Sermon: Four-Humped Camels Everywhere (audio and text)

Reading: What the Heart is Like, by Miroslav Holub

Officially the heart

is oblong, muscular,

and filled with longing.

But anyone who has painted the heart knows

that it is also

spiked like a star

and sometimes bedraggled

like a stray dog at night

and sometimes powerful

like an archangel’s drum.

And sometimes cube-shaped

like a draughtsman’s dream

and sometimes gaily round

like a ball in a net.

And sometimes like a thin line

and sometimes like an explosion.

And in it is

only a river,

a weir

and at most one little fish

by no means golden.

More like a grey



It certainly isn’t noticeable

at first sight.

Anyone who has painted the heart knows

that first he had to

discard his spectacles,

his mirror,

throw away his fine-point pencil

and carbon paper

and for a long while



SERMON                                      “Four-Humped Camels Everywhere”    

Miroslav Holub was a scientist and a poet, and his poems often use powerful imagery combining head and heart, reason and intuition. This poem describes two ways to see the heart—first, we look with our eyes, and see objective reality—the scientific, the rational, the straightforward.  But if we look at the heart with our hearts, a different world is revealed to us.  This other world is the world of emotion and Mystery.  It is the place we find transformation, where we can revolutionize our spiritual lives.   The artist Pat Allen, says, “Behind our everyday life pulses a world of primal energy that forms itself into images by way of human acts of speech, writing, thinking and painting.”[1]

It is my personal belief that fundamentally God is not a being, but exists in the moment or the process of creation, that the world of primal energy is the place where the Divine resides, and through it, we can find personal spiritual transformation.  Regardless of how you image the concept of God, or if you do not experience the concept of the divine at all, it is so easy to find ourselves trapped in objective reality.  We are busy and tired, overwhelmed by the world around us and we get used to looking with our eyes—we forget that there is more to see than what is on the surface.  When we forget to look for the Mystery, we are held hostage by the limits of rationality and we miss a whole world of possibility.

For a while I worked as a substitute teacher in Fairfax County, and I found myself in a third-grade class constantly disrupted by a child named Dean.  I had been warned about him by the regular teacher, and all the kids knew that if any trouble started, it was Dean’s fault. He hardly ever sat in his seat, he called people names, swore and scribbled on things he wasn’t supposed to have in the first place.  The only time Dean was quiet all day was during science class when he drew a picture while he was watching the movie.  When we had indoor recess for the second day in a row – which you know is torture for kids AND teachers, especially subs – I offered to play the squiggle game with him.

He shrugged his assent as if he couldn’t care less, and I picked up an orange crayon, scribbled on the page and pushed it across the tiny school desk.  Dean took it from me, turned the paper upside down, spun it around sideways, and then turned his head to look from a different angle.  He stared at it for a few moments and then said thoughtfully, “I think it might be a four-humped camel.”  He spent the rest of recess quietly drawing, and for the rest of the day, although he still struggled with keeping his hands and his words to himself, his interactions with me were quite different.

Art is an agent of transformation. With Dean, art was a doorway that transformed the relationship between the two of us and he was able to participate in class in a different way. 

The goal of art, as it is in religious community, is to engage in a different way of looking—to see how interacting with your own story in a new way can change what you know about yourself, change how you see things.  See how interacting with the world around you in a new way can change how you experience it, how you see things. Our lives can be made up of a series of small or large changes that happen over time—the result of what we allow to be revealed to us in the context of our personal spiritual journey.  The act of engaging in change over time leads to new insights and personal enlightenment:  in other words, it leads to revelation. 

Communities can be transformed, too.  Sometimes we call that “revolution.” Art is always a part of revolution—in times of political change artistic expression is one way to speak truth to power.  Toni Morrison wrote, “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”

We are called to revolution both personally and communally. We can use our own revealing of truths about ourselves and our communities to lead us to our own personal revolution. At the same time, we are called to revolt and resist against many of the policies and orders that are coming fast and furious from the new administration. We are surely in the midst of political change right now. And so we need art. We need to look with both the eyes of reason and the eyes of our heart. The lesson of the four-humped camel is twofold. The first is to look at things from many different angles. Where are the distractions and redirections taking us? What can we learn from people who see things differently than we do? The second lesson is to allow one another to be seen, to bring our hearts to the table instead of making assumptions based on our own biases, or what we hear from others.

We need to get clear on our values, and fast. We need to find the courage to speak out. And at the same time, we need to get grounded and double down on the things that give us life and keep us from dropping into a place of despair.

Some of you may be wondering — when are they going to stop talking about resistance and all this work that needs to be done? When do we get to come to church and feel comfortable? Others may think the opposite — nothing going on right now is as important as resistance, how can we not devote all our energy and pulpit time to that?

And both of you will have named a constant struggle in which Mark and I are engaged on a daily basis. How much should we suspend normal operations and climb to the top of the barricades, and how much should we focus on creating a space in which the community can rest and recharge before going back out into the struggle? Of course, as always, the answer is “yes.” Both are essential. Both sanctuary and action are essential. And so you will continue to see us dance on the continuum between revolt and escape.

My greatest hope is that this community is a sanctuary — for those of us who are already here — to gather together with loved ones, to be fully seen, offer support, and buoy each other up. And at the same time, I refuse to let us fall into the trap of economic and race and other privilege. Those of us who have the ability to choose to look away, to choose to hunker down and wait out the storm are called to keep our eyes and our doors open. We are called to make this place a sanctuary for us, and for those in our community who do not have a safe place to go.

In an article about Leon Trotsky’s writings on art, Alan Woods says, “Art in all its forms makes us lift up our eyes, if only for a fleeting moment, above the dreary everyday existence, and makes us feel that there is something more to life than this, that we can be better than we are, that the relations between people can be human, that the world could be a better place than it is.”[2] This is also the role of religious community.

Because of the squiggle game, Dean and I were able to have a moment of common experience, I wasn’t reprimanding him and he didn’t have to seek attention by being disruptive:  a new way of interaction was revealed to us.  Images access the primal place inside us—a place of subconscious understanding and expression that is bigger than words and more evocative than the application of rational thought—the realm of Mystery, the realm of Revelation.

We all have a little bit of Dean in us.  Each and every person has spiritual pain, we are all struggling to be seen and heard and accepted. The work we do together may seem mundane and difficult, but when we engage in seeking revelation together that’s when we find our way to revolution.  The transformation happens when we share our experiences and look with our hearts instead of only with our eyes. 

The world of primal energy is right there – the Divine Mystery is so close that we might just reach out and touch it.  It is in the connection between an exhausted substitute teacher and a tired, cranky third grader and it is in this room with us today as we work together in service to the future of Unitarian Universalist ministry — and as we work to build the Resistance.

At its best, spiritual community makes us lift up our eyes above the dreary everyday existence, it encourages us to find the things that connect us to the primal energy, supports us when we need so desperately to be noticed.  There is so much that exists just under the surface of things, we are all silently crying out to be heard.

There are four humped camels everywhere.  Our lives together require perseverance, creativity and faith.  This journey we travel together is complex, frightening and oh, so sacred.  Especially now. We are fighting for the soul of our nation. We must pay attention so we don’t miss the moments of revelation in the midst of the obfuscation and confusion around us.  We must remember to turn our paper, spin it around sideways and turn our heads to look from a different angle.

May It Be So.



[1] Allen, p. 155