Gathered here in one strong body
Gathered here in the struggle and the power
Spirit, draw near.
–Gathered Here, Hymn #389 in Singing the Living Tradition (UU Hymnal)
Tomorrow, I’m presenting the service at my tiny local UU church. I’ve spent probably a lot more time than I should have getting ready for my presentation. I’m using the first part of the Spirit in Practice curriculum which is part of the vast treasure-trove of resources available from Tapestry of Faith via the UUA. My goals for this presentation are threefold:
- To connect us to a sense of larger UU identity
- To give us a taste for the resources available at our fingertips via Tapestry of Faith
- To help us understand that “spiritual practices” are appropriate, desirable, and meaningful for UU’s too
Our local fellowship leans very heavily towards the secular humanist and academic in regard to its services and shies away from anything “spiritual” in nature (for more on this broad UU habit of avoiding matters of the sacred and how that hurts our communal, religious experience, see the wonderful article, Imagineers of Soul from UU World magazine). I really, really want to offer the possibility tomorrow that we can both be rational, logical, social justice-oriented UUs and have a shared spiritual experience. As Christine Robinson explains:
Why do people come to church? It is not to learn. People don’t even go to museums to learn. It’s not to be entertained. People don’t even go to Disneyland just to be entertained. They come to church, especially they come to church, to quench a thirst, find meaningfulness, to have an authentic experience, or, in a more traditional religious language, to connect with mystery and see their everyday lives reflected in the mirror of eternity. Churches, then, and the lay and ordained people who lead them, are Imagineers of Soul, sorcerer’s apprentices in the art of quenching thirst, filling voids, opening the doors of meaning.
We do lots of things as church people, of course: teach the children, comfort the dying, change the world. When we do these things as religious people, they evoke the “holy”and if they don’t, we’ve failed at the only thing the church can uniquely do. And the truth is, we fail a lot, sticking to the safely secular, avoiding reverence, skirting awe, and missing opportunities to conjure up a sense of the spiritual. That failure comes in spite of the fact that significant lay and ministerial voices have been saying for two generations that we Unitarian Universalists are missing something important if we take a secular, hands off the spirit approach to our life together.
One of the reasons I stopped attending church regularly was because too often it was missing the “imagineers of soul” connection and was instead an intellectual discussion. I love intellectual discussions just fine, but I live 22 miles from church AND I greatly value weekend time with my family. It became so if I had to choose between listening to a presentation about foxes or hanging out at home, I’d choose home every time. What I hope to explore tomorrow is the role and value of regular spiritual practices in both group and individual life.
Today when I went to the woods, I sat on a rock and sang the song I’m going to use tomorrow over and over, louder and louder. I’m a terrible singer, but I’m no longer willing to let embarrassment over that win and stop me from trying. I’ve also learned with my women’s circle that after we get through that first, awkward, discordant, confusing round, we actually end up sounding pretty awesome. Too often, groups stop singing after the first run through and what builds is a collective sense of, “we can’t do this,” or “don’t bother, we’re hopeless!” Tomorrow, I plan to “make” us go through Gathered Here at least four times–I hope to demonstrate to the group how much better we get with just a tiny bit of practice and that also singing together is a powerful, communal experience that can solidify and strengthen our sense of having a shared “faith tradition” (rather than solely a shared tendency to vote Democrat). And, that we individually don’t have to be “good singers,” but that in community we can even sound kind of beautiful.
I’ll don’t know if the group will appreciate my offering tomorrow, but I have to try. Maybe next time, I’ll actually talk them into making UU prayer beads 😉
The other thing I thought of today was how my woodspriestess daily practice has been steadily been moving up in priority in my days. That is part of having a robust daily practice. I have to do it. Name it as valuable and take regular action to bring it into life. If I put things off until “later,” I end up staggering out to the woods at 11:30 p.m. with a flashlight and a sense of obligation. Now, I do it first, regardless of what the rest of my to-do list says. Seriously, if I “don’t have time” to take five minutes to restore my soul in the woods each day, what kind of life am I living?! When I first became a student at OSC and was taking the Ecology and the Sacred course, one of the things that I was hungering for was a regular, spiritual practice. That class helped me evolve in several ways and I feel I’ve finally found the kind of integration between theory and practice that I was seeking (I have ways I’d like to take it deeper too. More on that some other day).
The things that are holy and sacred in this life are neither stored away on mountaintops nor locked away in arcane secrets of the saints. I doubt that any church has a monopoly on them either. What holiness there is in this world resides in the ordinary bonds between us and in whatever bonds we manage to create between ourselves and the divine.
—Patrick O’Neill, “ Unitarian Universalist Views of the Sacred
On a not-totally-related note, something that interests me, but that I have little experience with is “augurs,” or the reading of natural “signs” and learning from them. It is almost like a form of divination in a sense, or a type of listening to a response to a prayer, or the receiving of a message from the world. Today as I reached the rocks, I saw this little arrangement on the ground. I didn’t touch or adjust it. It doesn’t intuitively mean anything to me, but the shape of the sticks and the “arrangement” of the items in what looks like a deliberate sort of way, caught my eye. If I was good at this augur stuff, I could probably have learned something else today!