Screaming at God & Screaming Into the Void

Delivered at High Street Unitarian Universalist Church on Sunday, April 30, 2023

The title for this sermon comes from my poem, Screaming at God. You can find that and many more in my recent book, Something Resembling God, now available on Amazon.

An audio recording of this sermon can be found here.

Do you remember this story during the pandemic? A group of women who had spent weeks or months in lockdown under super stressful conditions met in a parking lot for a long, cathartic scream.

They came together to let it all out – literally just screaming into the void until they were ready to stop. That’s it – that’s the whole story. 

Now, the screaming didn’t fix anything. 

At the end of the scream, they all went back into their impossible situations and kept going. 

But they felt a little better, and most of us would probably agree that after a good long cry or other embodied expression, we usually feel better about whatever it is that has us wanting to scream or cry in the first place. 

I’m wondering a few things, and the first is why did the scream help? 

We’re in a UU setting here so I’ll acknowledge that there are a lot of ways we could take this. 

As a Pagan and practicing witch, my perspective is that everything is energy, and releasing stored emotional energy from our bodies through actions like crying, screaming, movement, or even creating art or music, are all ways we can release and return that energy to the universe. 

Some of my other friends would probably agree from a biological perspective, that release is an important regulating feature that helps our bodies return to a state of homeostasis after disruption. We release stress hormones through our tears and crying literally helps us feel better on a physiological level. 

Some of our spiritual friends might add insight about the nuances between pain and suffering, Some psych-minded friends may mention radical acceptance, and Some religious friends may chime in that suffering can be a punishment for sin. Some prayerful friends may suggest that the scream is a prayer, and the catharsis is God or the Universe answering that prayer.That lets us circle right back to a witchy interpretation – the scream/release is the vibration that manifests catharsis. 

Other religious, secular, and spiritual identities may offer endless other perspectives, and the more I study religion, science, human development, and spirituality, the more I come to the conclusion for myself that it’s all the same thing, just different languages and ways of interpreting. 

My favorite thing about our beloved faith is that we are allowed to hold space for all of them. There are no right answers, just a safe playground for our free and responsible spiritual exploration. 

All of those perspectives – earth-based, religious, scientific – are expressions of how we seek answers to THE BIG QUESTIONS – who are we, where do we come from, why are we here? And after the last few years especially, sometimes my biggest question for God, the Universe, Anything – is dude, what the heck?

Sometimes I think about all of the outrageous things that have happened in the last 5 years or so and I wonder how any of us are still upright, and there have been plenty of times when the only thing I could think to do was some sort of screaming into the abyss.

Has anyone else been there? That pandemic was no joke, huh? It was a genuinely traumatic thing that we all went through together, and it’s not quite over even though the world seems to be over it, and it seems to me like we all still need a good, cleansing, ritual scream to let some of that scared, overwhelmed, lonely, frustrated energy out. 

So my question for the void right now is – dude, what the heck?

The Void and I are working on that one – what I appreciate about the void is it is never offended by blunt questions or sweary lamentations. 

And my question for you is this: When we scream or cry or pray or write or sing our big feelings, deepest fears, and most vulnerable needs out into the Universe, how do we expect them to be met? 

Do we expect our worries to be met with ambivalence? With compassion? With I told you so or that’s what you deserve? Do we expect our experience to be validated? (Pause)

Whatever response we have been conditioned to expect from the Universe, what does it say about how we regard our own inherent worth and dignity?


Ok let’s unpack that one a little bit. We as Unitarian Universalists don’t have a set of scripture or dogma that we abide by, but one of our guiding principles is that we affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of all beings. That means a lot of things, including that we believe everyone’s journeys and beliefs are valid and everyone deserves to have our needs met – and there’s nothing we have to do to earn that. We exist, therefore we deserve to exist with dignity, have our needs met, and have our existence and unique perspectives and contributions valued – and that’s the same for everyone, no matter if they’re UUs or not. 

Now an important piece of that is accountability – I’m entitled to my free and responsible search for truth and meaning, and responsible means as long as I’m not causing harm, as long as I’m not taking from cultures that are not mine, and as long as I remain committed to learning and growing and as long as I’m willing to admit I don’t have all the answers, and that my answers don’t have to work for anyone except me. This is a highly personal journey, which can be complicated and feel very different from what we’re used to in the spiritual community. 

And this isn’t usually how it’s done, right? How many of you all grew up in a religious community where the people at the pulpit are like “yeah, I have my answers, but I’m not trying to tell you how to have yours. I don’t even know if I have any answers. In fact, I almost certainly don’t.”? 

Honestly, that’s a little bit radical. There aren’t many places in our society where a group of people can come together and say, “ok, we don’t have to agree on everything, we’re almost certainly going to disagree on some of the big things, but here’s how we’re going to be in community together while we figure it out, because we don’t need to think alike to love alike.” 

No! We’re so used to being enraged, and we really like definitive answers! We want to know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It is so uncomfortable to admit that we might not know, and it takes a ton of courage to say, maybe I don’t know, but this is what I’ve decided to put my faith in without demanding anyone else put theirs in it too. 

However, too often in our culture we lack the connections and regulation to handle that discomfort. Instead we’re used to trying to change others’ minds and having others try to change our mind, that creates a situation where our norm is constantly experiencing conflict and division with our fellow travelers. If not so much in our immediate circles, we are constantly exposed to us vs them rhetoric and divisive issues.  We are told in a million different ways that there are only some right ways to scream into the void, and not only do we have to defend our ways, we have to fight off other people trying to convince us that their way is better. 

No matter how much we might want them to be simple, most things in life are too complex for simple answers or solutions and demand a great deal of nuance. We all have different levels of capacity for that, and for some of us it is so uncomfortable to not know, to have our version of a truth challenged, to hold space for complexity. That desperation to have a definitive conclusion, an authority on truth, if you will, is an understandable trauma response to the fear of the unknown, and it is also a symptom of white supremacy culture. 

So it is radical, I’d even say God forbid a little bit woke, to intentionally create communities where we don’t have to feel threatened by our differences, where your scream is just as valid as my scream and when we all scream our big questions and big feelings into the void together, it creates incredible harmonies that couldn’t ever exist if we all just sang the same notes. 

A pervasive message we receive in our culture is that when we scream into the void, the void is gonna fight back, tell us to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, insist that we deserved the pain that moved us to scream, and maybe we’ll learn our lesson next time. 

We are conditioned by our authoritarian, punitive culture to expect the void to be a vindictive parent who will cross their arms and remind us the world is not fair, people are not good, we are not good, things are supposed to be painful, we do not deserve any better, and we better stop crying about it before they give us something to cry about. 

That is the version of parents many of us grew up with, and it is a version of God many of us grew up with as well. It has been suggested that this is a reason why the former president was so popular with his fanbase – he embodies the role of a vindictive father that they have been taught to associate with God. 

But here’s the thing – 

Our scientific friends will remind us we are made of stardust, the very Universe that surrounds us. 

Our earth-centered friends will remind us we are nature – earth, air, fire, and water.

Some spiritual friends will remind us that the Beloved is always within us, and some religious friends will tell us we are all made in the image of God.

If we are made in the image of God, a reflection of Divine nature, if we are the expanse of the galaxies and the power of the ocean, if we truly embody and believe in our inherent worth and dignity – then we know we deserve unconditional love, and when we scream into the void, we know  it is our birthright to be offered witness and comfort in return. 

We deserve a response to our pain that is compassionate, that validates us, that gathers up our worries, hears our screams, considers it all thoughtfully and says, “Wow, you’ve really been through it. I know you’re trying your best. I’m so sorry you’re hurting. We’ll get through it together.”

We deserve to be gently parented through our pain rather than shamed for experiencing it, and my goodness, what a difference it would make if that was how we as a society responded to pain.

What a difference it would make if collectively, we rejected the idea that we deserve to suffer and chose to believe that when God speaks to and through us, it feels like a lullaby – not the sting of a switch. 

We don’t have to accept a version of society or a version of God or spirituality based on domination, shame, and threat of punishment, we don’t have to accept “well, that’s just the way it is.” 

I don’t want to imply that this is easy, or that all of our fellow travelers are agreeable. I’m not saying that loving the hell out of this broken world is something straightforward, one-dimensional, or comfortable.

What I am saying, though, is “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society,” and we are not idealistic, foolish, or wrong for noticing that we live in a sick society and saying, dude, what the heck? We are not foolish for saying We all deserve better. We’re not accepting suffering as the status quo anymore. We demand and will fight for the Beloved Community. 

We deserve spaces like this beloved community, where our questions and questioning are revered as spiritual practices, where we can laugh and love and grieve and scream at God if we need to. And when we do, we deserve to be met with gentleness, we deserve to be met with kindness, we deserve to have our big feelings and big questions held in reverence, because they are a part of us, and we are a part of a Great Love and Great Mystery that can hold all of us in all of our complexity with care. 

Godde, what a difference it would make in a moment of anguish to be met with comfort and witnessing instead of “well, what do you expect? People suck, you’re people, you deserved this.” 

In my personal life this week I heard a lot of talk about false idols, and all I can think is that a false idol is anything that insists God is anything other than Love, and that God has anything other than Love for all of Us. There are dozens of loving and liberatory ways to interpret scripture – commitment to hateful interpretations is always accompanied by prioritizing power over people. 

Compassion and connections are not central values of the society we live in, and I suspect at least part of that is because hurting, disconnected, disempowered people are a lot easier to control. Narratives of competition, division, revenge, inherent sinfulness, and vindictiveness are so common and entrenched even in secular society that we may believe that these things are human nature – 

But what if the big secret is that human nature is to be a reflection of the BIG BIG love that Is and is readily available to us at any time? We don’t have to earn it, we don’t have to do anything to receive it except lean in to radically believing that we deserve it, that we and everyone around us deserves it because we all have inherent worth and dignity and we all deserve to live in a world where we are cherished. 

I know that all might sound a lot like I just got a Master’s degree in being a bleeding heart liberal snowflake, and that’s fair because I basically did. 

But what I’ve learned in my studies of social movements, systems of oppression, and collective liberation is that the Beloved Community as the Rev. Dr. King imagined it is entirely possible – and that’s why those currently in power are doubling down on the hate, on the division, and on refusing to acknowledge the humanity of those who are different from them. They hear their death knells ringing, they know they will be on the wrong side of history, and they are terrified that losing their power will mean being treated the way they have long treated the powerless. They are terrified and when they scream into the void, all they hear is their own hate and pain echoing back at them – because that is all they think they deserve. 

I pray for them as often as I pray for anyone else – I pray they remember that they, too, are star stuff and God stuff, and they, too, have unconditional love at their fingertips, should they choose to embrace it.

Beloveds, may we scream when we need to. 

May we admire the stardust in one another’s auras,

And the oceans rolling in our veins, 

May we see the Goddess in each of our fellow travelers,

And God, Beloved, Love, Worth, and Dignity, too.

May we have the courage to be the ones to say, “no, the way we’re going about this doesn’t respect anyone’s inherent worth, dignity, or Divine nature. Let’s try again.”

And when we get it wrong, may we always have the courage to try again.

Blessed Be.

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