Category Archives: Thoughts

Suspense of Faith: A Remembering, Renewal and Reclamation

This is a sermon I wrote putting out a call to Unitarian Universalists specifically, but also to all those who are religiously affiliated and/or ‘spiritual but not religious’.  I’ve spoken before about my belief that humanity is at an important crossroads, where it is critical that we make the choice between continuing on our current path (which isn’t really working for anybody or anything) or moving forward in a healthier, more enlightened way.  I truly believe that one of the most important aspects of this a reclamation  and redefining of language.  There’s a lot of work being done around this, and I’ll try to post more about it soon.  For now, here’s a brief history lesson + call to action.

church_drawing

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.

Don’t go back to sleep.You must ask for what you really want.Don’t go back to sleep.

People are going back and forth across the doorsill

Where the two worlds touch.

The door is round and open.

Don’t go back to sleep.

~Rumi

In the 2012 Winter edition of UU World magazine, Fredric Muir declares that Unitarian Universalism “needs a new narrative.”  Regardless of how you look at the data, we, like most religious institutions over the past few decades, have remained stagnant (or even shrunk) in terms of numbers.  Our demographics continue our history of being predominantly White, highly educated, and middle class, but the society in which we find ourselves is rapidly becoming more diverse.  The U.S. Census Bureau projected in 2009 that members of racial and ethnic minorities will make up a majority of the country’s population by the year 2042; the socio-economic and educational divides in the U.S. are growing at an exponential pace; and perhaps most troubling is the quick rise of the “Nones” in our society – the young adults who claim no religious affiliation.

In his article, Fredric Muir says, “Fundamental to our survival is a paradigm shift that goes deep into the history, character, and epistemology of Unitarian Universalism.  It goes to the essence of how we understand ourselves and relate to the world at large.”

boiling_frog

A few years ago some scientists conducted an experiment involving a little frog. In their lab was a vat of steaming, boiling hot water. They wanted to determine how the frog would react when dropped into the vat. In their white aprons, armed with clipboards, pencils, goggles and rubber gloves, they held the squirming little frog over the vat. Focusing intently on what they were about to do, they dropped the frog….

ZING!!

Faster than a bolt of lightning, that little guy burst into the air, careening off the ceiling and landing safely on the floor.

“Hmmmmmmm,” the scientists murmured amongst themselves.

They did it again. Same frog, same vat of steaming water.

ZING!!

Again the frog blasted out of that pot.

The scientists murmured some more, recorded their notes and decided to take the experiment a step further. They took the same frog and held it over a different vat of water. This water was only lukewarm – perfect temperature for a frog. They dropped the little guy in and…..

NOTHING!!

He just laid there, floating lazily, arms and legs splayed so that he lay gently on the water’s surface. Life was good! What that poor frog didn’t know was that underneath this pot of water was a raging fire and it was slowly, but surely, heating the vat of water. The contented frog, oblivious to the slow change in temperature, boiled to death.

The End.

I know, I know – poor little frog; but that frog can teach us a valuable lesson about complacency. If we get too comfortable, we can forget that the world is changing around us all the time and after awhile, if we don’t start moving forward too, we can get completely left behind.

conception

In 2007, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life conducted an extensive survey on the religious landscape of the United States.  Even more recently, they have updated some of their research to include the following statistics:  The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today.  In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults. Their ranks now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6% of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14% of the U.S. public).

These numbers have caused reactions ranging from terror to glee.  Religious leaders and organizations tend to see this as a reason to gather the faithful and stress the importance of doctrine and dogma, while groups like the American Atheists cheer the Pew study as evidence that the “number of godless continues to rise” and that the “stranglehold of religion is fading away.”

Regardless of your feelings about these statistics, there is no doubt that American society is changing.  It may seem that we are moving further away from any place we have historically been, but the truth is, if we examine our past carefully, we will see that history does, in fact, repeat itself.

henrywhitneybellows1

In 1859, Unitarian minister Henry Whitney Bellows spoke to the alumni of Harvard Divinity School in an address titled, “The Suspense of Faith.”  And while his words, like so many others, have mostly been forgotten over the years, the sermon’s importance to Unitarian history cannot be denied.  In it, Bellows fearlessly lays out a criticism of both the religious and secular society he was a part of – and vehemently calls his audience to action in not only resisting, but redirecting the tendencies that had brought them there.

1859 America was a country on the verge of war, torn apart by fundamental differences in belief and culture.  It was in the middle of its first great wave of immigration, with over ten million northern and western Europeans and Chinese arriving on its shores.  In 1850, only 34% of Americans belonged to a church, and for decades, individualism and self-reliance had, as Bellows says, been busy creating substitutes for religion in science, philosophy and literature.  In addition, society was in a lull between the 2nd Great Awakening of the early 19th century and the 3rd Great Awakening of the Civil War and subsequent Industrial Revolution – in which Henry Bellows was a very influential figure, by the way.  Dozens of new denominations and communal societies were being formed, stretching the religiously affiliated into even smaller numbers.

Compare this cultural and societal setting to our current era of war and terror, the meteoric rise of technology and globalization, the estimated increase in ethnic minorities as well as an ever growing diversity of religious and philosophical ideologies.  We live in a capitalist society which places more value on individual accomplishment and ingenuity than community and cooperation, and, as previously mentioned, a generation that is increasingly disinterested in being associated with religion and religious institutions.

We are not in such different places, Henry Bellows’s Unitarians and contemporary UUs.  And in an effort to learn from our past and respect our history, we – as Americans, as those of religious affiliation, as Unitarian Universalists –  we must address the issues Henry Bellows puts forth in The Suspense of Faith, and heed his call for a renewal of commitment to institutionalism.

First, a look at Bellows himself.  Henry Whitney Bellows was born in Boston in 1813, and after attending Harvard Divinity School, served as the minister of the Church of All Souls in Manhattan for 43 years.  He was known to be an “inveterate middle-of-the-roader” and was infamous for changing his mind about theological and political issues, but one thing Bellows never wavered on was his belief in the centrality of the church to religious life, and he worked hard to preserve Unitarianism’s past while being aware of, and responding to, an ever-changing world.

While the language in his sermon The Suspense of Faith can be archaic and his ideas a little too steeped in Christianity for our contemporary UU tastes, his overall message is inspiring and motivating.  In an effort to be brief, I am going to only a few of the defining ideas of his address.

Bellows inherent desire to please everyone is immediately apparent as he spends several pages laying out caveats and disclaimers before launching into his main argument and message.  After preparing his audience as best he can for what he’s about to say, he launches into a three-fold explanation of the “despondency, self-questioning and anxiety” of the age.

The three areas that must be considered in order to find the reason for the suspense of faith are: the particular – Unitarianism itself; the general –   the greater Protestantism that the Unitarians are a product of; and the Universal – Christendom, humanity and the world at large.   He states that throughout history, Unitarianism has been the vanguard of expansive theological thought and practice; and derived much of its energy and spirit from this work.  He continues to say that the rest of the Christian world, as well as secular society, have now caught up with Unitarianism, and, in fact, political and democratic life, literature and the public press can spread these thoughts much more rapidly than the church ever could, and therefore, “the original and animating spirit of the denomination is taken away, by the success of the principles for which it stood.”

Considering Protestantism in general, it is despondent because if you take it to its logical conclusion, in the end it will lead to “abandonment of the Church as an independent institution, the denial of Christianity as a supernatural revelation, and the extinction of worship as a separate interest.”

The tendencies which will lead to this, Bellows says, are found outside the Church in “the vast population, said to be much more than half, perhaps three-quarters…that goes to church nowhere.  It is not only an unreligious age, but it is becoming more and more unreligious.  For religious institutions and ideas in our day flourish mainly in the strength of their roots in a religious past, a strength which is constantly diminishing.”

For Bellows, it was impossible to separate truth from history, and his chief criticism of 19th century thought was “a disrespect and forgetfulness of the past, a contempt for the institutions that transmit its life, and isolation in self-complacency.”  In his examination of the third reason for the suspense of faith – the Universal – he speaks of two motions of the spirit in relation to God – a motion that sends us away from God, to learn freedom and to develop our own powers and intellect, and the motion that draws us back to God, to receive the inspiration and Grace we are now strong enough to hold.

When the pendulum reaches the outside bounds of one swing, it must reverse course and swing back the other way.  Bellows claimed that it was this moment of suspended animation that was causing the painful pause, the suspense of faith.  He says, “For one cycle we have come, I think, nearly to the end of our self-directing…self-developing.  Having enlarged our faculties, we want a use for them; having achieved our freedom, we know not what to do with hit; having cultivated our wills, consciences, and intellects to the utmost at present possible, they cry out for objects that they do not find.”

And it is here that Bellows begins his argument for a return to an era of institutions, a period when the emphasis on self-development can translate itself into more permanent terms through an investment in the church.  He claims that according to history and the “great common instincts of humanity”, that a sense of yearning for rest and a longing for spiritual relief will bring about a new religious epoch; one that will be “distinguished by faith as much as the last has been by doubt.”

But these churches that Bellows is calling for, and that humanity is craving, must be more than just a place where “one portion of the human race [is] educating another portion of the human race;” where religion means more than just human development and self-perfection.  Here is where the beauty of Bellow’s thoughts are truly articulated.  He says that the church must not be a “mere reservoir that may be emptied, but a permanent conduit, or channel, through which flows down the eternal river of God.”  He continues, “the collection or calling together of human beings in any one of their radical relationships, or about any one of their essential needs or aspirations, develops at once something which none of the individual parties could have predicted or anticipated, or in himself[/herself] possessed – a pre-ordained consequent of relationship…which is very different from any of the elements of which it is composed.”

The final pages of Bellows’s address are dedicated to the details of how he envisions the new era of institutions thriving.  He calls for the church to be content with its religious function, for it to undertake less in order to do more, and that it not, in any way, disparage the activity and responsibility of humanity’s own will.  He proposes a clear separation of Church and State and a language of imaginative symbols and holy festivals.

In the end, for Henry Bellows, humanity’s suspense of faith is a cry for help and he is certain that God will hear it and will answer.

nones-exec-1

Bringing us back to the present, now, we are confronted with the statistics of our religious landscape.  There is a danger in looking at the numbers and falling into what Bellows called a “painful equipoise which forbids healthful motion” – depressed, defeated, indifferent and afloat.

And yet…there is hope.  We can heed Bellows’s call, take a collective breath as the pendulum begins its next cycle, and pick up where Unitarianism left off in its embrace of Humanism in the early 20th century and expand our identity as a united Unitarian-Universalist denomination instead of abandoning covenant in pursuit of individualism.

The numbers of the “Nones” have been misunderstood and misrepresented by the media and those whose futures depend on them not existing.  True, one-fifth of the U.S. public aren’t affiliated with any religion, but despite this rise, the survey reveals that more than two-thirds of those people believe in God.  92% of Americans believe in the existence of God or a universal Spirit – 92%!  What this means is that there is a large percentage of our population who acknowledge faith and spirituality as an important factor of life, but who are unfulfilled, dissatisfied, unmoved, or disgusted by institutions that claim to represent faith – or just unaware of what’s available to them.

According to the research, many of the country’s 46 million unaffiliated adults are religious or spiritual in some way. Two-thirds of them say they believe in God.  More than half say they often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth, while more than a third classify themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious,” and one-in-five say they pray every day. In addition, most religiously unaffiliated Americans think that churches and other religious institutions benefit society by strengthening community bonds and aiding the poor.

With few exceptions, though, the unaffiliated also say they are not looking for a religion that would be right for them. Overwhelmingly, they think that religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.

These are not the numbers of an irreligious age!  But they are the numbers of a world in which our role is increasingly diminished; a world in which distrust of religious institutions is strong and emotional; a world in which a lot of healing is needed before growth can occur.

detail_909_BelovedCommunity

As we heard earlier, Fredric Muir advocates for a paradigm shift in Unitarian Universalism, and that shift is a transformation from what he calls “iChurch,” (i for individual), to Beloved Community.  He says, in a voice very similar to Bellows, “individualism is not sustaining: Individualism will not serve the greater good.  There is little-to-nothing about the ideology and theology of individualism that encourages people to work and live together, to create and support institutions that serve common aspirations and beloved principles.”

Muir claims there are two obstacles preventing our denomination from becoming Beloved Community:  UU exceptionalism and our allergy to power and authority.  Many of us within UU congregations have as strong opinions about churches, money and power as the Nones do.  Most of the 20th century was spent in avoiding institutionalism and creedalism, fighting to keep control out of the hands of an over-arching authority and it is time, at the beginning of this new religious epoch, that we take a deep look at this issue within our congregations.

As for UU exceptionalism, I’ll let Muir explain that so as to avoid getting myself in hot water:  “We may experience Unitarian Universalism as unique and even saving, but it is not the only way.  We must stay conscious of how we explain, defend and share our perspectives lest we come across as elitist, insulting, degrading, even humiliating of others.”

It is imperative that in order to survive as a denomination, we not only focus on our historical commitment to social justice, and to reforming the world, but also on the continual development and transformation of our congregations, most especially by addressing the issues of individualism, exceptionalism and authority.  If we can heal our wounds and strengthen our bonds within community, we can then extend ourselves outward into the country and world we live in as a healthy, vibrant denomination ready to embrace the diversity that exists.

But how will we do this outreach?  How do we express the importance of institutional community to those who have no interest in it?  What are the arguments to use in engaging the Nones – or even in convincing ourselves that stronger institutionalism is beneficial?

spiritualbutnotreligious

Rabbi David Wolpe wrote an article recently for TIME magazine in which he shares his opinions on the “limitations of being spiritual but not religious.”  Here is what he says:  “All of us can understand institutional disenchantment.  Institutions can be slow, plodding, dictatorial; they can both enable and shield wrongdoers.  They frustrate our desires by asking us to submit to the will of others.  But institutions are also the only mechanism human beings know to perpetuate ideologies and actions.  If books were enough, why have universities?  If guns were enough, why have a military?  If self-governance was enough, let’s get rid of Washington. Spirituality is an emotion.  Religion is an obligation.  Spirituality soothes.  Religion mobilizes.  Spirituality is satisfied with itself.  Religion is dissatisfied with the world.”

He goes on to talk about morality and goodness; that history has proven human beings inconsistent in matching their internal sense of morality with their behavior.  It is only through being in community with others that we discover whether or not our actions are good.  Bellows, too, had something to say about morality, but that is a big topic for another day.

open-door-gabriela-insuratelu

The title of my paper is “The Suspense of Faith: A Remembering, Renewal and Reclamation.”  Today we have remembered Henry Bellows’s powerful call to action in an era so like our own – a call for the creation of an organic, dignified, focused and mystical church.

Today Fredric Muir has urged us to a renewal of our covenant: as free congregations we promise to one another our mutual trust and support.  He asks us to create and sustain intentional community, not in denial of individuality but in contrast to individualism.

And finally, Rabbi Wolpe has helped us to reclaim what religion is and was meant to be – an organization that involves individuals trying together to sort out priorities, to listen and learn from one another, to make a difference and to transform ourselves through mutual spiritual experiences and growth.

Many of the critics of Bellows’s sermon merely misunderstood his use of the call for “a new catholic church”.  He was using the term in the broadest sense, with no intention of meaning the Roman Catholic church, but the very term itself was so heavy with the baggage of centuries of abuse and misuse, that it stopped most people in their tracks.  I have the same fear today, directly, in my use of the word “church” as opposed to community or fellowship, and for us as a denomination in the language used to describe and explain ourselves to others.  In an age where a third of our society is un-religious, and so many of them have expressed distrust of churches, have been hurt, abused, ignored, condemned, humiliated by churches – is it such a stretch to assume that language could be the largest barrier in our communication with them?

And so, in addition to the urgings of Bellows, Muir and Wolpe, I add my own call to you – an opening of your hearts and minds to a reclaiming of the word “church”.  Let us re-define what this means for us.  Beloved Community.  Interconnected Web of Life.   Let us covenant to trust one another with all the hurt and anger surrounding “church” and institutionalism and religion, and, as Diana Butler Bass says, “together find a more profound sense of meaning in the world.”  Let us ride this pendulum swing together into a future that is bright with hope and tight in community.  The breeze has bared its secrets to you and now you know how to ask for what you want – the door is open – don’t go back to sleep!

I leave you as I began, with the words of Rumi:

You may be happy enough going along, but with others you’ll get farther, and faster. 

A wall standing alone is useless, but put three or four walls together, and they’ll support a roof and keep grain dry and safe.

When ink joins with a pen, then the blank paper can say something.

Rushes and reeds must be woven to be useful as a mat.  If they weren’t interlaced, the wind would blow them away.


Bibliography

Bellows, Henry Whitney.  The Suspense of Faith.  (Delivered at Harvard Divinity School.  1859).

Kosmin, Barry &  Keysar, Ariela, Principle Investigators.  Unitarian Universalists in the United States 1990-2008: Socio-demographic Trends and Religious Patterns, A Report Based on the American Religious Identification Surveys.  (Trinity College;  2008).

Kring, Walter Donald.  Henry Whitney Bellows. (Skinner House, Boston.  1979).

Muir, Fredric.  To Build Beloved Community, Unitarian Universalism Needs a New Narrative.  (UU World Magazine.  Winter 2012).

Padgett, Tim.  Empty Pews:  Everyone is Misreading the New Numbers of Religiously ‘Unaffiliated’.  (TIME Magazine.  October 2012).

Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

–          “Nones” On the Rise.  Online article.  October 2012.

–          U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, Summary of Key Findings.  2007-2010.

Robinson, David. The Unitarians and the Universalists (Greenwood Press; 1985).  Chapter 8.

Ross, Warren. The Premise and the Promise: The Story of the Unitarian Universalist Association (Unitarian Universalist Assn.; May 2001).

Stonebraker, Robert J.  The Joy of Economics:  Making Sense out of Life (Winthrop University)

Walton, Christopher L.  Words Are Not the Only Language: Henry Whitney Bellows’s View of Scripture. (Philocrites. May 1997 and May 2013).

Wolpe, Rabbi David.  Viewpoint: The Limitations of Being ‘Spiritual but Not Religious’.  (TIME Magazine.  March 2013)


Peacemakers, Heralds of Hope, Earth-Healers

6395_553039498057772_2008572079_n

Today is Earth Day.  I was originally going to quote John Muir and Ralph Waldo Emerson, urging us towards better stewardship of our planet.  I was going to spit out depressing statistics and bitter truths regarding global warming and resource depletion in an attempt to spur us to act more responsibly towards the Earth and its creatures.  But last week, once again, we were forced to bear witness to needless tragedy and destruction in our world; a world in which it seems more and more often violence is the chosen solution to our problems – violence to ourselves, to other humans, to animals and forests and oceans; violence to our earth.

It is always difficult to know what to say in the wake of these horrific acts and environmental devastations.  My Facebook page has been full of both righteous anger and terrible grief; people jumping to conclusions, calling for action, surrendering to prayer, demanding answers, and desperately seeking hope.

As Barbara Kingsolver writes in her essay Small Wonder, “we are alive in a fearsome time, and we have been given new things to fear.  We’ve been delivered huge blows.  The easiest thing is to think of returning the blows.  But there are other things we must think about as well, other dangers we face.  A careless way of sauntering across the earth and breaking open its treasures, a terrible dependency on sucking out the world’s best juices for ourselves.”

And so, in considering how to address current events while also staying true to the Earth Day message, I realized these are not two separate issues at all.  We are all a part of the interconnected web of life, and the harm we do, whether it be against a fellow human, an animal, plant or our planet’s atmosphere, is harm we do unto ourselves.

I am calling us today to look at this world that is so broken and hurting and to have the courage to be peacemakers, heralds of hope and earth-healers.

In the Unity tradition, we affirm five basic principles.

1.  God is the source and creator of all. There is no other enduring power. God is good and present everywhere.

We may ask ourselves, “How do I create peace amidst chaos and destruction?”  God is good and present everywhere.  In the eye of the hurricane is the calmness that is God.  How do we have sympathy with what appears to be a devil?  There is no other enduring power – evil exists only in our separation from the source.  What this ultimately means is that no one and nothing are beyond hope of realigning with the Truth – both the individual inner truth and the Cosmic Reality of Perfect Creations of the Divine.  This leads us to the second principle.

2.  We are spiritual beings, created in God’s image. The spirit of God lives within each person; therefore, all people are inherently good.

At a very fundamental level, peace rests on the idea that each human being is inherently worthy and good.  To judge someone as unworthy allows us to justify reacting violently in the many ways we relate to others and to ourselves.  By embodying our understanding of our second principle and growing in ways we act out this principle we will create peace.  Therefore, our second principle directly asks us to be peacemakers, not just in actions, but in how we fundamentally see “the other” – both human and non-human.  By internalizing this worthiness and goodness of all, we can act from a firm conviction that the harm we do to others, we do to ourselves, and that for there to be peace in the world, there must be peace in each of us.  Creating peace within ourselves is not always easy, but our third principle encourages us to do just that.

3.  We create our life experiences through our way of thinking.

We do not have to live in a reality ruled by fear and anger.  The “new things to fear” that Barbara Kingsolver says we have been given – we can choose not to accept these fears.  We can choose to find alternatives and options, to look beyond initial impressions and reactions. The Bhagavad Gita of Hindu faith states:  If you want to see the brave, look at those who can forgive. If you want to see the heroic, look at those who can love in return for hatred.  We can choose to be the brave and heroic, to forgive and to love, as difficult as that may be.

4.  There is power in affirmative prayer, which we believe increases our awareness of God.

Here is where we are called, very explicitly, to be heralds of hope.  We are the vanguard, holding the memory and knowledge of Light deep within our hearts for all those who are struggling in our world, for our world that is struggling.  It is through the power of our collective belief in the wholeness of our Earth and the oneness of all that healing will take place.  When this seems too difficult, when we need a reminder of our strength, we can recite this blessing by John O’Donohue –

May memory bless and protect you with the hard-earned light of past travail; to remind you that you have survived before and though the darkness now is deep, you will soon see approaching light.

5.  Knowledge of these spiritual principles is not enough. We must live them. 

It doesn’t get any clearer than this.  We are being called to action.  By proclaiming our commitment to Unity and these principles, we must be peacemakers, heralds of hope and earth-healers.

There is no doubt that our world is in trouble.  And while our politicians bicker amongst themselves over gun control and gay marriage, while our government continues to throw trillions of dollars at making war, and while so many, many people in this world spend every minute just trying to survive, who will step forward to be the healers that are so desperately needed?  Where will the call come from and what language could possibly inspire movement forward?

Sister Joan Kirby is the UN Representative for the Temple of Understanding, a nonprofit and non-governmental organization dedicated to cross-cultural and interfaith education and advocacy.  She says the responsibility is ours:

“We cannot count on governments to legislate sustainable development.  To make radical changes, governments need the guidance of an awakened civil society expressing the need for a change of consciousness. Corporations, still intent on the bottom line, must be kept in check by an awakened civil society insisting on sustainable consumption.  The real eco-revolution depends on leaders of religions and spiritual traditions as well as civil society with hearts open to a new understanding of the inner dimension of our living Earth.  Religion needs science for enlightenment about the plight of the Earth and science needs religion to internalize the message and take action.”

In The Association for Global New Thought’s Congregational Pledge of Nonviolence, we are asked to commit to respect ourselves and others, to treat the environment and all living things with respect and care, and to forgive.  We are also urged to pledge to be courageous – to challenge violence in all forms whenever we encounter it.  Sr. Kirby said, “Science needs religion to internalize the message and take action.”  Unity’s five principles assist us in internalizing the message and the pledge of nonviolence calls us to take action.

And since I can’t conceive of celebrating Earth Day without him, and yesterday was his birthday, I’ll let John Muir explain why we need to take care of this precious planet and all who live on it:

The world, we are told, was made especially for humans – a presumption not supported by all the facts…Why should humanity value itself as more than a small part of the one great unit of creation? And what creature of all that the Lord has taken the pains to make is not essential to the completeness of the cosmos? The universe would be incomplete without humans; but it would also be incomplete without the smallest transmicroscopic creature that dwells beyond our conceitful eyes and knowledge. From the dust of the earth, from the common elementary fund, the Creator has made Homo Sapiens. From the same material God has made every other creature, however noxious and insignificant to us. They are earth-born companions and our fellow mortals. When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.

He says, “the universe would be incomplete without humans,” and I would like to add that it would be incomplete without each and every one of us humans.  We are all a vital strand in the web of life, and when one strand gets knotted up or torn away from the larger web, it is our responsibility to help fix it – and it’s in our best interest!  For the strength of the web depends on the connections and interweaving of all strands.

So, once more, I urge you to dig deeply, find the Light within and hold it – as a peacemaker; as a herald of hope; as an earth-healer.  Hold the Light close, hold it high, hold it out in forgiveness and welcome.  Hold it in your heart and let it fill you.  When you open your mouth to speak, may Light come pouring forth.  When others look into your eyes, may they be blinded by the brightness.  When there is suffering, may it be eased by the warmth in your touch and wherever you walk, may you leave glowing footprints, leading the way towards a world of love and nonviolence.

Trail_Full_20

 ** The photos used in this post are borrowed lovingly from The Muir Project.  A team of artists hiked the John Muir Trail & brought back their experiences. 219 miles in 25 days.  They have created a multi-media experience to share with others, including a documentary film about their journey.


Resurrection of the Soul

I’ve been knocked around pretty hard the past couple of weeks; the Universe’s way of telling me to be still, be silent, heal and gather energy for the coming rush of Spring.  So I spent most of last week curled up in bed, often with sinus pressure so agonizing that the only thing I could do was lay quietly, eyes closed, with only my thoughts for company.  Although I wouldn’t have said so in the moment, this was a good thing.  I was able to connect with some quieter, deeper parts of myself that have really gotten steam-rolled by all the intense energy of answering my Call and starting seminary.

And so, with a paper deadline looming and five days of missed work, in the midnight hours of Good Friday, I lay quietly and tuned in to the whispering of my heart.  I surrendered to the movement of Spirit through me, allowing my most sacred and inner of Soul-places to prepare for resurrection.

Upon waking on Saturday, my fever having broken in the night, I was filled with a dearly missed, but deeply familiar, surge of inspirational urgency.  I took some sinus drugs, downed some orange juice and dove into the pile of still-unpacked-moving boxes to find some of my music making gear.  I coaxed my almost-dead laptop awake, called my digital orchestra to attention and let the music flow.

I spent the day in bliss – composing, napping and hanging out with my love and our zoo.  I reveled in the feelings of making music again – something I have not really done in over a year.  It is indescribable, this rush of creativity inside that is uniquely me and yet so much more than “I”.  It is as if I am wide open.  In my mind’s eye, I see my chest and abdomen, the skin translucent, and inside is a golden field, full of sunlight, wildflowers, butterflies and bumblebees.  Gentle breezes brush through the tall grasses and this is the music, sweeping through me.  Where there was darkness and confusion and clutter and ‘noise’, now is freshness and light and breath.  Ah, I’ve missed this so.

So, while I continually reminded myself that I did NOT need to ask forgiveness of the professor who’s assignment I was going to turn in late, or the folks at work who would have to wait until Monday to talk to me, or the dishes in the kitchen that needed to be washed, I spent a beautiful Easter weekend resurrecting and reconnecting with an essential part of myself.  In a very real way, these past two weeks have been a cleansing and purging, culminating in the celebration of my renewed self, open and ready to rise up into my divinity, answering every call of my soul.

I have not yet finished the piece of music I’ve been working on all weekend, so I thought I’d share an old piece that fits well here.  The piece I am currently working on is called “Oh Rolling River” and is the 2nd piece in my American Plains Suite.  The 1st piece in that suite is “Dance of the Prairie Wind” and is as illustrative of what I am currently feeling as is possible.  It’s also perfectly appropriate for the day after Easter and the beginning of Spring.  Enjoy.


Soul Collage

I could be one of those bloggers who is constantly apologizing for not posting, or I could just get to the good stuff.

I was recently introduced to the profound practice of making soul collages.  Here is the official website:

Soul Collage

There is a lot of information there for you to peruse.  It is a process created and developed by Seena Frost.  It is a creative reflection tool, guided by intuition, that can be used to connect with and understand yourself on a deeper level.  Seena Frost and the Soul Collage website offer resources for creating an entire personal soul collage deck, but I’ve also found making just a single collage to be a wonderful, meditative experience.

The Calling

The photo above is of my first collage, which I’ve entitled The Calling.  For me, it speaks of the very intimate and emotional experience of my discernment – grief and struggle and, ultimately, inner peace.  My spiritual journey over the past 15 years, beginning with leaving the Catholic Church and culminating in a decision to enter seminary has been both heartbreaking and joyful.  I’ve had to let go of many ideas and beliefs, while also finding truth and solace in new ones.

The process of soul collaging, as shown to me, is to begin without any preconceived notions of what you should be making, without any specific goals in mind of where you want to end up, without even an overarching theme in mind.  It is a process in which you let the images speak to you, arrange themselves and embody the non-verbal inner self, the divine YOU.

I’ve done it both in a group and alone.  In a group setting, there was power and meaning in the discussion of our collages with each other after creating them.  Being asked to interpret what appeared in the collage led to some deep revelations.

Music of My Soul

Music of My Soul is a collage I did alone, at home, with soft music playing and candles burning.  It was a time of quiet contemplation and contentment, and when finished, I spent some moments just observing what I had made, without any effort to “describe” or interpret.  It was a wholly different experience, but none-the-less Holy.

I’ve been doing collages for many years, but soul collaging is unique in its approach and guiding principles.  At this time in my life, during such a momentous transition, I appreciate the insight gained from this gentle communication with my soul, and look forward to building a portfolio of sorts, to both chronicle this journey and continue to guide me in a life of authenticity and compassion.


New Beginnings

https://shaymackay.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/newbeginnings.jpg?w=300

Normally I like January.  It’s my birthday month.  The busy-ness of the holidays is  over and we’re at the start of a new year.  The air is crisp and clean and the world is settling down for a bit of quiet before bursting forth into Spring.

But I am so incredibly thankful this January is over.  And rather than get into all the heavy reasons why, I’m going to celebrate what’s coming next.

I’ve been asked to speak at my local UU Fellowship this Sunday on the topic of “answering a Call”.  Here is the description of the service:

Opening Up in Sweet Surrender to the Luminous Love Light Deep Within – Imbolc, Candlemas, Ground Hog Day and St. Brigid’s Day are just some of the festivals to celebrate the first faint stirrings of Spring held in many lands and cultures.  Throughout the stillness of Winter, the Earth replenishes the nutrients of plants.  Animals bide their time, often with new life waiting to be born.  So, too, do humans, in the depths of winter, turn inward, often receiving new insights and directions to their lives.  These faint stirrings within our psyche may cause us to blossom forth in new and unexpected ways – ways that open us up to more fully embrace life.  Sometimes we may feel that we are called to support a cause, try something new, or make a significant change in our lives.  Sometimes we may hear the Call, yet ignore the summons.  In this service we will explore, through personal stories, song and poetry what happens to those among us who have said “YES” to an inner call or yearning.

I was given these prods from the facilitator to shape my comments around:

1.  What led up to the place where you were saying to yourself – ‘I should do this?’

2.  Describe that urge or calling and what it felt like.

3.  Share some of your self-talk when you were pondering whether or not to accept this undertaking.

4.  Describe your memory of saying ‘yes’.

5.  What difference has this decision [or gradual involvement] made in your life?

I am, of course, speaking about my decision to start grad school and enter seminary, but I haven’t quite figured out how and what to say.  I spent last week in Berkeley, meeting my classmates and professors, registering for classes and doing all that orientating stuff new students have to do.  I felt like a 6 year old on my first day of school – unable to sleep, up way too early, walking to school with my new bag over my shoulder and both nervous and excited to make new friends.  It was a wonderful few days in the city, and the perfect way for me to put an end to the drama and heartache and stress of the past few months and refresh myself for the adventures to come.

I haven’t decided yet how to describe the feeling of knowing, just knowing I am on the right path, in the right place, doing the right thing.  That feeling of absolute certainty that I am where I’m supposed to be, working towards the fullness of my true potential.  And I haven’t yet figured out how to put into words the confidence and joy that comes with having made the decision to answer that Call – and how it changes everything.  Having said YES changes how I view myself and how I interact with the world – and therefore how the world sees and interacts with me.  It is life changing and yet a thundering affirmation of all that has brought me to this point, of who I have been becoming, of who I AM.

There is nothing like it, this experience of both mind-expanding newness and soul-warming familiarity.

How can I explain the struggle, faint at first but growing stronger every day; the terror of that moment when you realize exactly what it is you are being called to and how your life will change if you say yes; the frustration, anxiety and impatience of trying to figure out how to say yes, how it’s all going to work, how to do it without hurting too many people you love; the pure joy and relief when you finally just surrender, when you realize there’s just no way you can’t say yes; and the breathless wonder as you take those first few steps and everything falls into place?

Not really sure how to describe all of that, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out.  Until then, I leave you with this perfect poem by John O’Donohue from To Bless the Space Between Us.

For a New Beginning

In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.


spirituwellness

bodies, faith, politics

TED Blog

The TED Blog shares interesting news about TED, TED Talks video, the TED Prize and more.

soul-in-progress

the dance of belonging

The ancient eavesdropper

Nature's nuances in a nutshell

Reflections on Chaplaincy

Thank you for following me through seminary and beyond.

The Bridge of Silver Wings 2016

Logging flights of inspiration, challenges, poetry, faith, love, hope, joy and other beautiful human foibles explored in the book "The River of Winged Dreams."

Visionary Insights

Inspirational Wisdom about Spiritual Growth and World Events from a Practical Visionary

Called To Be

Join Rev. Mark Fuss on a journey in ministry

Luke Storms

Writing and Web-Development

Tracy Cochran

Parabola Editor Blogs

%d bloggers like this: