Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here
(This was presented at the UU Church in Canton, NY, with two actors and an actual doorway.)
I’m offering this morning’s message in the form of a story. I love stories. I love to listen to them and I love to tell them.
This story starts out in a garden. Let’s take a look. It’s a beautiful garden. In the garden are human beings and land and water, plants and animals, and….. things. Lots of things…. bicycles and buildings, pots and pans and pencils, computers and cars.
At first glance it looks like any other garden, but as we look closer we see there’s something special about it. It’s different; it seems magical, enchanting, even mystical. The first thing we notice is that it’s PEACEFUL there…. and QUIET. And although we can’t see it, there are two things that make it special.
The first is this…. there is no TIME in this garden. It’s the garden of NOW, so the people in the garden only know this moment….. no past and no future. And the second thing is this….. they also live with a felt sense of the great web of which they are each a part…. so they feel themselves not apart from, but intimately connected to this web which they know is the form and the substance of ALL THAT IS. And they have a name for this all inclusive web. They call it GOD.
This is the story of 2 of the people in the garden; a man and a woman. The woman’s name we discover is EVE. And the man?…. ADAM. Let’s watch.
All of the humans living in the garden eat when they’re hungry, drink when they’re thirsty, sleep when they’re tired. There are no PROBLEMS in this garden. In fact the very concept of a PROBLEM is unknown. All the people in the garden seem…. HAPPY…. PEACEFUL…. COMFORTABLE in their bodies and in their world.
But while there are no PROBLEMS, there IS… CURIOSITY. Eve and Adam are particularly adventuresome. And so we watch these two as they wander about, exploring all the areas of their garden. And eventually they come to what seems like a boundary.
It looks like a boundary because they see…. a DOOR. And upon this door they read, “BEYOND THIS DOOR LIES THE WORLD OF HOPE.” They’re puzzled. They look at each other, “hope….what’s that?” So…. baffled but curious…. they move closer. They try the door, but it doesn’t open.
But nailed upon a nearby tree they see a sign saying, “This door can only be opened by one who eats of the fruit of this tree.” More bafflement. They reach up and pick a piece of the fruit. In the whole garden they’ve never seen this fruit before. There’s a label on the fruit that says, “This is the fruit of the knowledge of GOOD and EVIL.” Again they’re puzzled. What are these things……HOPE…. GOOD…. EVIL? So….. puzzled but curious…. they eat the fruit. Then try the door…… and it opens!
They walk into this new world, excited to see what it’s like. Here’s what they see; They see people who look just like themselves. The next thing they notice is that it’s noisy. The people seem to be moving very fast and making a great noise but seem to get…. NOWHERE.
And their facial and body expressions look strange; not at all like the people in their garden. They see that many (a great many) of these people claim to be UNHAPPY. Another new word. They don’t have a word for this back home, nor do they have a word for HAPPY. They’ve never heard of these things before. So they start asking questions. They find that the unhappy people seek for something in their lives to change so that, although they are unhappy NOW, they will be HAPPY…. THEN. At some TIME in the FUTURE. They have a word for this, They call it….. HOPE.
Two more new words….. TIME… and FUTURE. They HOPE to be happy at some TIME… in the FUTURE. They find this very confusing, because where they come from there is no time. It was always…..now.
And even if the changes these people hoped for came to pass… their happiness seldom lasted long before unhappiness returned. So they lived in a repeating cycle… of happy and unhappy, love and hate, peace and fear…. and they became less and less certain that HOPE actually worked out. But yet they continued to HOPE because they couldn’t imagine living without it.
And it came to pass that the curiosity of Eve and Adam was great enough that they decided to join these people and live with them.
And as they immersed themselves in this new life they began gradually to take on the beliefs and habits…. and thus the EXPERIENCES of these creatures. And the longer they stayed the more their memories of the place they had left behind…. faded.
And it started to feel more and more “natural” to join with these people in their world. And so they learned that some people were BETTER than others. They called these people GOOD. And some others were called NOT GOOD… or BAD… or EVIL. And in that moment they remembered the label on the fruit….and they did come to have “THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOOD AND EVIL.”
And because there was EVIL They also came to see that Life was dangerous… you had to be careful. You had to separate all people but yourself in to two groups; those you felt were WORTHY and those who were UNWORTHY…. those you can TRUST and those you CAN’T TRUST…. And as the second group grew…. the first group shrank. So you SHOULD (another new word) TRUST only those who PROVE themselves TRUSTWORTHY. And even the ones you TRUSTED were somehow to be wary of…. because they could HURT YOU.
And if you were HURT by something one of these OTHERS said or did you should not FORGIVE them until they proved to be truly penitent and promised never to do those kinds of things again. But even if they SEEMED PENITENT you should be very cautious and probably not ever truly trust them again. That way you’d be SAFE from being HURT by them again.
And they learned that being “HAPPY” meant making money to buy THINGS. And they learned that there really wasn’t quite enough of things to go around so you had to COMPETE with others for the precious MONEY to BUY the precious THINGS. And the more they did this the more they felt themselves in CONFLICT with others….. and as SEPARATE AND ALONE. And soon they felt themselves completely separate from the everyone and everything in this world.
And they joined some of these people in buildings they called CHURCHES. And they heard them talk of a creature they called “GOD”. Something stirred in their memories, when they heard this word. But soon vanished. And they came to believe, as these churchgoers believed, that this GOD loved them without condition, but if you disobeyed His LAWS He would commit you eternal suffering after you died. This seemed a contradiction to Eve and Adam, but the more they heard this story the more did they believe it to be true. And they heard the people talk of Heaven…. some place where there was no suffering, but only peace, joy and love. And in the dim recesses of their minds they remembered….their garden.
The longer Eve and Adam stayed in this land the weaker their memories of their former home became. But the memories never completely left them…. and they would have occasional glimpses of something remembered… something so different from the life they had adopted.
And one day Eve said to Adam… “I remember”…… and he answered…. “Yes.”
And they left the people they had come to know and set out on a journey… to where? They weren’t sure, but in some way they couldn’t understand they felt drawn by unseen forces…. and in a leap of FAITH…. they TRUSTED these forces and followed where they felt themselves led.
And there were “road marks” along the way and each one was an encouragement that somehow confirmed the truth of the path they traveled.
And the road marks were received not in words but in feelings… unmistakable feelings of…. softness…. of kindness….. compassion…. of peace…and of love. And the deeper they felt these things the more certain were they that they were approaching HOME.
And there came a moment where all these feelings came together, and they found themselves once again at the DOOR through which they’d passed so long ago…. or was it just yesterday? And on this side of the door were written these words… “ABANDON HOPE…ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE”
It made no sense to them in that moment…. as they’d learned to continually hope for things to be BETTER at some future time. But in a final leap of faith, they left HOPE behind and passed through the door. And in that magic moment a flood of memories washed over them….. and they felt again…. the unity of all phenomena…. the invisible but very real web of interconnection….. with ALL THAT IS….. with the plants and the animals… and the oceans and rivers…. the mountains and the valleys… connection with the earth and the stars….. and to all the other humans… and to each other. And they looked once again at each flower, animal and person…. and saw…. not some stranger but… themselves… looking back.
They had a word for what happened in this magic moment…. they called it ACCEPTANCE… of life as it unfolds…. in this and all moments.
And they knew once again the truth about time. That life is lived… EXPERIENCED…. only in this PRESENT MOMENT. That HOPE for some other moment cannot exist without WORRY… And they saw clearly that TIME…. and HOPE… and WORRY…. are simply illusion, and not life at all.
They never completely forgot the other world… the one on the other side of the door…. and they even occasionally returned for a visit.
And they got to experience once again the separateness, the competition, the fear…. but they never again believed it was real.
And on these trips they spoke of life in the garden and invited others to return to their garden with them. Strangely, only a very few could make that choice. The rest chose to remain. They were simply afraid to leave the world they knew. IT…. they knew…. was the REAL WORLD. And they knew it for certain because all the other people said it too. And so they laughed and said that the world Eve and Adam spoke of was just some fantasy world….. and couldn’t be REAL at all.
And the hardest thing of all for these people in their “REAL WORLD” was this; they simply thought the story of the garden was too good to be true.
Our friends (some call them our FIRST PARENTS) saw clearly that the garden and the door….. are not to be experienced in some far-off place at some future time. For they knew that the garden exists in the kindness, compassion and love in each human mind and heart. But…. only…. Now. Only in the timeless…. eternal…. NOW.