Unification Sermons and Talks
The Phoenix or Rebirth
by Dan Fefferman
This is from a sermon given in the Washington, D.C. Church, February 23, 1997
The mythical Phoenix bird is thought of differently in the West and the East. In the Orient, the Phoenix (Japanese FU SHI CHO) is the symbol of royal dignity, heavenly authority and glory. Usually appearing in pairs, phoenixes surround the heavenly throne. In Unification Church tradition, phoenixes appear on either side of the twelve gates symbol and signify of God's blessing. They also symbolize the concept of the True Parents as God's representatives.
In America, the Phoenix is known as the Firebird. Although it was known in the Roman world, it comes to us mainly through native American traditions. The American Phoenix is usually solitary. It consumes itself in its own flames, then rises again from its own ashes. It is the symbol of resurrection, spiritual passion, and eternal life. Like its oriental counterpart, the American Phoenix is a heavenly creature of great glory.
I recently had a powerful dream which I would like to share with you. I dreamed I was a member of a tribe of nomads, wandering the land, looking for a place to settle. We reached a lake which seemed promising. But the lake had dried up into a muddy wasteland in which people and animals were mired. A wise man helped us negotiate a way to survive. We could either wait patiently in faith that the rain would eventually come, or we could move on to another lake.
In the next scene, the lake was full of water again. We were using its water to raise abundant crops. But next to the lake was a dusty area, which we were preparing to irrigate. As I was digging in this dusty area, I found an ancient fossil--a neck bone of some huge prehistoric being. We began to find more fossils and to piece them together. But we couldn't tell whether it was a mastodon, a dinosaur, or something else. Whatever it is, it was extremely ancient. The bones were brittle, and seemed to carry a fierce power in them. Was this the Tyrannosaurus Rex?
Finally I found the last piece. It was the creature's beak. As I put the beak in place, I looked at the beast in wonder. "What are you?" I asked. Tyrannosaurus, a huge pterodactyl, or what? Finally it began to dawn on me. The being was not a dinosaur at all. It was a Phoenix. And I knew that, no matter how old and dead it seemed, it was alive.
This dream had a powerful effect this dream had on me. I awoke shaking. And for several hours I could not get this dream out of my head. I began working with the symbols. And I have come to believe that the dream has an important meaning for me personally, and that it could also have meaning for us collectively.
Piecing It Together
Having studied Karl Jung at seminary, I look at each part of my dream as an aspect of myself. Thus, a part of me is the nomad, another part is the wise old man, a part of me is even the lake, the crops, the dusty area--and yes, as awesome as it seemed to me at the time--a part of me is the Phoenix. On this level, the dream is a message from my own soul, that it is time for me to rise again from the dust, to live, to breathe, to burn with passion, and to fly.
Jung teaches that dreams often contain symbols of mankind's collective unconscious, including archetypes, which are especially powerful energies.
The archetypal theme of death and resurrection is found in all mythologies and religions. One of the common elements in nearly all of them is the idea that a person goes through a symbolic, or sometime real, death before emerging into his new self. In the Bible, Elijah goes into the cave to hear the still, small voice of God--then emerges with renewed faith to recommit himself to his mission. The story of Jonah is essentially the same. Jonah retreats from his calling, and ends up in a dark, scary place--the belly of the Great Fish--where stays for three days. He hears God's voice again and then emerges determined to go to Nineveh and face his destiny.
Even nature gives us clues to this spiritual reality of rebirth through death and resurrection. Rivers freeze in the winter then overflow in spring. Seeds fall to the ground and are buried in the earth, where they lie dormant. Then they put forth their shoots and live again. The mother bear goes into its cave to hibernate, then emerges with her cubs as the snows begin to melt. The caterpillar spins its cocoon and disappears, then flies away in a glorious new form.
We even have the same thing in fairy tales, like Pinochio, the wooden boy who ventures inside the whale's belly to find his Father and thus become a real boy. Isn't this same theme repeated in the story of Jesus' resurrection? He dies on the cross, defeated. Then he stays for three days and nights in the tomb, descends into hell, and resurrects to sit as a glorious heavenly being at the right hand of the Father.
It's all the story of the Phoenix, rising from its own ashes, but told in different ways. In are more recent myth, we see the young hero Luke Skywalker enter a cave under the tutelage of his master, Yoda, in order to face his own terrible shadow. From this encounter he gains the determination to re-enter the world and face the real Darth Vader, to defeat him in spiritual battle, and restore him to his original nature of goodness. All of these are examples of what the mythologist Joseph Campbell calls "The Hero's Journey." It is a journey, I submit, that we are all destined to take.
On a personal level, I find resonance with all of these stories as a hint about my own spiritual renewal. I feel myself going through a profound spiritual renewal.
What is my secret? It is that I have begun to recommit myself to life. It's just that simple. I have decided to live my dream passionately, like the Phoenix--like Father--and not to die.
A Sign of Resurrection?
I said earlier that I thought my dream had significance on the collective level as well as the personal. Here's what I think it may mean. To be honest, our Unification community in the Unites States has been going through a very dry spell of several years. We have not succeeded in bringing new members, we have failed to meet many of our goals. And even though there have been substantial victories such as Mother's tour and the establishment of Parents Day as a national holiday, important sectors of our American movement are seriously discouraged.
But what my dream tells me--really what all of the myths and stories about resurrection tell us--is that dryness and decay always give way to new life. The dried up, muddy lake becomes the source of new life once the rains inevitably come. The Phoenix rises from the dust of its own ashes and becomes a thing of splendor.
When it comes time for a being to hibernate--to spin its cocoon, to become cold and stiff with winter, to fall to the earth and be buried- -it never knows exactly how it will look when it comes out. It may not even be sure that it ever will come out. The only thing it knows is that it is changing.
Isn't that what is happening to us today? For several years it has felt like we have been dying. Now we look around us, and we see 3.6 million couples getting ready to be blessed. RFK stadium waiting to be filled. Japanese sisters descending like rain from heaven to help us. I don't know about you, but I find the situation bewildering. Inspiring. A little frightening even. We're changing. The Blessing itself is changing. Beginning this year, the majority of blessed couples will be non-UC members. What will be the character of Father's new world-level tribe after this?
The Japanese Sisters
Speaking of Japanese sisters, I see that we have quite a few new arrivals here today. Let's all give them a round of applause, shall we? We are all very grateful that you have come to us, making great sacrifices, to help us achieve victory this November. If you'll permit me, I'd like to take this opportunity to give you one piece of advice. May I? My advice is: have a great adventure while you're here. That way you can take home some wonderful memories that you will cherish for the rest of your life.
I visited Japan three times, and even though I did not stay long, I did bring back a wonderful memory each time. Let me share just one of them with you today. In 1970 we worked to mobilize the World Anti- Communist League rally at the Budokan. My best memory from that trip was having the communist Zen Gakoren group come and try to break up our rallies at Shibuya station. I only wished I had save one of the rocks they threw at us as a souvenir. So member, what seems like suffering today will probably make the best story ten years from now. And always save the rocks.
Another thing I'd like to mention is that, as you know, America is very different from Japan. As human beings we have much in common, of course. But our cultures, customs and values are very different. You drive on the left; we drive on the right. You open your books from to the right; we open our books to the left. You sit on the floor; we sit on chairs. You sleep on your backs; we usually sleep on our sides. We do rude things like blowing our noses at the table. You do rude things like making slurping noises when you eat noodles.
Bridging the Culture Gap
But there are also more internal differences. Japanese culture tends to place the group first. American culture emphasizes the individual. Thus, oriental culture stresses loyalty, filial piety and obedience. American culture stresses honesty, integrity and creativity.
Essentially, these difference stem, I think, from the difference between Confucian culture and Judeo-Christian culture. Confucius taught that filial piety is the first and highest duty, and that from this, all other duties flows. But Jesus taught that we should love God even more than we love our parents. He even taught us to deny and hate our parents in order to follow him.
A few weeks ago we heard a sermon in this church from a distinguished UTS professor who stressed that filial piety is the supreme value. While I listened to it, I couldn't help thinking. "OK, I agree--absolute trust, absolute faith, absolute obedience to God and True Parents"--these are all very important. But I felt in my heart of hearts that something was still missing.
As I thought more deeply about this problem, I discovered the missing piece. The missing virtue in the formula of "absolute trust, absolute faith, absolute obedience" is Conscience. That is why Father has taught us that conscience must come before teacher, conscience must come before parents, conscience must come even before God.
We need filial piety. Absolutely. As we have been taught, if Isaac had not demonstrated absolute filial piety to Abraham, the foundation of faith could not have been established. But filial piety is a coin with two sides. If Abraham had shown filial piety to his father, Terah, we'd all be back in Ur of the Chaldeans making idols. If Moses had shown loyalty to his King, who was also his adopted Father, the Israelites would never have left Egypt. If Mary had remained a dutiful betrothed wife to Joseph instead of going to Zecchariah's house, Jesus would never have been conceived. If Martin Luther had maintained his vow of obedience to the Pope, the Protestant reformation would never have happened. If the Founding Fathers of America had remained loyal to the English throne, God- centered democracy might never have become a reality.
These examples show that many of God's champions were exactly those people who had the courage NOT to go the way of filial piety, but to go the way of conscience. As Martin Luther said, "Here I stand, I can do no other."
So we are faced with the fact that Conscience and Obedience are sometimes hard to harmonize. How are we to reconcile these two viewpoints? Our pastor, Philip Shancker, gave us a clue a few weeks ago when he quoted the following words from our True Father:
"The day and the moment will come when even God seems to be saying 'I don't know you.' At that time you will feel that you are utterly alone in all the universe. If under those conditions you still do not give up, but insist, 'No matter what God thinks or what True Parents say to me, no matter how unsympathetic the church members are, this is the right way and I will go on anyway.' Then at that moment you are elevating yourself to the highest level of faith. Once you reach that level you can be trusted unconditionally by God and by me, and eventually the whole world."
I submit to you, brothers and sisters, that we must understand the concept of absolute faith in light of what Father has said here. Ultimately, absolute faith means believing in your own highest conscience.
So, my Japanese sisters, welcome to America. Welcome to the land of the Phoenix, the land of freedom, the land of conscience, creativity, integrity and honesty.
And to the rest of my brothers and sisters I say, Let us inherit the spirit of these sisters. They have come here like the Heavenly Rain to bring new life to our dry spirits. Let us be unafraid to face the darkness of the cave, but instead face our doubts and fears courageously, knowing that if we persevere sincerely we will find the light. Let us shed or old skins, our old ways, and yes even our old institutions if necessary--and let us venture forth with passion to live our dreams according to our highest conscience as true sons and daughters of God and True Parents. Let us die and rise again, like the Phoenix.
And finally let us be proud and love True Parents by bringing about the victory of the 3.6 million couples Blessing.
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