Thursday, July 19, 2012

Alohomora: Let the Way Be Open

Sermon by Jessica Gray
July 15, 2012 - Hogwarts Sunday

In J.K. Rowling’s book Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the character Hermione introduces the spell “Alohomora” by using it to unlock a door.  In this scene, Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Neville are running from the school caretaker, hoping not to get caught out of bounds.  Hermione unlocks the door and they rush through, but then they discover that inside the door is a three-headed dog named Fluffy.  They determine that some doors are locked for a reason and they rush to escape.

The spell “Alohomora” is presented as a simple, utilitarian spell, nothing special.  It is no more significant than using a key to open a lock.  Sometimes it works, and sometimes the locks are magically protected against it and refuse to open.   

Most of the spells in Harry Potter derive from some form of Latin, and lots of fans have spent time guessing at and interpreting their etymology.  A popular theory about the origin of “alohomora” is that the word derives from the Hawaiian word “Aloha,” which sometimes means “farewell,” and the Latin word “mora,” which means “obstacle.”  Farewell obstacle. 

According to J.K. Rowling, the word “Alohomora” derives from an African dialect and means "friendly to thieves."  If a spell unlocks doors, it would make thieves’ jobs much easier.  Yet fan researchers have not been able to find this word in any African dialect.  Accordingto a fan named Marielle, the closest she found is the Jewish phrase "Shalom HaMorah."  Like "Aloha," Shalom in Hebrew means both hello and good-bye, but also "peace" and "good luck." Teachers are addressed with the title "HaMorah" (feminine) or "HaMoreh" (masculine) followed by the teacher's first name.  Shalom HaMorah would mean "Good Morning Teacher" or "Hello, Teacher."  Marielle suggests looking at it metaphorically - a teacher "opens the doors of learning." 

And this is the closest to the meaning we have given “Alohomora” this week.  The phrase was far more than utilitarian for us, as we have explored many deeper meanings.  “Alohomora” includes the ideas of openings, beginnings, overcoming obstacles, and unlocking possibilities.  I chose this phrase as the theme for the first Hogwarts in Worcester because we are opening our doors here for the first time.  We are unlocking our imaginations together.  We are opening our minds to another world.  We are exploring how to unlock our imaginations.  Through the power of the imagination, we can do anything.

We have explored and will continue to explore many concepts of openness.  As we come from many different beliefs in our interfaith Hogwarts community, we have worked with the children to explore ways that we can be open to one another regardless of our differences.  “We need not think alike to love alike,” said Francis David, a Unitarian minister from 16th century Transylvania.  We have so many different ways of viewing the world.  Unitarian Universalist, Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Pagan, Rastafarian, atheist, agnostic, non-religious… so many religions and philosophies are represented at this camp.  We do not hide from our differences.  We celebrate our diversity.  We come together in cooperation, engaging in service, for we know that the real magic in life is helping others.  We honor the qualities of Faith, Love, Peace, and Hope – qualities found in all religions.  We are open to new ideas, but even more so we are open to new people.  We are open to new ways of being together.

We also have explored ways to be open to that which is greater than ourselves – connecting to the interconnected web of all existence, to the Spirit of Love and Mystery that some people call God.  I titled this sermon, “Let the way be open” based on the song I offered as a body prayer earlier.  “Sing through my voice, play through my hands.  Let the way be open.”  It is a sacred action to open the way of connection to something transcendent. 

But how do we find the way?  There are so many options in life, so many locked and unlocked doors.  So many choices. 

One of my favorite authors, Parker Palmer, wrote about finding the “way” in his book “Let Your Life Speak:Listening for the Voice of Vocation.”  He writes:

“When I arrived and started sharing my vocational quandary, people responded with a traditional Quaker counsel that, despite their good intentions, left me even more discouraged.  “Have faith,” they said, “and way will open.”
          “I have faith,” I thought to myself.  “What I don’t have is time to wait for ‘way’ to open.  I’m approaching middle age at warp speed, and I have yet to find a vocational path that feels right.  The only way that’s opened so far is the wrong way.”
After a few months of deepening frustration, I took my troubles to an older Quaker woman well known for her thoughtfulness and candor.  “Ruth,” I said, “people keep telling me that ‘way will open.’  Well, I sit in the silence, I pray, I listen for my calling, but way is not opening.  I have been trying to find my vocation for a long time, and I still don’t have the foggiest idea of what I’m meant to do.  Way may open for other people, but it’s sure not opening for me.”
          Ruth’s reply was a model of Quaker plain-speaking.  ‘I’m a birthright Friend,” she said somberly, “and in sixty-plus years of living, way has never opened in front of me.’  She paused and I started sinking into despair.  Was this wise woman telling me that the Quaker concept of God’s guidance was a hoax?
          Then she spoke again, this time with a grin. ‘But a lot of way has closed behind me, and that’s had the same guiding effect.’… there is as much guidance in what does not and cannot happen in my life as there is in what can and does – maybe more. (38)

Parker Palmer then interprets this lesson:
The opening may reveal our potentials while the closing may reveal our limits – two sides of the same coin, the coin called identity… As often happens on the spiritual journey, we have arrived at the heart of a paradox: each time a door closes, the rest of the world opens up.  All we need to do is stop pounding on the door that just closed, turn around – which puts the door behind us – and welcome the largeness of life that now lies open to our souls.  The door that closed kept us from entering a room, but what now lies before us is the rest of reality. (54)

When I think about my own life, I am amazed at how many locked doors led me to other paths, and how many of those paths led me here.  After I finished my Masters’ degree in theatre, I needed to find work, and the only work I could find was teaching theatre at summer camp.  I had never worked with children before.  I applied to jobs all over the country and also a few schools.  Though I went through many interviews, all of the doors were locked.  I applied to a PhD program in Louisiana, and I was accepted to the program but not offered any financial aid.  We decided that it may not be an open door, but it was an open window.  I needed work to survive, so I answered a newspaper ad to be the Director of Religious Education at a local Unitarian church.  I never imagined how that would affect my life.  Within just a few months on the job, one of the parents in the program showed me that a UU church in Ohio was offering a Harry Potter camp, and suddenly the way opened.  My imagination sprang into action.  Over the years it became so clear that programs like this are a fundamental part of my life work.  But I do not know if I would have found it without all of the closed doors.

Let the way be open. Think about the opportunities you have had in your own life.  Imagine for a moment that your life’s journey is a series of doors.  Think about the doors behind you.  Some doors opened easily.  Some were locked tight.  Looking at the next locked door ahead of you, what will you do?  If you attempt the “alohomora” spell, will the door open?  What will you find on the other side?  Perhaps it is locked for a reason – to keep you from facing serious danger.  Or perhaps the door stays locked?  Some locks are protected against the spell.  Are you willing to turn and look at all the other possible doors?  Just because one way is closed, many others will open.

Let the way be open.  I wish for you wisdom as you navigate the doors before you.  Students, parents, wherever you are in your journey, let the way be open.  May you choose wisely which locks to unlock.  May you learn to let go as you turn away from doors that refuse to open.   May you listen to the guidance of the Divine as you know it, and may you stay open to those who are different from you.  Alohomora!  Let the way be open.