Darwin, Doubt and Unicorns!
A reflection the Sunday following Easter… keep in mind these are sermon notes, not a perfectly edited essay and in a format meant to be spoken. So drop the red pen and simply enjoy:) -Rev Ryan
If I were to say there is a Unicorn standing out in the courtyard, what would be your reaction?
Raise your hand if you’d ‘believe’ me?
Raise you hand if you’d ‘doubt’ me?
Raise your hand if you ‘doubt’ the existence of unicorns?
Now say I brought it into the sanctuary…
Raise you hand if you’d you ask to touch its horn?
Now what if I told you that the Unicorn I’d brought into worship was the only begotten child of an omnipotent deity who was nailed to a wooden cross until life left his body…
then buried in a tomb — of which he proceeded to wander out of some three days later —
Only to become the source of a holiday themed around dyed eggs hidden by a huge bunny rabbit and marshmallow candy some 2000 years to follow.
Doubt? or acceptance? …
Or did you take offense to my comparing Jesus to a Unicorn and stop listening some time ago?
Well that comparison is not unique; it is actually the foundational element of a genre in medieval art and philosophy as well as a popular topic in Carl Jung’s discourses on imagination and Christology… (which as we will find today are not mutually exclusive enmities)
To help us in our dive into the more imaginative world of our faith tradition we will follow the disciple —the so deemed doubter — Thomas in his reunion with a post easter, resurrected Christ as recounted in the Gospel of John.
I’ve always found it intriguing that we critique Thomas for his supposed ‘doubt’…
Actually, let’s switch that wording… I’m amazed that we critic Thomas’ excitement to TOUCH the divine every easter season.
…note that regardless of whether you consumed all your Cadbury candy, today is actually the Orthodox Easter and we are still primetime in celebration of all things holy, springtime, and resurrected because ‘easter’ is a 50-day season ending on Pentecost, not a one-day party ending when you run out of marshmallow peeps!.
Thus I’d like to spend the next 15 or so minutes looking at three-interconnected topics of dialogue surrounding Thomas that will carry us through the season!
Darwin, Doubt, and Unicorns!
Three bullet points not preached from many presbyterian Pulpits on a Sunday Morning!
I was standing on West Cliff rd. contemplating a sunset surf Monday evening when the cutest little boy ever wandered out in playful pursuit of all things springtime.
Kite in tow, he chased butterflies in circles until shifting his attention to the animals that were taking shape in the clouds.
Pause: When did you last break from your busy schedule, stare off into the sky, and allow your imagination to explore the clouds?
Well lucky for you, there are clouds in the sky today and you have all afternoon…
So this tiny tyke was having the time of his life
…fully engulfed in the most simplistic and carefree of imaginative experiences.…
He was living out a psalm 150 afternoon if you were paying attention to the first scripture reading— If you missed it, its in your bulletin and that hard book-like rectangular pillow you’ve been napping on in the pew.
Then enter Mom into the scene.
While holding one phone to her ear, she typed away on a second as she paced the sidewalk — Oblivious to the beauty of her child, the setting sun, the waves on the rocks, and any unicorn shaped clouds above.
The stressed mannerisms and movements of this ‘evolved & mature’ Mom, when juxtaposed by those of her curious child, exemplified a variety of contrasting themes related to today’s topic:
Of faith and doubt
Of frolicking in the moment versus stressing about tomorrow
Of simplistic kites versus evolved smartphones
Of Clouds and well, clouds! The puffy white kind in the sky versus digital storage banks hidden over the hill in silicon valley.
Then I watched this sophisticated screen-staring lady stumble off the sidewalk and nearly get hit by a swerving sedan… leading me to ponder two Darwinian theories.
1. If Darwin was correct, how has this lady and others of the walk-and-text mentality escaped natural selection? 2. Having ‘smart’ gadgets doesn’t qualify us as more evolved… Or maybe 2 smart-phones cancel one another out!
Peter Beagle wrote, in The Last Unicorn,
“I suppose I could understand it evolved men had simply forgotten unicorns,
or simply decided they hated all unicorns now and tried to kill them when they saw them.
But not to see them at all? To look at them and see something else…”
Oh when did stop progressing and start regressing?
‘Evolved’ adults haven’t stopped seeing unicorns.
Actually, the unicorn is a popular theme in this region.
Much like the contrasted puffy white and digital storage cloud allusion earlier; an ‘evolved’ understanding of Unicorn now describes a billion dollar tech startup… no longer the magical creature of fairytales.
When… and why did we mature?
We will get back to Unicorns in second, but first lets look at Today’s Gospel reading from John, a pretty prominent post-easter text recounting the disciples interactions with a resurrected Jesus that has earned Thomas’ the nickname — doubter…
Doubt being Topic 2 of today’s Darwin, doubt, unicorn trifecta:
Lets walk through that text together:
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
Point 1: Jesus came in good spirits, wishing peace before showing them his hands and side… He knew their doubting tendencies (and more importantly did not criticized them for it) thus showed his wounds without their ever needing to ask.
Point 2: The disciples were overjoyed! Joy, imagination, and excitement should be prominent themes not only of today, of Easter, but of OUR discipleship! That excitement is prevalent on both ends of the reunion as seen through the explanation mark of Jesus’ ‘Peace be with you!’
How many people woke up this morning and said, “Today is Church!” With explanation mark… not an extra cup of coffee? Get excited yall, Jesus is back!
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
The reiteration of joyous peace is important. Keep in mind its only been a few days at this point since Jesus was beaten, belittled, and buried… It’d be easy to hold a grudge. TO claim victim, a common demonstration of self-doubt in our own lives.
Instead Jesus demonstrates the forgiveness he calls us to… forgiveness as an act — not a word.
24 Now Thomas- also known as Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
This is essential for those who deem Thomas a doubter!
Of course the other disciples didn’t ask about the wounds, remember Jesus had shown them already, before they could even ask….
Thomas on the other hand came into the scene late.
Furthermore, he was not speaking to Jesus when he requested to see and touch the wounds on his hands, but the other disciples. His buddies!
Say your best bud comes home to tell you about the 50 pound salmon he’d just caught, but released before getting to shore — or the grill for that matter.
“IT WAS THIS BIG! ALMOST FLIPPED THE BOAT!”
Nope, we wanna see it! Touch (or taste) it!
And that’s a fish, imagine your buds said they saw the resurrected messiah.
26 A week later the disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Like the prior interaction with the disciples, Jesus starts with a peace offering before inviting Thomas to touch his wounds (again without Thomas’ asking.)
What if we look at Jesus’ imitation of Thomas to touch his wounds not as a critic of Thomas’ doubt, but an invitation of Jesus to grow in intimacy with his disciples, followers, friends… with US!
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
This phrase, ‘blessed are those…’ is a reiteration of what we know as the Beatitudes from Jesus’ sermon on the mount.
Blessed are the meek, the poor, the faithful, etc.
The word for blessed, Macaros, can be translated, ‘Happy.’ Simple eh. Faith usually is, we are the ones to complicate it?
Now Jesus never says those who ‘needed a little extra evidence to believe’ are not blessed,
he just alludes that those who are able to trust in faith are indeed happy…
That greek word, Maracos, might help us understand this…
Macaros comes from the root word, Cairos, one of two greek words for time.
Chronos relates to the time on our watch… the minutes we count down until Rev. Ryan stops preaching and we can go enjoy our Sunday afternoon! Its worldly and related to worry and doubt
Cairos on the other hand is defined as an instance of significance. It’s a definition of time that reverberates with the call to lose oneself to time!
Chronos and Cairos were demonstrated by that mother (focused on the Chronos) and her child (living in the moment but without regard to what moment it was.)
Blessed thus are the Cairos, the the youthful in faith and heart, not age particularly, because they are blessed with imagination and excitement!
Alright… So we looked at Thomas through in the Biblical Gospels, now lets put a spin on things, switch gospels, and take a quick look at ‘the rest of the story.’
Make everyone stand and spin!
The tail end of a 15 minute monologue is not enough time to explain the ‘Gnostic gospels,’ but track me down coffee hour for a more thorough discourse.
For now, know them to be a supplementary collection of writings from the time of — and following — Jesus found in Egypt in the 1950’s.
These texts are known for their metaphoric, imaginative, and wisdom-styled account of the events around early Christianity, Christian mysticism and the famed Rabbi Yeshua.
The introduction of the ‘Gospel of Thomas’ reads: “These are the hidden words that the living Jesus spoke and Didymos Thomas wrote.”
Whats in a name?
Didymus Thomas… doesn’t mean ‘doubting’ Thomas…
It literally means ‘Twin’- ‘Twin’ (Thaom in Hebrew and Didymus in Greek are the two words for twin.)
The twin of Jesus — twice over!
As Twin of man and twin of divine, Thomas exemplifies two dueling views of the ‘doubt’ we ascribe to him!
Jesus is depicted as fully human and fully divine throughout creeds and writings of the Christian tradition… Timely enough, the Easter holiday recounting his death and resurrection signifies the crossover between the two.
Thomas as the twin of man is defined by Doubt in the skeptic sense — the Chronos-minded mom
But the ‘doubt’ of Thomas as the Twin of divine, that childlike dreamer, is not a skeptic but excited seeker.
Seeking is written into the Gnostic Gospel’s intro: ‘These are the Hidden words!”
‘Hidden’ highlights the difference between doubt of man and divine, between skeptic and seeker.
Who doesn’t love a game of hide and seek??
It is easy to read Thomas’ doubt as a negative… as a lack of faith or skepticism of miracles and eternal life.
As earlier alluded, Jesus never condemned the doubting (questioning) of Thomas. He invited him closer!
Katie Byron writes, “when inquiry is alive inside you, every thought you think ends with a question mark and not a period… This,” she says, “is the end of suffering,”
but I would redefine it as ‘the start of living.’ The foundation of faith
This second type of doubt, the type exemplified by Thomas — twin of the divine — was that with which the child bearing the kite approached the world.
With excitement and imagination!
It is what Jesus spoke of when he, in verse 4 of the gnostic text of Thomas said:
“Let the matured (evolved) man, heavy with days, hesitate not to ask the little child of seven days about the Place of Life, and he will live!”
We too should yearn to reach out and touch Jesus, to dive into the divine…
To Praise and ponder with the profits and meander with the mystics.
We are called to doubt, not as downers, but as dreamers. Excited to engage!
Fueled by a youthful curiosity and eyes that see unicorns… (our final theme!)
Darwin might say that a horse is an evolved Unicorn …
However, as I researched the mythological, metaphorical, physiological and spiritual implications of all things unicorn this past week
(yes, again Rev. Ryan is a nerd)
I was elated to find that a number of variety of faith traditions, from ancient eastern philosophy to jewish and christian mysticism, see the unicorn’s horn as the placeholder for the ‘third eye’
…the eye that sees the divine aspects of the world.
Thus in ‘evolving’ the unicorn shed its uni-horn to make way for this third eye, an evolved/enlightened means of seeing beyond worldly doubt!
However, the world (all that stuff cluttering our lives, thoughts and schedules and mind) filled in the hole!
Thus the eye that allows us to look into an otherwise doubt-layden and dismal world with excitement has been covered up…!
… the divine doubt that defines our imaginative inquiry has ‘evolved’ into human hesitation.
A need to prove, or disprove, the miracles all around and within us.
When you leave worship today, close your earthly eyes and look at the world through the remnants of your uni-horn… maybe start with a cloud…
Approach the world with excitement and inquiry… and seek in all you do to touch the divine!
When you do you might find that, as Kailin Gow writes, that though the grass ‘may be greener on the other side, it’s rainbows and gold on yours.’