Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Spiritual Wisdom of Horton the Elephant

Rocci Hildum

An Original Sermon

I have discovered that I am a spiritual nomad, journeying in search of spiritual wisdom, insight, enlightenment and truth. In my journeys I have learned that I often travel the same landscape, recognize familiar landmarks and meet the same obstacles and challenges … over and over and over again. I have met and re-met many companions on this journey. I rediscover ancestors and mentors and learn and re-learn important, and not so important, lessons.

One of the things that I have learned is to seek out mentors, people of spiritual maturity, to be my companions on this journey. I have also learned to judge critically those in whom I will place my trust and confidence in the matters of the Sacred and Mystical. 

I have been inspired and enlightened by the writings and teachings of many people whose names you may recognize; people like Thomas Merton, St. John of the Cross, Thic Nhat Han, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Dalai Lama. I have also sat at the knees of less known and yet gifted persons unfamiliar to the world apart from their space in it. People like John and Margaret Jones who manage Camp Myrtlewood in Oregon and Joseph Helfrich a musician in Ohio and Tanaka, who I only know through story.

Here I will offer that the world has very definite opinions about the persons and institutions in which religious and spiritual wisdom is found. It has been my experience that the world is not only sometimes wrong as in mistaken, the world is sometimes wrong as in a lie.

Spiritual wisdom and insight and giftedness are found in lots of persons and spaces and experiences that are unknown, unrecognized, or rejected by the world. I have come to believe that some of the most inspirational and creative spiritual wisdom can be found in persons and spaces and experiences that are distinctly apart from recognized, established religion. By its very definition, established, dogmatic, religious wisdom stifles the creative and new.

So it has come to me that I also find spiritual wisdom in the most unlikely, and yet passionately true, people and spaces and experiences. I have been touched by the Sacred by a little girl who gave me a shell. I have found great spiritual truth in the Calvin comics and I have experienced the presence and movement of the Spirit in the desert of the state capitol. Many unlikely places are the very incubators of spiritual wisdom.

So it has come to me that one of my spiritual mentors and companions has been Horton the Elephant. Horton has become for me a teacher, a source of inspiration. Horton’s own example challenges me and guides me.

We know little about Horton the Elephant. The extent of the published material about Horton is contained in just two books written by Ted Geisel, Dr. Seuss, Horton Hears a Who and Horton Hatches an Egg. But even in these two short pieces, Horton’s spiritual wisdom speaks to me and this is what I want to share with you today.

Now what we know about Horton from Geisel’s writings is that

On the fifteenth of May, in the Jungle of Nool,
In the heat of the day, in the cool of the pool,
He was splashing … enjoying the jungle’s great joys …
When Horton the elephant heard a small noise.

So Horton stopped splashing. He looked toward the sound.
“That’s funny,” thought Horton. “There’s no one around.”
Then he heard it again! Just a very faint yelp.
As if some tiny person were calling for help.

“Some poor little person who’s shaking with fear’
That he’ll blow into the pool! He has no way to steer!
I’ll just have to save him. Because, after all,
A person’s a person, no matter how small.”

Did you get that? Most people miss it. But listen. Listen deeply with your ears and your heart and your soul. Listen with passion. Most people still don’t get it and to me it has become as obvious as an elephant splashing in a pool. Horton, hears the tiny person. There is no voice that is so tiny that it escapes Horton’s hearing. Granted he is an elephant and he does have pretty big ears.

We have ears. How often do we not hear. How often do we miss the voice crying out; even when it is so obvious - in our place of work, on the street, in the city hall, and in our own homes. People are crying. I have been challenged by this because I see the truth, the ugly painful truth that we most often miss the smallest voices.

From Horton, I have learned that no matter what
My listening and hearing I cannot forestall
Because a person’s a person no matter how small.  

But there’s something else here too. Horton, by advantage of his superior hearing and his spiritual wisdom knows how to listen. Horton heard that small, small voice of the Mayor of Whoville, which was located on a speck of dust. But then Horton saw the dust speck on which the residents of Whoville reside and which was slowly floating down toward the pool, the very pool in which Horton was at that very moment splashing.

Horton didn’t wait for someone to tell him that the tiny voice was at great peril. He didn’t form a committee or join a focus group (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Horton didn’t seek out someone else to make sure he was really hearing a tiny voice. Horton, because of his own spiritual maturity knows that he is hearing a tiny voice and knows that that tiny voice is on the dust speck he is seeing and he further knows that that dust speck is heading right to the pool and that there’s not enough time for a committee to form or for a poll to be taken (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Horton did not hesitate, he gently caught the dust speck in his trunk and set out to find a safe place for that dust speck to be.

And so Horton continues to teach me spiritual truths. Horton teaches, not forcefully, not sermonizing, but by his gentle, compassionate example that it is not enough to listen, we must see. We must see what is right before us. We must see what is tiny and what the world thinks of insignificance because there is life and beauty and sacredness in all of this, even on a dust speck.

And seeing and hearing we must trust that what we are seeing and hearing is true.

And we must see and know when life is at peril of harm. And sometimes that life is too delicate, too fragile to save by some energetic, vigorous intervention. Sometimes the gentle touch is what is needed, especially with children and animals and the wounded and the hurting and dust specks. And Horton doesn’t then sit down and say look at me, I saved the dust speck, I, and I alone heard the tiny voice, and saw the dust speck and at great personal risk grabbed that tiny voice from certain destruction. No, the path that Horton teaches me is quiet, as well as being true and honest and compassionate.

And so I have learned that

If I learn how to listen
And I learn how to see
Tiny little lives will become obvious to me
And tiny lives must not drown
For the ignorance or apathy of us all.
Because a person’s a person no matter how small.

This is where all of Horton’s problems start. The world is not ready for people living on dust specks and much less for people to hear people who live on dust specks and even much less for people who talk to people who live on dust specks and they’re really, really not ready for people who act to protect people on dust specks. The world, even the Horton’s world, can’t hear and can’t see anything of significance in that dust speck and are not willing or able to take Horton’s word for it. Horton faces organized opposition and resistance, even violent opposition.

“Humpf!” humpfed a voice. ‘Twas a sour kangaroo.
And the young kangaroo in her pouch said, “Humpf!” too.
“What, that speck is as small as the head of a pin.
A person on that? … Why, there never has been!”

The Wickersam Brothers came shouting, "What rot!
This elephant's talking to Whos who are not!
There aren’t any Whos! And they don’t have a Mayor!
And we’re going to stop all this nonsense! So there!”

Horton alone stood firm in protecting the Whos. Ultimately the Whos were saved from certain death by being boiled in Beezel Nut Oil by Horton’s intervention.

It was more than just his intervention; however, it was also his faithfulness. Horton would not be swayed from what he knew to be true. Having heard the Whos Horton was compelled to act. What a great illustration of a spiritual life. Having heart the suffering of others are we, can we also be compelled to act.

Granted, we are surrounded by a cacophony of sounds and sights of the oppressed, marginalized, downtrodden, and forgotten or ignored. It would be easy to become overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problems with which we can be confronted.

So it is fortunate that we don’t have to be perfect. Horton illustrates for me that we don’t strive for perfect, just consistency. Horton is not perfect, but he is consistent and predictable. Horton acts on behalf of the Whos and in so doing leaves us an example of a life engaged in the vital business of being compassionate.

So, please, learn to listen. Learn to listen with your ears and your eyes and your heart and your soul. Listen to everything all around you, and when you hear that small voice calling for help; when the universe leads you into some place you’ve never been before where the oppressed live, then what will you do?

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