Sermon: "The Sacred in Images"

November 1, 2005



On November 1, 2005 released a transcript of a sermon delivered by Harold Babcock, the minister of the First Religious Society of Newburyport. "Images have great importance in many religious traditions. To Hindus, darshan is a special way of seeing, translated as 'seeing the divine image.' Diana Eck, professor of comparative religion and Indian studies at Harvard, writes: 'In the Hindu ritual tradition, darshan refers especially to religious seeing, or the visual perception of the sacred. When Hindus go to a temple, they do not commonly say, "I am going to worship,” but rather, “I am going for darshan.” They go to “see” the image of the deity... Beholding the image is an act of worship, and through the eyes one gains the blessings of the divine.'

I am not going to claim that we Unitarian Universalists can learn to 'take darshan,' as the Hindus say. Ours is a radically different culture, with a radically different understanding of religion. But I believe that we can learn something from this way of seeing. We may begin to understand what looking for the divine image means... Our seeing is so often superficial. Yet there are times when we are blessed with a clarity of sight, when we truly see into the sacred heart of things. For the Hindu, all of India is sacred. There is simply no place untouched by the hand of the divine. Every place you look is holy. It is 'through the eyes that one gains the blessings of the divine,' Eck writes.

We have much to learn from the darshan takers and the Transcendentalists, and to learn we will need to cultivate clear-mindedness to reflect on what we are seeing and what we have seen."