Unitarian Universalists have something wonderfully unique to offer anyone on a spiritual quest. Where else can one find a community of people who will encourage a broad and open spiritual search without a doctrinal straightjacket! Nowhere else in organized religious groups is such an open search for spiritual values and truth not only tolerated but encouraged!
During these past five months we have celebrated our diversity in a unique and inspiring way. Reserving a Sunday each month to learn about each other's spiritual path has broadened our perspective and drawn us closer together.
Forrest Church, a well-known UU minister and author has set our kind of experience in a very helpful metaphor. He asks us to imagine the world as a Cathedral. If you have walked the aisles of the National Cathedral in Washington, or the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City, or one of great cathedrals of Europe, this metaphor will be especially vivid for you.. As the sun is filtered through many massive windows, each with its unique design and color, one is surrounded by a symphony of color and light. Forrest Church tells us that the windows in this cathedral are beyond number. Each is different. Each reflects the light into the cathedral in a different way. Each window tells a story about the creation of the world, the meaning of history, the nature of humankind, the mystery of death. He sees this as a metaphor for Unitarian Universalism: Unitarians speak of the oneness of the light.. Universalists tell of many windows through which the light comes. Together they honor many different religious approaches, excluding only the truth-claims of absolutists, because fundamentalists, wherever they come from, claim that the light shines only through their window. The same light shines through all the windows. But each window is different, says Church. He points out that none of us is able to fully comprehend the truth that shines through another person's window. If we accept this idea we will be appropriately humble about the light from our own window while being respectful of and open to the light that others may experience from quite a different window.
We started the year with the intention of pausing by several of those windows, one at a time, to savor its particular story, its special colors and light patterns. We began with a reverently happy day with Kelli Johnson focused on Native American worship, noting especially its connectedness to all forms of life around us and to the rhythms and beat of the heart and drum. The Native American's respect for our roots in the goodness of nature enriches our common journey in faith. We moved on to learn how Christian UUs find liberation from the traditional creeds and doctrines. Freeing the man Jesus from the creeds allows his life and teachings to inform and strengthen our own. It also allows many of us to heal the wounds that linger from our own Christian upbringing in orthodox or dogmatic church settings. Turning to Humanism with Ed Dooer, we heard about the deep respect for human values and human life. An ethic built upon its effects on human beings calls for caring and compassion as it enhances human existence. Humanism taught us that the lives of people are more important than all the religious doctrines and creeds.. When we got to Buddhism, Ricc Bishop led us looking at a system of teachings that is primary for some among us, we were touched by the serenity and power that followers find in the Four Noble Truths taught by Guatama Buddha. This spiritual path, dating several centuries before the common era, offers us a new approach to life as we experienced the serenity growing out of Buddhist meditation. Again, the non-Buddhists among us, were enriched by what we learned. When Don Wildegrube spoke, and we were able to connect it with what we had already learned from our Barbara Jean, we were awed by the Pagan's appreciation for the interconnectedness of all creation, an organic web of which we are all a part. The basic Pagan tenant "An ye harm none, do as ye will", asks us to pay attention to the impact on others of all our decisions and actions. No one set of rules or principles fits all Pagans. We discovered that the word "Pagan" is simple in its meaning: It really means "non-royalty, common folk". Nothing strange or mysterious about that! Moral responsibility is present in Wiccan teaching concerning karma and reincarnation. We were told that Pagans look to a kind of nameless divinity, to powers that we can tap into. Some call it God. Others call it Goddess. Whatever the name, these powers draw the Pagan beyond self into the spiritual realm. For many non-Pagans, there is enrichment in discovering that there are common threads that connect our several paths: respect for creation, honoring the web of life to which we all connect and taking responsibility for the ways we impact others. In the fall we will learn about Taoism. Then UU pastor Abhi Janamanchi will return to talk about his Hindu roots and how it can enrich our quest. Finally we will learn more about mysticism as it touches on many of our paths. Such is the wonderfully diverse group we call Unitarian Universalists!
Of course it is no easy task to maintain that diversity within a small UU fellowship, but I believe it is our good news to the community around us! Rabbi David Kane felt it when he visited us in 1999. After speaking to us on that occasion, he wrote to our congregation, saying "When people of different points of view can join their hearts in worship, something extraordinary occurs."
This marvelous mix is to be not only celebrated but also diligently maintained. It is a delicate and vulnerable uniqueness of our tradition that we dare not loose. In our CUUC cathedral our banners become our windows, opening to all of us the richness of the world's spiritual treasures. Forrest Church warns, "If we Unitarian Universalists are unable to recognize the ground that we share, we shall remain only marginally effective in helping to articulate grounds on which all might stand as children of a mystery that unites far more profoundly than it distinguishes one child of life from any other". This, he reminds us, is our Universalist inheritance.
This enriching diversity is emerging from some unexpected places. The Roman Catholic priest and Dominican monk, Matthew Fox, got into trouble with the Catholic hierarchy for speaking of a more inclusive search for spiritual truth. In his new book, One River, Many Wells, he draws on many of the same sources which Unitarian Universalists value. This former monk pleads for a new and deep ecumenism. Fox has long been a student of the great mystics of many faiths. In discovering the richness of shared spiritual journeys he has claimed an independence which caused him to be expelled from his Dominican order and from the Roman Catholic priesthood. He has broken new ground in pulling together writings from many religious paths and from science to lay the foundations of a new mythology and spirituality. He calls us to reach beyond the creeds and doctrines that divide, to come together in a shared experience of wonder and awe.
There is arrogance about claiming superiority and exclusiveness for a particular spiritual path. In the process of making such a claim we cut ourselves off from enriching and expansive new insights and inspiration. As Molly Young Brown has said so well, "Acceptance, inclusion, and integration are the keys to wholeness". Every aspect has value and truth. As soon as we reject or deny any part of ourselves, we are fragmented. Wholeness means exactly that: no part left out. Matthew Fox agrees with another Catholic monk who, after fifty years in India rubbing shoulders with Hindus, says that the time has come "to share one another's spiritual riches. Fox states that that is the goal of his recent book. Most surprising is his comment, "Isn't it time that instead of trying to convert one another we delved into one another's spiritual riches? We get to the core of religion by going to the heart experience, not by dwelling on doctrines that so easily divide even within religious traditions". He sounds very much like a Unitarian Universalist should!
Hopefully that is what we are doing here and it is what we will focus on in a special way in our workshop after lunch today. While we are not seeking to minimize or eliminate the distinctiveness of the pathways shared here, we will seek to identify the common ground among us.. The Hindu philosopher Ramakrishna has said, "I see people who talk about religion constantly quarreling with one another. Hindus, Mussulmans, Brahmos, Saktas, Vaishnavas, Saivas all quarrel with one another. They haven't the intelligence to understand that He who is called Krishna is also Siva and the Primal Shakti, and that it is He, again, who is called Jesus and Allah. There is only one Rama and he has a thousand names".
As we have listened and questioned the spokespeople who have come to us in these past months we have discovered the special gifts of Native American, Christian, Humanist, Buddhist and Pagan spiritualities. What we have found has broadened our horizons and enriched us all. It has given us a new pride in what it means to be Unitarian Universalist. Whatever our particular modifier, we are first Unitarian Universalist. Our particular 'window' to the light is secondary to that which draws us together as one community.
UU pastor Forrest Church calls us to a vigorous evangelizing for a broad Universalism that he insists is fundamental to bringing our world together and healing its deep wounds. Maybe you read his article in UU World nearly two years ago. I hope you find his comments as commanding as I do when he says, "Given our commitment to pluralism, Unitarian Universalism should represent the perfect laboratory for modeling amity in a world rife with passions that stem from differences of belief. Often, however, we too muster more passion for that which divides us than we do for all that unites us". He goes on to say, "How can we presume to contest theologies that divide, not unite, the human family, without a uniting passion of our own, without a deep, shared commitment to our own first principles?"
As a relative newcomer to Unitarian Universalism I am troubled when I discover how many UU groups take on one religious idiology or another to the almost hostile exclusion of all others. I hear what Forrest Church is saying loud and clear. The group that gathers here in our small space in Daytona Beach, along with all the other UU fellowships across this land have something very special to demonstrate in our divided world. If we will, we can demonstrate what it means to be a pluralistic community, when it means to be open to each other's spiritual riches, what it means to live in caring community with people of diverse religious perspective. We have something to share. The word 'evangelism' is foreign to UUs. Even if we don't accept this word that some of our neighbors hold captive, the truth in that word is that we need to be openly enthusiastic about the openness and diversity of our religious communities. There are many windows by which we find spiritual nourishment! One Light through many windows, One river, many wells!
William Schulz, former UUA President, pronounces a fitting benediction on these thoughts and ideas, saying, "This is the mission of our faith: To teach the fragile art of hospitality; To revere both the critical mind and the generous heart, To prove that diversity need not mean divisiveness, And to witness to all that we must hold the whole world in our hands".
Brannon, Barbara A.; One Light through Many Windows, a poem copyrighted 2001
Burklo, Jim; Open Christianity, Rising Star Press, Los Altos, CA, 2000
Church, Forrest; A Theology for the 21st Century, in the UUWorld, November/December, 2001
Fox, Matthew; One River, Many Wells, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, New York, 2000
Hart, Connie; composer of music for Brannon poem. 2003, Port Orange, Florida.
Kowalski, Gary; Science And the Search for God, Lantern Books, 2003
Marshall, Bruce T., A Holy Curiosity, Unitarian Universalist Society of Huntington, New York, 1990
Natalie, Joyce; Lyrics and Music, In Community, 1999, DeBary, Florida