When I was a teenager, mood rings were all the rage. Mood rings contain a liquid crystal that changes colors based on skin temperature. Like my friends, I just had to have one. My ring came with a color chart that let me know what I was feeling. If the ring turned blue, I was happy. If it turned green, I was calm. Black meant I was tense, irritable, and full of despair.
In a 1976 Peanuts comic strip, Peppermint Patty gets so angry at Charlie Brown that her mood ring explodes. My mood ring never exploded. But eventually it did stop changing colors. And I knew the ring couldn’t really tell me what I was feeling, but I was nevertheless fascinated with the ring’s ability to change colors and with the theory that colors reflect or can alter our moods and emotions.
This month as part of my reflection on the monthly theme: what does it mean to live a life of color – I have been noticing the way color shows up in the world. One way is literally in the colors we wear, in the colors we surround ourselves with, the colors we use to paint our walls or toenails, and in the colors in nature.
For example, I noticed recently that I have been wearing a lot of teal. When I shared this at my Soul Matters group this month, the group suggested maybe the name of the color is actually turquoise and I am being called to Caribbean waters. A lovely idea. And now Tracie has planted the seed that our teal hymnal can also be referred to as the “turquoise hymnal.” I’m seeing teal and turquoise everywhere.
As I researched teal, I learned that it means open communication with clarity of thought. It’s considered a good color for public speakers because it’s calming, helps control expression, and builds confidence. (http://www.empower-yourself-with-color-psychology.com/color-turquoise.html) A good color for a minister! I have been experimenting with speaking from the heart in more direct and risk-taking ways. The color seems to be reflecting and perhaps inspiring me in that effort. So we can be intentional, choosing to spend more time with certain colors to help us create a certain mood or achieve a certain goal.
Noticing the way color shows up in our lives doesn’t have to literally be about a color. It’s a way of seeing the colorful moments when the world comes to life. That can mean gazing at Ansel Adam’s black and white photographs, smelling a hyacinth, or wrapping our arms around a dear friend. The novelist Barbara Kingsolver writes:
In my own worst seasons I've come back from the colorless world of despair by forcing myself to look hard, for a long time, at a single glorious thing: a flame of red geranium outside my bedroom window. And then another: my daughter in a yellow dress. And another: the perfect outline of a full, dark sphere behind the crescent moon. Until I learned to be in love with my life again. Like a stroke victim retraining new parts of the brain to grasp lost skills, I have taught myself joy, over and over again.
To look hard for a long time is a way to fall in love with life again, to find joy. It is the path to a colorful existence in which everything lights up. To look hard for a long time is a way of retraining ourselves to see in a new way. As Marcel Proust writes: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
Religion associates having new eyes with a certain kind of seeing. For example, in the Jewish wisdom text of Proverbs, often attributed to King Solomon, he writes:
The hearing ear and the seeing eye –the Lord has made them both. (Proverbs 20:12)
The Christian Gospel of Matthew teaches:
Blessed are your eyes for they see,and your ears for they hear (Matthew 13:16)
And the Gospel of Mark declares,
This is the Lord's doing,and it is marvelous in our eyes.” (Mark 12:11).
These texts are referring to spiritual sight, if you will. By spiritual sight, I mean insight and wisdom, not information or knowledge alone. This deeper way of seeing moves beneath the surface of things.
In Buddhism, we also find the powerful metaphor of seeing. It appears in several ways. There is the concept of Buddha Wisdom Eyes, the all-seeing eyes of Buddha. These are the giant pairs of eyes staring out in all directions. They are often depicted on Buddhist Shrines called stupas and symbolize the omniscience of Buddha. The small dot between the eyes represents the third eye, which is a symbol of spiritual awakening in both Buddhism and Hinduism. The third eye is associated with the sixth chakra. It’s at the brow. And it is associated with a color – with the color indigo. (http://www.lotussculpture.com/blog/third-eye-hinduism-buddhism/)
Unitarian Universalism is all about seeing the moments of beauty and goodnes. We often call this direct experience of wonder and awe. Our first UU source affirms “direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life.”
We don’t turn away from what’s difficult, from the tragic or sad. But we do consistently insist that if we keep looking and look again we will see and experience beauty and joy. We seek this moment of insight, the moment of renewal, the force that upholds life. Our faith teaches us there is hope and joy, even amid brokenness – if we can but see it. Our emphasis is on awakening – awakening to the blessings of life.
The 19th century Unitarian Transcendentalists had a tremendous influence on our way of seeing. Inspired by New England’s woods, they looked long and hard at nature and were awakened by our connection to the natural world. In his essay “Nature,” Emerson wrote of that relationship and used the image of becoming a transparent eye-ball. When I hear that, it always has a little bit of a science fiction quality to it. But listen to Emerson words:
Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. Almost I fear I think how glad I am. In the woods, too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough, and at what period soever of life is always a child. In the woods, is perpetual youth. Within these plantations of God, a decorum and a sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years. In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, -- no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground, -- my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, -- all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball. I am nothing. I see all. The currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.
To become a transparent eye-ball is to see all. All of existence. This is the moment of enlightenment, of seeing, of understanding. And also of gratitude. When we look long enough, we connect at a deep level with whatever we are looking at. We become part of the universal being. We recognize our interconnectedness in the web of existence.
Sometimes we have to look pretty long and pretty hard at some pretty difficult and tense situations. Rev. David Carl Olson, Minister of First Unitarian Church of Baltimore, is doing that. He is witnessing the struggle, the frustration, and the heartache in Baltimore. He sees the tense moments. He recognizes that what’s happening there will likely continue for a long time. He looked hard at Baltimore. He looked again. And then again. On April 29, he wrote a letter about what he saw. Here is an excerpt:
To see the 300 Men March walking in their organized fashion and shaking hands, calling for peace, encouraging boys and young men--this was Baltimore.
Watching Baptist Churches hold services on the street corners, seeing Methodists chatting one to one with every person they could find, walking with robed Catholics who know the poor of their parish--this was Baltimore.
Witnessing the gangs, in their colors, claiming their territory and encouraging youngsters to obey the curfew, because they care for each other, and don't want the police to have any excuse to make additional frivolous arrests--this was Baltimore.
Seeing the Drum and PomPom Squad marching perhaps 60-70 strong, with a core of drummers and dozens of teenagers--mostly Black, all fabulous, including many young men who identify as gay and can strut in their teal spangled body suits and shake their pom moms with the rest of them--and have the crowd cheer, show their love, shout their pride--this was Baltimore.
Last night was an amazing moment.
What does it mean to live a life of color? It means having eyes to see. It means awakening to life. It means becoming part or particle of God. It means experiencing the amazing moment.
May our eyes be blessed with seeing. And may we each look hard for a long time until the world lights up. May we look until we turn the world around.
Amen. Blessed be.