Archive for November, 2008

How Does the Spirit Move?

November 20, 2008

What a tremendous moment to be an American! Indeed to be alive. With Obama’s election so much is possible; exuberance has come over the country, if not the world, about the prospect of seeing our values come full circle into the public square. It seemed to me, as I listened to Obama’s victory speech from Grant Park late Tuesday night, that we were in the midst of spiritual shift in our consciousness as a people. Not all of us to be certain, but most of us could sense a sea change, moving out of the dark and stagnant eddies of past years, into the fresh current blowing across our waters. If prayers were answered, this would be one: abolishing torture, caring for the poor, ending this war, saving the planet. It was and still is, at least for me deeply profound and therefore spiritual. By like all matters of the spirit, this one was tempered by a shadow. For while we felt that shift into clean open water, a part of us was snagged on the sharp rocks of bigotry. Prop. 8’s narrow passage by those who misunderstood the civil rights they were denying of our GLBTQ people, was as sour as Obama’s victory was sweet. Honestly, I am still coming to grips with it; the loss, the heartache, the personal affront and insecurity I felt for those who have been married by me, and those who plan to be. I am still coming to grips with the fear and hatred that infected the whole campaign. I admire our direct propositional system of democracy here in California, but find it maddening as well. This tragic loss was also a spiritual moment.

Our Third Principle as Unitarian Universalists is “the acceptance of one another and the encouragement of spiritual growth in our congregations.” Our acceptance of those of different backgrounds is built into the very stones of this church; we welcome you as you are, whatever your color, your background, your economic background, your sex, your orientation, your politics and yes, your theology. I will not claim we always live up to that mandate, but it is clearly our mission here. What really sets us apart as a religion though, is not our openness, but our encouragement of open spiritual growth, without any creed or dogma; we are here to move. Our religion is more a process that a product, more a means than an end, a verb rather than a noun. So it’s entirely fitting that on this sweet and bitter moment in our political life, I consider just what it means to be spiritual and how we can all grow from it.

The election was a spiritual moment because it achieved, as Bill Schulz coined it, an “experience of the profound – not our beliefs about meaning death, hope, suffering, the Nature of God…but our experiences of those realities.” (From Finding Time and Other Delicacies, Skinner House Books, 1992) Not beliefs, but experiences of those beliefs. I belief in democracy and hope; but on election night I experienced democracy and hope. I believe in marriage rights for all people, but this week I experienced the tragic loss of those rights. Spirituality then is the experience of what we believe, the moving of us from one moment to the next. And if we are open, then we will, necessarily grow from that. When I first came here in 2005 we invited Larissa Stowe and her band to lead us in a service of Sanskrit Chanting. I told her to go easy on you, since I knew such chanting could go on for hours. I explained that we worship for an hour. Well, it was quite a Service: music, singing chanting and it went on for an hour and half before it wound down. Admittedly, some of you just walked out exhausted, others were dancing on air. The point is you were open to it and many of us grew from understanding religion, in this case Hinduism, not cerebrally, but through song and movement. It brought life to our belief in being truly open.

How does the Spirit move you? Sometimes it is brilliant preaching, but a wise preacher knows that she is only as good as her last sermon. We also need music, we need ritual, we need action in the world, we need to move. Last week’s Service on the Day of the Dead, was most moving when you all came forward to place your ancestors memories on the altar while Joanna played Somewhere Over the Rainbow. That was a spiritual moment.

How do we recognize a spiritual moment? How can we encourage each other to grow spiritually? Well, I like these five steps to responsible spirituality, adapted from Bill Schulz.

1. Can everyone join in the fun? Everybody has to have access to the profound. Some forms of spirituality are limited to those who conform to preconceptions of the universe; IF you believe this way, you can play. Or only some can have access to the divine. That is why we believe in a free pulpit here; the prophethood of all believers.

2. Does your spirituality have a sense of humor? I am not sure there are many Catholic priests who tell jokes from the pulpit such as, “How many UUs does it take to screw in a light bulb?”

“We choose not to make a statement either in favor of or against the need for a light bulb. However, if in your own journey you have found that light bulbs work for you, you are invited to write a poem or compose a modern dance about your light bulb for the next Sunday service, in which we will explore a number of light bulb traditions, including incandescent, fluorescent, 3-way, long-life and tinted, all of which are equally valid paths to luminescence.”

3. What are the implications for the world? Too many spiritual practices only serve the interests of the adherents. What you practice of your religion should make a difference in the world. What good is enjoying the bounty of life if you are not using it to help others? “Religion which shuns politics is inconsistent with the Unitarian Universalist tradition,” writes Schulz. That is certainly true here at PUC. We are moved by our beliefs to vote, stand up for the rights of all people and even provide a polling place here.

4. Does it pay homage to the tragic? Our spirituality moves us to deal with loss. As I have dealt with the denial of marriage rights passed by our electorate this last week, I am moved to remember that we, as UUs will continue to recognize those unions in our Church. I am saddened by this loss, but remain hopeful that time and effort will move us ultimately towards the good.

5. Where does it locate the most precious? In or out of the world? In movement, in song, in music, in words, in silence, in action helping those who are in need? It should have a place in our hearts. I believe that we are placed on this planet to achieve a mission to be discerned and acted upon. I place my spirituality in the stories of those who have made a difference in the world or even survived the tragic. I place my spirituality in laughter and tears. I place it in power of a community to choose the right course in difficult times. (Ibid, Schulz)

How does the Spirit move you? The beauty and mystery of our lives as UUs is that we have the power to find meaning in our lives. For some that meaning may be that there are many paths to the Holy, that beneath our diversity there is a unity that makes us one, in spite of time and death and the space between the stars. For many of us we are moved by the knowledge that there is no wrong way to love, and no wrong way to discover what is holy in your life, like so many spokes on a wheel. The point I remind you of here today is that the beauty of our faith tradition is that it doesn’t really much matter which path you take as long as you are not hurting another. I remind any of us today, different as we are in political sentiment, sexual orientation, even class, that we are here to be moved towards that unity that makes us one. Hate and exclusion have no place in these walls.

I have been an atheist, a Buddhist, a Christian, a mystic, an enchanted agnostic, and as I moved from one perspective in my faith journey to the next I realized that they are really all pretty much the same. The Spirit moves me to be compassionate, just and honest. I have left behind the worry I am going to Hell, life is hell enough. I have left behind the worry I am going to Heaven, life can be heaven enough as well. Gone, really for me, is the need to argue about the existence of God or even the validity of the Trinity. I have decided that at the end of the day what matters most, is love and other people. That is where the Spirit moves me. For too long now I believe we have wasted our time in mental gymnastics as Unitarian Universalists with questions like “Was Jesus God or human?” “Is the bible fact or fiction?” “Is prayer useful or illusory?” (Ibid Schulz) Instead, I believe we need to be asking, “How are we going to get along?” “What can we do about poverty and injustice?” “How can survive through a struggle and celebrate life?” In short, the Spirit moves me towards a unity that binds us all. The principle we live by that all life is interconnected. That is what matters most to me. All the rest is just the means to an end. I know that prayer moves many to a place of solace and peace. I know that for many the personal relationship with Jesus as a Son of God makes the divine accessible in their lives. I know the Bible contains both wonderful truths and horrible prescriptions. The kind of beliefs we have are really only useful if they move you to becoming a whole person, capable of loving and being loved. We “live every day in an intimate acquaintance with (our) own fragility and the fragility of those whose lives (we) touch…”(Ibid Schulz)

How does the Spirit move you? What matters most to you? My family matters most to me, so the Sprit moves me to do all I can to love them and provide for them. For some of you, what matters most is this Church. But a church is only the people in it, so the Spirit might best move you to care for one another, as we say, in loving transformation and trusting hope. For some of you, what matters most is saving the planet from pollution, so for you the Spirit moves you to advocate and live a greener life. For some the Spirit moves you to care for those who cannot care for themselves, so the Spirit moves you to take action. For some the Spirit moves you to care for all our children, our future, so the Spirit moves you to come to our RE visioning after the Service. For some, the Spirit moves you to just survive another day and so you are here, just to know you are part of a community that accepts you as you are.

“The (Spirit) yearns to be felt and it begs to be lived. This is the supreme paradox of spirituality: it can almost never be captured but it can always be seen.” (Ibid, Shultz)

I would ask you to ponder again as we say those closing words each week, “there is a unity that binds us together”, a unity that binds us and yet moves each of us slightly differently. The paradox of being one and many. Above all else, may the Spirit move us to stay together, in this Church, to use it as a launching pad out into the world, to where the Spirit needs us most. Blessed be!

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