A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Randy Hammer, September 15, 2013
Matthew 7:7-12 GNT
Selection from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way (p. 119)
Maybe you have had an experience like I have where you kept encountering the same idea, or same object, or same word over and over, and finally you decided that Someone was trying to tell you something. I have had this happen to me off and on over the years. And it happened to me again this summer.
I had purchased to take with me to Maine Will Campbell’s book that I mentioned in a sermon in June, Brother to a Dragonfly. I had read a library copy of the book several years ago, but it had been so long ago I wanted to read it again. Now, I had never really given much thought to the dragonfly. But just before I went to Maine, I spent 48 hours taking a course at the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont. Everywhere I looked at Tremont I saw images of the dragonfly—painted on their van, painted on the walls in the dining hall, on books and printed on shirts in the gift shop, and so on. I bought a long sleeve t-shirt only to discover that there is a dragonfly on the back of it.
So I left Tremont, and the next day flew to Maine. As soon as we got to Rangeley, Maine, my sister-in-law took us to a local craft fair. What did I see at the craft fair? On pictures, pottery, bookmarks, and so on? More dragonflies. Then later that evening, I noticed on the Will Campbell book a drawing of a dragonfly that I had not really noticed before, even though I had held the book in my hands a number of times.
At my sister- in-law’s house I found more dragonfly images—on coffee mugs, stationary, and quilting catalogs. After I came back to Oak Ridge and returned to work, I received a “Thank You” note in the mail from someone connected to this congregation. What was on the front of the “Thank You” note? Dragonflies.
Mary Lou and I bought a new set of dishes this summer. One of the images on the dinner plates, I later discovered, is dragonflies.
Okay, so I decided there must be a message here for me somewhere. I remembered something I had read about 10 years ago in Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way. The book was required reading for a Doctor of Ministry course I took titled “Religion and the Arts.” Well, I pulled Cameron’s book from the shelf and started going over it as with a fine-toothed comb looking for more of what she has to say about this phenomenon. Cameron contends that creativity is the way of the universe. And whenever we begin a creative project, God, or the Spirit, or whatever else you might want to call It, is ready to assist us in the creative endeavor.
Cameron says, “Whatever you choose to call it, once you begin your creative recovery you may be startled to find it cropping up everywhere.”1 She refers to this “fortuitous intermeshing of events”—something the famed psychologist Carl Jung also acknowledged—as synchronicity. And she quotes those words attributed to Jesus: “Ask, and you will receive; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.” Jesus, as a “Spirit Person,” had a positive outlook toward God, and Jesus saw God, or the Spirit, as a beneficent Giver of good things. Cameron says of synchronicity: “we change and the universe furthers and expands that change.”2
She gives some examples of what she means by synchronicity. “A woman admits to a buried dream of acting. At dinner the next night, she sits beside a man who teaches beginning actors. . . . A businessman who has secretly written for years vows to himself to ask a professional writer for a prognosis on his talent. The next night, over a pool table, he meets a writer who becomes his mentor and then collaborator on several successful books.”3 In a nutshell, what Cameron is suggesting is that whenever we embark on any kind of worthy creative endeavor, if we are open to it, there is within the universe a Force that is ready to assist us in our creative endeavor by sending our way, or directing us in such a way, that we are given what we need to accomplish our task. The right person to help us; the right opportunity; the right resources we need to move forward.
Now I realize that for some this may be a radical idea. Cameron acknowledges that many people may choose to see such fortuitous events as coincidence or luck. In years past, such might have been referred to within some Christian circles or in seminaries as “Providence—Divine Providence.” But the thing that really interests me is when that same word, idea, or image keeps cropping up over and over in a way that it never had before. An image such as the dragonfly.
So, having remembered what Cameron has to say about synchronicity, I went to an online dictionary and looked up the meaning and symbolism of the dragonfly. Here is what I found: the main symbolism of the dragonfly are renewal, positive force, and power of life in general. The sense of self that comes with maturity. The dragonfly frequently represents change and living life to its fullest. Okay, I thought. With all of this swirling around in my head, I started to ponder what it all might mean for me personally:
• Sabbatical and renewal—it all goes together. Sabbatical is about renewal, which is symbolized by the dragonfly.
• The sense of self that comes with maturity. I realized that the sermons I had prepared and given these first five years here at the United Church probably represent my best sermons in my 35 years of ministry. But they come with years of experience, study, and reflection; and into every sermon goes all of those previous years. So I decided to choose 40 of what I considered to be my best, most mature sermons and publish them in book form.
• Change and living life to its fullest. During my sabbatical, I had time to do some thinking and reflecting on change and what is important in life and what is important to me.
But in a more general sense, the symbolism of the dragonfly holds meaning for all of us. Christianity from its earliest times, you know, was about transformation; about being changed in a positive way by one’s faith and associations with the Christ and in the fellowship of other Christians. Jesus is reported by Matthew to have said, “unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3 GNT). And the Apostle Paul wrote, “let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind” (Romans 12:2 GNT). Even the idea of resurrection, central to the Christian faith, is about change, transformation. If the Christian life is about anything, it should be about constant, positive change, as my New York friend and spiritual advisor Sister Kitty Hanley puts it, it is about “becoming more loving, more forgiving, and more committed to justice in the world.”
But the spiritual life in general, regardless of the religious affiliation—whether one is Christian, Jewish, Muslim or Buddhist—is a life that is in a state of constant, positive change. Life is about renewal; about becoming more of the person we aspire to be. Each of us should be inching toward greater maturity and a greater understanding and sense of self. And every now and then, we need to be reminded to live life to its fullest.
Well, I am still mulling over the dragonfly symbolism and still seeking to understand what it all means to me personally. I still am not sure what it all means. But I remain open. And you can bet that I will never look at a dragonfly the same way again. And in the future, whenever I encounter a dragonfly or image of a dragonfly, I will be reminded that life is about change, renewal, self-awareness, striving toward maturity, and living life to its fullest. Amen.
1Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way. New York: Putman, 1992, p. 64. 2Cameron, p. 2. 3pp. 62, 63.