, hearing it, smelling it, playing in it, walking next to it, painting it, writing about it, photographing it. Wallace J. Nichols refers to the peacefulness that water/ocean creates in us as 'Blue Mind". Harvard biologist and naturalist Edward O. Wilson coined the term 'biophilia' to describe his thought that humans have an ingrained bond with nature and the living organisms we share the planet with. We are as connected intuitively to nature who birth us as to our mothers who birthed us.
And as science has unfolded our DNA we have discovered that, in fact, we are ocean born. Billions of years ago life first emerged from that watery nursery. All life owes it's existence to H2O.
Alan Watts (whom I love) said 'you don't come into this world. You come out of it, like a wave from the ocean. You are not a stranger here". There are few statements that rearrange my world. That one is one of them.
So I offer to you another mysterious home. You and I, I believe, are no closer to our home than when we are at the sea, at the lakes, at the rivers. There is something of a home-coming every time you are there.
The fire, some million years ago. The ocean, some 4 billion years ago. But yet I'm going to suggest an older home, an even more ancient source of life.
Question: who among us still lays in the back yard, staring into the expanse of space with that sense of wonder and peace, question and contentment, longing and fear.
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young wrote, "We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon. And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden'.
This is not meant to be a platitude or sticky sweet attempt to paint lipstick on a pig. It is truth and fact. And it brings all things to a single connecting point. We are stardust, and it brings all of us home.
"The cosmos is within us' writes Carl Sagan 'we are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself. "
Drs. Karel and Iris Schrijver write in their book "Living With the Stars: How the Human Body Is Connected to the Life Cycles of the Earth, the Planets and the Stars" that everything that 'is' us comes from the debri of exploding stars. As a matter of fact everything that 'is' is composed of the debris of exploding stars. The building blocks of 'us' are the remnants of stars...we are stardust. And it's on going. The scientists mentioned tell us that 40,000 tons of stardust continue to rain down on planet earth every year. Some of it is used to make the fabulous person you are.
Lawrence Krouss writes in his book 'A Universe from Nothing'. "The amazing thing is that every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And the atom in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. You couldn't be here if stars hadn't exploded, because the elements- the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, iron, all the things that matter for evolution, were created in the nuclear furnaces of stars, and the only way they could get into your body is if those stars were kind enought to explode."
"You are', says Alan Watts 'an aperture through which the universe is looking at and exploring itself".
So, for me, and here is mystery and here is faith, and here perhaps, is myth. Because I cannot empirically prove to you that this is true, but I cannot help but believe, mostly by faith, that the components of the DNA which is me looks back out of my eyes, the aperture which is me at the universe which is around me and KNOWS that there too, is my home. There is the UNIverse which is my original birth place. And that explains the longing I feel for...there. There is the 'all things' to which I am connected, you are connected, we are connected.
And that explains, for me, the longing I feel at the fire and at the ocean...there are my homes. There is your home.
And, I'll maintain, there is a reason this is so very important. It's because this makes us each, family. Give me a few more moments to show you why this connection is so important.