Alicia's Adventures in Wonderland


Jan Nettler

February 13, 2011

READINGS: Love Prayer, Mark Belletini; Metamorphosis, Lepidopterists' Society; I Corinthians 13; Video Night in Katmandu, Pico Iyer.


If you head due east, slightly north, and go ¼ of the way around the world, you will come to a tiny village of 500 people.  It looks like a little like the town I live in, Huntington.  Same elevation.  There is farmland and rolling hills.  Like my town, there are 2 white churches.  But there, one is a Unitarian Church.

When I started coming to the Unitarian Society, I occasionally read announcements about a partner church in Transylvania.  Transylvania??  did I hear that correctly?  The name of the village has 21 letters!  If you turn your order of meeting to the last page, on the bottom you will see the name of the village.  Well I am completely intimidated by words with more than 20 letters.  How could I even begin to pronounce it.  After visiting the village, I learned you could just skip the first 7 letters,  Homorod.  That is the name of the river valley, but no one says it.  Now we  are down to 14 letters.  Let's try to say them together--- I'll help.  Say:  Karac --- not so hard is it.  Now the next part is tricky, but easy.  Sony----  Now together:  Karacsony ---  ok, we're almost there.  Falva  Say Falva.  Ok, put it all together:   Karacsonyfalva.  Again ---Karacsonyfalva.  We now have a name for it.  Not that hard, is it?

During my first visit to Karacsonyfalva last September, they were celebrating Thanksgiving.  It is one of their 4 most important holidays.  On these holidays, they take communion, eating bread and drinking wine.  They tell me it does not mean the body and blood of Jesus.  But....  well...  I had never done that before.  So I ask, what is a person who grew up in a Jewish home, had a bar mitzvah, became an agnostic, then an atheist, then after years of not knowing what to call herself, settled on non-theist.  What am I doing taking communion, and feeling a great spiritual awakening, and why is a person like me reading from the new testament, the same verse that the minister of the Unitarian church in Karacsonyfalva used when he gave a sermon from this pulpit last April.

Well the answer is in our 7 Unitarian Universalist principles.  The 3rd one says:  Acceptance of one another and  encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.  And the 4th one asks us to make a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

So shouldn't our hearts and minds be open to spiritual growth and religious experiences, especially from those in our congregation and our Partner Church.

Last year, I was president of this Unitarian Society.  Early in that presidency, I learned of a visit from the Minister and his wife of our Partner Church,  Mihaly and Eniko Benedek.  Although several of our members visited Karacsonyfalva, no one from there had visited us.  We were especially honored to have the minister.  One of the goals I set last year was to help make this visit a success.  Naively, I thought I would do a few things to help, then they would leave, and my life would go back to normal.  Little did I know that in the next few months I would visit their village and church twice.

In Karacsonyfalva, they have difficulty pronouncing my name.  And it's only 3 letters!  My middle name is Alicia, which they pronounce as Alicia.  It's easier to say, so that's what they call me.  During their visit here, I thought I was walking along just living my life, when I, just like Alice, stumbled into some kind of rabbit hole and fell into a strange and unfamiliar world of Karacsonyfalva and Transylvanian Unitarianism (which looks very different than our Unitarian Universalism).

My favorite line in Alice in Wonderland is when Alice tells the caterpillar “when you have to turn into a chrysalis--you will some day, you know--and then after that into a butterfly, I should think you'll feel it a little queer, won't you?' The caterpillar replies: `Not a bit,'

Not a bit. For the caterpillar, there is nothing strange about it.  It is just part of life.  I think about the caterpillar often.  I have gone through significant changes in my life, that might appear strange to others, but for me there was nothing queer about them.  Just natural progressions.

When we travel or just meet people who live differently than we do, we are apt to wonder about how strange they must feel.  We wonder why they do things in strange ways, when we clearly know it is better to do it our way.  As Iyer wrote: we can afford to be contemptuous and feel alienation; or it can be a voyage into renewal, as, leaving our selves and pasts at home and traveling light, we recover our innocence.   When we are away from home, and in a new world, our blind faith can become a kind of higher sight.

When Mihaly and Eniko visited us, Janet Bush and I took them to Mass MOCA.  If you haven't had the opportunity to go there, it is an unusual museum with large works of contemporary art.  Some of the exhibits need rooms the size of this Great Hall.    Often exhibits require you to go beyond your comfort zone.  Many people love it, but it is a little over the edge for others.  I wondered if they would like it.  In retrospect, I think it was no different than what they had been seeing the whole week they were here.  So much of what they saw in N'ton probably required them to go beyond their comfort zone.  They loved the museum.  Later you can look at the photos of their visit here and of Karacsonyfalva.  You will see a photo of Mihaly standing in front of a large painting by Sol LeWitt of irregular color bands.  Mihaly is standing with his head tilted and a hand on his cheek looking a bit confused and a bit in awe.  I imagine that photo represents how he must have felt in this strange country, and it certainly represents what I felt on my 2 visits to their strange country.

I felt both confusion and awe.  I also felt a connection that I never expected to feel.

When I travel, no matter how good a time I might have had, when I start getting close to home, my body relaxes.  And when I pull into my driveway, I breathe differently.  I feel the comfort of knowing, the comfort of being home again, the comfort of belonging.  Perhaps you have felt something like this, too.

Well on my second trip to Karacsonyfalva, getting there was a bit stressful.  It took 30 hours from the time I left my house until the time I set foot in the Benedek's home.  It included running through airports trying to make connections, losing my luggage, falling for a scam which I barely escaped from without losing my money and belongings, taking a long train ride and missing my stop in a country where I did not know the language.  But Mihaly finally found me.  As we passed the town of Ocland and turned toward Karacsonyfalva at 3 in the morning, I saw the tower of our Partner Church lit up in the distance.  At that moment, to my surprise, I felt that same feeling I have when I arrive at my house after a trip.  I felt that comfort of belonging.  I felt that I was home again.

When Mihaly led his service here last April using Corinthian 13, I think he expressed the basis for Transylvania Unitarianism.  They believe in god and in the oneness of god.  They base their religion on the bible.  They are Christians, and they follow the teachings of Jesus.  But they don't believe that Jesus is a god or the son of god.  He was a special person whose teachings give them guidance.

Two of our sources are the Wisdom from the world's religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life, and Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves,  So you could believe what they do as Unitarian Universalists, but we have greater latitude in our beliefs.

Francis David, a 16th century Transylvanian Unitarian minister said: We need not think alike to love alike.  My impression is that love is the basis of their religion and ethical behavior.  I felt that love from them.  I think that is why I felt so much at home when I arrived there on my last visit.

So how different is that from Unitarian Universalism.  Love is certainly an option for UU's.  Several of us went to a District workshop recently, where Doug Zelinski tried to sum up what UU's believe in.  And he proposed that our purpose is to shape our congregations and our world through love.  Part of our Univeralist legacy is compassion, acceptance of others and universal love.  Then there is the Standing on the Side of Love campaign, which is sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Association and “is a public advocacy campaign that seeks to harness love’s power to stop oppression.”

Karacsonyfalva is not unlike small villages in any 3rd world or developing nation.  It is agrarian, with a mix of 19th century life combined with 21st century living.  It is not uncommon to see horse drawn vehicles, people cutting hay by hand, outhouses, and heating and cooking with wood.  But you also see satellite tv's, computers with internet access, and lots of cell phones.  Some of their meals were different that what I was used to.  They speak Hungarian, which I now have about a 13 word vocabulary.  Yes, sometimes I felt like Alicia, wondering how strange it must feel.

But as Iyer wrote: If every journey makes us wiser about the world, it also returns us to a sort of childhood. In alien parts, we speak more simply, in our own or some other language, move more freely, unencumbered by the histories that we carry around at home, and look more excitedly, with eyes of wonder. And if every trip worth taking is both a tragedy and a comedy, rich with melodrama and farce, it is also, at its heart, a love story, observed with a measure of faith."

I saw and experienced many unusual things in my visits to Karacsonyfalva.  The connection is strong and powerful.  It is a love story for me.  It feels like home.

During pupal life, nearly all cells of the caterpillar die and their contents are recycled to build a rapidly increasing number of cells in each disc. Each disc unfolds and turns inside-out, revealing adult shapes. These emerging regions get organized, and the butterfly emerges.  How queer that must be.  Not at all.

Corinthians 13 ends with: “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”

For me, right now, faith, hope and love are intertwined.  For me, love cannot exist without hope.  And love is faithful devotion.

Hol hit - ott szeretet

Hol szeretet - ott béke

Hol béke -  ott áldás

Hol áldás  - ott Isten

Hol Isten  - ott szükseg nincen.

Where there is faith there is love

Where there is love there is peace

Where there is peace there is blessing

Where there is blessing there is God

Where there is God there is all we need.

This blessing is displayed in many of the homes I visited.  It is now on the wall in my home.  So how can a nice Jewish kid, who now calls herself a non-theist, say and feel the power of these words.  It must feel queer, claims Alice.  Well, perhaps a little surprising, but not queer at all.  Not at all.

May faith, hope, and love be with you, and may the greatest of these be love.