For February 3 - Rise and Shine
What Does It Mean to Be a People of Possibility?
Of all our topics this year, possibility is arguably most central to our faith. It has distinguished Unitarian Universalists from the start. Historically, when others saw depravity and sin at the core of human identity, we saw potential--sometimes with hardly any boundaries. When many were preaching that this world was fallen, and we should look instead to the hope of an afterlife, we found ourselves falling in love with the possibility of heaven on earth. Theologically, you might say that we were the people that believed that God hadn’t given up on any of us and so we shouldn’t give up on each other or this world. Psychologically, it’s led to us being a people of “why not?” Why not give people another chance? Why not fight what seems a losing battle? Why not risk a little failure? After all, to us the possible has always seemed more likely than not!
So that’s our religion. But what about us personally? How open have you been recently to “Why not?” How’s your faith in possibility doing? As we honor our religion’s trust in what’s possible, we need to allow space for the reality that trusting possibility isn’t so easy for many of us. Here’s how one Soul Matters member puts the challenge:
“When I think of possibility, I think of all the people and opportunities we close the door on. Such as:
‘I will never see eye to eye with my sister.’ ‘I couldn't possibly leave this job to start my own business’
‘I will never have close friends like I had where I used to live.’ ‘I will never really make a difference,
so why bother?’ ‘UU's will always be a small faith.’”
We tell ourselves so many small things about who we and others are. And we know that’s not really because we’re pessimistic. More often than not, it’s about protecting ourselves. There’s comfort in convincing yourself that the work is hopeless; that way you don’t have to try and risk failure, hurt or disappointment yet again.
All of which is to say that maybe being a people of possibility has more to do with being a people of vulnerability and courage than we’ve thought. The work isn’t just about believing in possibility. It’s about being willing to endure a few wounds along the way. It can hurt to be hopeful. Especially with all that is going on in our world and society right now, we need to make room for that.
So maybe the question this month isn’t “Are you ready to lean into possibility?” but
“Who’s beside you and who are you bringing along?” “Who have you gathered to patch
and pick you up when the path gets bumpy?” After all, no one makes it down the road of
And perhaps that’s the real secret: remembering that “Why not?” is something we all
have to say together.
~ Soul Matters Sharing Circle
What Does It Mean to Be a People of Mystery?
Unitarian Universalists love puzzles. We proudly announce that we are the religion that loves questions and
questioning. Or to put it another way, we love figuring out life’s mysteries.
But what if mystery isn’t just something to figure out? What if it’s also something to be listened to?
This is the lesser recognized call of our faith. Being a people of mystery isn’t just about engaging life as a marvelous puzzle. It’s also about allowing yourself to be spoken to by life’s wonder. One of the most elegant articulations of this comes from the poet Mary Oliver, a much-loved poet of Unitarian Universalists. In her poem, Wild Geese, she writes,
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--
over and over announcing your place in the family of things.
Oliver’s call to listen for life’s announcements implies a letting go. Mystery is funny this way. You can’t make it speak. Indeed, the more you pursue the answers to life’s mysteries; the more distant they become. If we want mystery to speak, it seems we have to be willing to be caught off guard. UU humanist minister and
poet, David Breeden, captures this beautifully when he writes,
I dug and dug
Deeper into the earth
Looking for blue heaven
On piles of dust rising
And fell into the sky
Slipping, and then falling into the sky. Is there a better way to describe our dance with mystery? Isn’t this what
all the great mystics have been trying to tell us from the start? That sitting at the heart of mystery is not the
unknown, but unity. We fall into mystery and it falls into us. Its voice is one that whispers, “I am you and you
are me.” Mystery doesn’t put up barriers; it dissolves them. Haven’t all of us faced the wonder and mystery of
a sunset, the stars, a baby’s first cry or a lover’s wet kiss and thought to ourselves, “Who I am does not end at
the barrier of my skin”?
So, friends, this month, let’s let ourselves fall in and open up. So many opportunities to slip into the sky and let
it slip into us. Let’s put down all the puzzling and the figuring out. Just long enough to notice that life isn’t
simply trying to stump us. It’s also trying to connect with us.
What Does It Mean to Be a People of Memory?
We start this month with the words of a Soul Matters participant who wants to remain anonymous:
Our friend asks, “What is it that takes you back, and where does it take you?” These may be our most important questions this month. “What takes you back?” invites us to see memory as having its own volition. Not a skill we manipulate, but a sacred energy that “wants” something from us, or “hopes” something for us. And “Where does it take you?” Well, that’s a big question, too. The space of memory is elusive. Mysterious. Seemingly beyond our grasp. Who can really say “where” it is? But here’s what we do know: it is in the space of memory that we are somehow held together, and also re-assembled. As we remember, we are re-membered. In that space, memories become these self-animated threads that weave the pieces and parts of us into this more complete thing we call “me” and “you.”
It’s so humbling, and remarkable!
Which makes it all the more sad is that throughout much of our history, we Unitarian Universalists have not been overly nice to memory. We’ve given it the label, “tradition,” and treated it mostly as something that holds us back. Tradition, we say, cuts us off from a direct experience with the holy and tries to shape us rather than allowing us the freedom to shape ourselves. This attitude has left us, as a faith, wary of the past, depicting it simply as a place where one gets stuck. But this is changing, and our Soul Matters friend captures this change perfectly. For her the past is not a place that traps us; it’s more like soil that clings tightly to our roots in order to nourish and stabilize us. If memory had a voice, it wouldn’t sing “remember me.” It would call out, “don’t forget who you are.”
And so, friends, this month, may that be our charge: To allow memory to flow through us in order that it may patch us back together and keep us whole.
Happy re-membering, re-assembling and re-collecting!
What Does It Mean to Be a People of Sanctuary?
Just saying the word “sanctuary” brings one a sense of peace and safety. It can bring back conflicted memories for some, but for most of us the idea of sanctuary conjures up feelings of being protected. Like its close cousin refuge, it speaks to the universal longing for a space to retreat from the dangers and depletions of the world. One thinks of the family ties and friendships that protect, restore and heal us. The sanctuary movement and its refuge for immigrants is another powerful example of offering life- giving safe space. As the well-loved Irish proverb puts it, “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.” So, certainly, the hunger for protection and the call to protect each other is central to this month.
But as we dig deeper, we are reminded that the sanctuaries in our lives do more than simply protect us. They also send us. They don’t just help us heal from our journeys; they also strengthen us for the new journeys ahead. In their fullest, they are not escape houses as much as fueling stations. They don’t just whisper “Come and rest,” but also “Be filled and go!” The archetypal image of a toddler leaving and returning their parent’s leg comes to mind. That “home base” is not a tether but the very thing that allows us to venture out. Having been blessed with shelter, we are strengthened to offer that same gift of shelter to others. In other words, sanctuary always comes with a calling. And so the question for all of us this month is not just “Where do you find shelter?” but “Having been empowered by shelter, how can you share that same gift with others?”
Along the way, we also discover that our sanctuaries need sheltering and protection themselves. It’s a paradox: our sanctuaries can’t protect and repair us unless we also protect and repair them. The green sanctuary movement is a great example of this. The solace of nature and the life-giving interdependent web needs us as much as we need them. The same is true for the sanctuaries in our personal lives. Friendship, silence, stillness: these are all things that wither if we don’t tend to and make space for them. So, in the end, maybe the most important question this month is “How are we caring for our sanctuaries so they can take care of us?”
~ Soul Matters Sharing Circle
What Does It Mean to Be a People of Vision?
There’s one quote we all need to remember this month. The author is unknown, but they’ve given us a great gift. Here it is: “What will mess you up most in life is the picture in your head of how it is supposed to be.”
It’s not the place one usually starts when it comes to the topic of vision. Most often, conversations about vision tell us to hold on tightly to our pictures of how it is supposed to be, not be suspicious of them. We’re encouraged to “stay true to your vision.” We’re told, “Without vison, the people perish.” We’re warned that without a clear vision, we’re vulnerable to whatever winds blow. And let’s be clear: all of that is true. A clear vision anchors us. It gives us direction and hope. It is, indeed, a precious thing to which we should hold fast.
But as our quote of the month makes clear, all that holding fast is also dangerous. In short, no vision is perfect. They are all flawed and limited. Every vision distorts even as it clarifies. On top of that, life changes. Some doors close, new ones open. If you stay true to the vision of what’s behind that closed door, you’ll just end up spending your life banging your head against the wall. And as Unitarian Universalists, we also know that one vision isn’t enough. As clear as our perspectives may be, we all know by now that none is complete. To see the entire view, we need everyone’s vantage point.
So clearly being a people of vision is hard work. Knowing when to stay true to your vision and when to let go is a very tricky task. Figuring out when to keep your vision front and center and when to de-center it and make room for others intimidates the best of us.
Yet, here’s the thing. If danger and hard work dominate the tone of this month, we will have done ourselves a disservice. Besides being dangerous, holding tightly to one single vision is also just no fun! We don’t just have to see things from others’ points of view; we get to see things from others’ points of view! Learning about the visions of others isn’t just a way of making up for your flawed perspective. It’s also an invitation to see the world anew! And while having to let go of precious visions and dreams is painful, it’s also exhilarating to evolve and grow.
And maybe that’s the most important vision of all this month. Not that of a stern-faced people sticking to their single vision through thick and thin. But that of a playful people exchanging visions and helping each other encounter new and larger worlds. A people who don’t just ask each other “Are you staying true to your vision?” but who also say with a smile, “What new vision is calling to you?”
Summer Worship Series Resources
Our worship series this summer has led to some provocative questions regarding what faith is within the Unitarian Universalist context – what do we mean as UUs when we talk about faith, when we describe ourselves as a faith tradition?
I want to recommend two book titles to you, for any of you who are interested in reflecting more deeply on some of these faith-related questions we’ve been raising:
2018 Summer Series Resources
Here are some personal reflections that have been shared this summer (more to come):
July 8: Norma Bailey
July 15: Norma Bailey
August 19: Mel Bailey
Here is the closing sermon for the Summer Series::
No Time for Casual Faith – by the Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, UUA President; delivered on Sunday, June 24, 2018 at the UUA General Assembly
What Does It Mean to Be a People of Blessing?
A Soul Matters facilitator once shared, “I guess after plan A fails, I need to remember
there's still a whole alphabet out there.”
It’s not just our friend who needs help remembering that there’s a whole alphabet out
there; it’s all of us. We all get stuck in wanting things a certain way. We all, at times,
focus so intently on the few things going wrong that we completely miss the dozens of
things going right. Tunnel vision too often takes over our days.
For Unitarian Universalists, this is the central tragedy of the human condition. We
respect those who frame the human problem as sin or twisted wills, but it’s
nearsightedness that our religion is most worried about. Which is also why blessings are
so central to our faith. They are, for us, a way of widening our view.
Unlike some of our brother and sister religions, we don’t say a lot of blessings. Instead
we point to them. For us, blessings are not something we give to each other as much as
they involve us helping each other notice all that’s already been given to us. And it’s not
just about widening our view to see the gifts themselves; it’s about widening our
understanding of life. Pointing to blessings repairs our relationship with life, allowing
us to see it as generous not threatening, full of grace-filled surprises not dominated by a
And there’s a lot at stake when it comes to this wider view. When the world seems
stingy to us, we are stingy to others. Those who feel blessed have little trouble passing
blessings on. Our tradition takes this calculus seriously. As UU minister, Rev. Don
Wheat, puts it “The religious person is a grateful person, and the grateful person
is the generous person.” In short, by noticing our blessings, we become a blessing.
So, this month the question in front of all of us is not simply “Do you notice the blessings
surrounding you?” It’s also, “How are the blessings in your life leading you to bless
others?” That “whole alphabet” out there doesn’t just happen on its own; we add to it.
Blessings don’t just fill us up; they cause us to overflow. Life spills into us and we spill
into others. In other words, blessings don’t just enrich us; they connect us. And maybe
that is the greatest blessing of all.
~ Soul Matters Sharing Circle
May 2018 Worship Theme: What Does It Mean to Be a People of Creativity?
Creativity is our ability to dream things up and make them happen. ~ Peggy Taylor
We’re all familiar with that part in the quote about dreaming. Conjuring up new ideas and images is what creativity is all about. Using the building blocks of “what is,” we -almost magically- make the “not yet” appear in our minds.
But what about that other part? The part about “making them happen.” When we talk about creativity, that half of the equation often gets short shrift. We celebrate the fun piece about dreaming and leave off the hard piece of making our imaginings real. And it’s not just the hard part; it’s the scary part too. You have to be brave to try new things and fail. Being creative and unique can cause the crowd to cheer and swoon; it can also lead to being laughed at and excluded from the group. Yes, there is joy, beauty and play in creativity, but there is also insecurity, loneliness and self-doubt. Which means that this month is not just about imagination, artistry and self-expression, but also courage.
Once that’s in view, it’s clear that we also need to talk about “co-creativity” this month as well. Something as daring as creativity is dangerous if we try to do it alone. Indeed, where did we get the silly idea that artists and inventors are isolated, independent geniuses? When it comes to myths about creativity, that one tops the list. We need to remind each other that there is no such thing as a “person of creativity,” only “people of creativity.” The Bible talks of the Holy Spirit appearing when “two or more are gathered.” The same rule applies to the creative spirit! For instance, new ideas come from the clash of debate. New art emerges only after inspiration from those who’ve gone before. Better forms of community are built on the back of those who have toiled and sacrificed long before we put ourselves on the line. Simply put, there are no creators without companions.
It’s all a way of reminding us that the secret to creative self-expression is staying connected to each other. Those sacred sources of inspiration inside us – our imagination, unique voice and inner muses – are like wild animals; they are hungry to run free but are also shy and easily scared away. They want to come out and play but will only do so when coaxed and cared for by the inspiration and support of others. So, in the end, maybe the most important question this month is not just “What do you want to create?” but also “Who are your partners?”
With gratitude for all our sources of creativity – those within us and those all around us – let us begin.
~ Soul Matters Sharing Circle
April 2018 Worship Theme: What Does It Mean to Be a People of Emergence?”
Let mystery have its place in you; do not be always turning up your whole soil with the plowshare of
self-examination - but leave a little fallow corner in your heart ready for any seed the winds may bring
and reserve a nook of shadow for the passing bird; keep a place in your heart for the unexpected guests,
an altar for an unknown God. ~ Henri-Frederic Ariel
Make a bit of room. Leave a little space. Keep a lookout for the unexpected. These directions may not sound like anything radical or revolutionary. But it turns out that these are often Life’s favorite ways to help us emerge into something new.
Henri-Frederic Ariel’s reminder about leaving room and letting some things be is especially important as we move into the season of spring. During this time of year, it’s not just farmers but us all who turn to the work of “tilling and turning up our whole soil.” All around us, the culture shouts its heroic talk about striving and perfecting. Struggle is the dominant metaphor of the day. We talk of “fighting” to become all we can be. Images of sprouts breaking through concrete start showing up everywhere. Yet, we need to be careful because, more often than not, emergence and transformation is a much subtler art. It’s about stillness, listening and waiting to be led, not conquering, struggle and taking charge.
In other words, when it comes to emerging into something new, the message of spirituality is “Be careful with what you’ve been taught and told because much of it takes us in exactly the wrong direction.” As a people of emergence, we are called to take a different tack. We’ve been entrusted with the wisdom that emergence is most often about breathing rather than becoming better, patience not perfection, depth not dominance; acceptance not striving, attention not constant improvement.
That part about attention instead of improvement is especially important. It’s so easy to get transformation mixed up with fixing. And fixing is emergence’s biggest foe. Trying to perfect or prove ourselves is the surest way to stay stuck. The pursuit of constant improvement and perfection focuses us on our inadequacy and inferiority, causing us to overlook those unexpected guests that Henri- Frederic speaks of.
And, friends, we don’t want to miss those unexpected guests! Those seeds brought by the wind and those passing birds are the partners that make emergence possible. They help us notice new paths. They invite us to walk with a new step. They awaken in us new songs. They remind us that new life is not something we do alone. They assure us that transformation doesn’t have to be a long and lonely struggle, but instead can be more like learning a new dance with a new friend. All we have to do is trust, take the hand of that “unknown God” and follow its lead.
So, this month, leave some room on that dance floor of yours. Keep your eyes peeled. And when that unexpected guest reaches out its hand, make sure you’re ready to take hold.
~ text from Soul Matters thematic resources