Truth: The Heartbeat of Ministry

by Rev. Barbara Harris

November 2008

What is your truth?

Rev. Barbara Harris

I see truth as a paradox. It is ubiquitous, as Rumi points to in the poem, “A Basket of Fresh Bread.” Yet it is particular, individual—what inspires, opens and deepens each of us. Truth is sacred. It invites all into Oneness, to be One Humanity joined in whatever is life-giving.

I offer you my ordination sermon with many blessings, as you journey, living your truth.

What is truth and where can I find it?  In the Hindu Upanishads, the Christian Bible, the Jewish Torah, the Buddhist Dhammapada, or Islam’s Qu’ran? In a contemporary poem?

For sure, truth is not narrow. Yet Jesus is quoted as saying, in John 14:6, “I am the way, the Truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” The scripture does not say, “Jesus is THE ONLY WAY.” Rather, according to The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, in this text Jesus is pointing to the truth that is God—for a particular faith community.

While Jesus may be God to many Christians, must God have only one name? Hindus call the ultimate God ‘Brahman’. Sufis have 99 names for God; to them, God is a vast unknowable ocean with reality dependent on where you are. Our efforts to pin down God and to discern one right path to truth may be a bit like playing pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey.

Instead, can we give ourselves over to The Mystery? Can we give ourselves over to one another, standing up as ONE HUMANITY to whatever chokes life, starting with the “isms”: racism, classism, heterosexism, ageism—and poverty? According to the 2005 World Health Report, extreme poverty is the world’s biggest killer.

Benedictine nun Joan Chittister says that the question is not, “Will what we are doing succeed?” The question is, “Are we doing everything that we can?” She continues, “It is the heresy of powerlessness that eats away at our sense of self-confidence… Persistence is the antidote to powerlessness.”

A four-year-old Afghani girl has been quoted as saying, “I don’t know what peace is, but I love it.” Oh, the wisdom of her persistent desire!

As a collective, we must take very seriously what we see for our future. Perhaps reality is not our greatest challenge. Our greatest challenge may be how we are framing the present that limits our future.

I have learned this from my athletic experience. For example, while cycling, if I look to the hole in front of me that I wish to miss, that is where I end up. According to The Dhammapada, a sacred Buddhist text, “Life is shaped by the mind. We become what we think.”

Together, we must see an ever-widening perspective on truth that the Sufi, Rumi, points to in the poem, “A Basket of Fresh Bread”:

“There is a basket of fresh bread on your head,
And yet you go door to door asking for crusts…
The horse is beneath the rider’s thighs, and still
He asks, ‘Where’s my horse?’ “

As a Christian, I want to know more than what my tradition has to say about God and truth. John Shelby Spong, a retired Episcopal bishop, says in The Sins of Scripture: “No one faith holds a corner on the market to salvation; no system captures God… All systems finally empty into God.”

The truth is—each of us empties into one another. We are One. We can stop dining on crusts, because truth is vast and wide. It is inclusive; it calls our gifts forward. Truth is love, and it is within us. I believe in the truth that is in you, the living text, the truth that can be found in all the world’s sacred scriptures, the truth I find in a Mary Oliver poem, the truth I find in a flower.

I hold to an interfaith vision as characterized by Spong. I invite you to share this vision with me:

“A new day dawns, and it begins to look like the Realm of God.”