How Goes Your Spirit?

How Goes Your Spirit?

Rev. Fiona Heath May 10th, 2015


Ronald Rolheiser  

“Chief among these [popular misunderstandings] is the idea that spirituality is, somehow, exotic, esoteric, and not something that issues forth from the bread and butter of ordinary life. 

Thus, for many people, the term spirituality conjures up images of

something paranormal, mystical, churchy, holy, pious, otherworldly, New Age,

something on the fringes, and something optional.

Rarely is spirituality understood as referring to something vital and non-negotiable lying at the heart of our lives.”

Henri J.M. Nouwen

"The spiritual life does not remove us from the world but leads us deeper into it."

Albert Schweitzer 

The deeper we look into nature, the more we recognize that it is 
full of life, and the more profoundly we know that all life is a secret 
and that we are united with all life that is in nature. 

Man can no longer live his life for himself alone. 

We realize that all life is valuable and that we are united to all this life. 

From this knowledge comes our spiritual relationship with the universe.

Oprah Winfrey

Spirituality for me is recognizing that I am connected to the energy of all creation, that I am a part of it and it is always a part of me.

From mystical thinkers to media moguls, you might have heard some common threads.  Connection. Something Greater. Something Vital.

Something greater might be God, it might be nature, it might be the universe.

The words will always be inadequate. And will vary from person to person.

But the difficulty in language should not prevent us from speaking about matters of the spirit.

For me, the spirit is the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

We all have bodies, minds, and emotions. 

We have personalities and histories, and experiences.

And yet taking it all together we are still something more.

In Unitarian Universalism,

spirit refer to the wholeness of the self  - the wholeness of all beings.

It can also refer to the greater whole – again that might be God or the universe.

I use it both for the wholeness of the individual self and the wholeness of the – well – whole.

Words are inadequate!

From the Latin spiritus, the word spirit is linked with air and breath:

felt but not seen,

intangible yet essential,

ephemeral yet connects us to one  another. 

No name is large enough to hold this power [that is larger than life, although it contains life], but of all the inadequate names,

the one that comes to me now is spirit. […the word seems to catch the lightness, radiance, and wind-like subtlety of the power that I seek]. 

(Scott Russell Saunders in The Force of Spirit)

Spirit. Breath. Wind. Air.

Air connects us all, it surrounds us, the air we breathe is the air that has always been part of the planet.

We are rarely aware of the air.

We notice air when there isn’t enough of it – people with asthma know it all too well.

And we notice air when it is in upheaval – whirlwinds creating chaos.

I’d say the spiritual aspect of living is a little like air.

We notice when it’s missing and our lives feel constricting and tight.

We notice when life is too intense and blowing us about..

It’s why many people when they first come here need to sit in the back and cry.

Spirit may be intangible, but it is also vital to our well being.

And many people, whose lives are neither too constricting or too intense,

Might never pay attention to their spiritual side.

But for those who are aware, wonder awaits.

Spiritual treasure can be found in our everyday life.

Spirit does not exist except as part of the bodily experiences of human life on earth (Barbara Brown Taylor).


The spiritual is not separate from the material but is entangled.

Just as we are entangled in air – it surrounds us and is within us.

It is when we live with attention and awareness that we begin to see this.

It is of primary importance, perhaps more now than ever, that our spirit,

the essence of ourselves, which some might call soul,

can experience a sense of connection to the immensity of the greater whole – to the spirit of all.

Spirituality can be, at its most basic, understood as the awareness that all life is connected.

Spirituality is not a set of beliefs, but a way to experience the universe whole.

Sara Maitland, a writer who went to live alone and experience true silence, describes a moment when she was sitting on a rock high on the side of a valley looking down onto a river in the distance.

“..Quite suddenly and unexpectedly, I slipped a gear, or something like that.  There was not me and the landscape, but a kind of oneness: 

a connection as though my skin had been blown off. 

More than that – as though the molecules and atoms I am made of had reunited themselves with the molecules and atoms that the rest of  the world is made of.

I felt absolutely connected to everything. 

It was very brief, but it was a total moment. “

Spiritual experiences are experiences of connection.

They happen in your body, in the world.

Spiritual practices are disciplines that help us develop patterns of behaviour that make it easier for us to be aware of a sense of connectedness.

Some might not even call it a spiritual sense, like sports fans.

But to cheer so ardently for the Blue Jays baseball team, to feel such connection to the team’s wins and losses, what else is it but a sense of connection to something larger?

I was on Yonge Street way back when the Blue Jays won the 1993 World Series.

I suspect the euphoria that night was not much different from the joy at the Hindu festival of Diwali.

We all need to belong to something larger than ourselves.

The spiritual is the sense that despite all of our knowledge, all of power, all of our control, that we are part of something beyond our comprehension.

Something so vast, so immense, so beautiful.

Something we didn’t have to do work for or sacrifice for, but simply is.

And we are part of that oneness.

Our molecules reuniting with all the other molecules.

It is a way to press the reset buttons on ourselves.

After experiences like Sara Maitland’s slipping gear up on that rock high up in the valley , people report feeling lighter, or comforted, or freer, or joyful.

After the Montreal Canadians win the Stanley Cup, people will express similar feelings!

And that’s okay, connection can be found in unexpected places.

It can also be found here.

We are the place with a spiritual perspective.  It’s what religions do.

As people of the chalice we are called to look beyond ourselves and pay attention to the luminous web of life.

One of the symbols of our chalice community is the golden spiral. 

Also known as the golden ratio, or the divine proportion, it is a mathematical spiral of precise geometry.

The spiral has the self at the centre, going out to the community, to the earth, to the universe.

Our spiritual lives are like this as well – a going outwards into connection with all that is and a going inwards into greater self awareness -  the spiral movement taking us ever forward.

Let us live into the spiral, live into our bodies,

and so find ourselves part of the mystery.


These words come from Rainer Maria Rilke who wrote them to a young friend looking for advice:

You are so young, so much before all beginning,

and I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can,

to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and

to try to love the questions themselves

as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language.

Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now,

because you would not be able to live them.

And the point is, to live everything.

Live the questions now.

Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

Over that past few months, both here at UCM and across the country I have heard Unitarian Universalists express a desire for greater spiritual depth in our tradition.

And so we are going to live the questions together.

Beginning next September, our congregation will undertake an experiment with “theme-based ministry.”

We are the people of the chalice, and that implies a certain way of being.

 What does it mean to be a listening people?

What does it mean to be a people of radical welcoming?

What does it mean to be a people of interdependence?  Of mystery?

Each month from September to June,

our life together will be devoted to an over-arching theme –

including listening, radical welcoming, interdependence, and mystery.

Services will consider the theme from a variety of perspectives and issues.

For me, this is an exciting innovation.

I am delighted to have the chance to spend more time considering a theme deeply.  Not to offer answers, but to live questions of meaning.

Using thems helps us build relationships with the many other congregations who are also using themes.

Theme based ministry is broader than just the Sunday morning services.

Children and youth programming will include the monthly theme.

At the beginning of each month, a variety of material will be posted on the website and available as a document.

Readings, spiritual exercises, media resources, family activities and questions to ponder will be shared.

We are all invited to go deeper into the monthly theme through small group ministry.

By belonging to a small group that will meet towards the end of the month to consider the theme, we will all have a chance to go deeper.

To ground ourselves in a shared monthly experience,

To connect to one another over a shared conversation.

To really examine how we are living our lives as UUs.

Within a small group we lift up our spirits to the light of the chalice flame,

forging the bonds of this community.

I hope that many of you will take this opportunity to experience that spiritual spiral – engaging with the theme on your own and then sharing your experiences in the caring circle of the small group.

There will be sign up sheets in the hall after the service.

If you are interested, please sign up.

This isn’t a commitment but an expression of interest.

We are looking at offering small groups which meet here at UCM,

but also want to know if people want to meet by geography as well.

I said earlier to experience a spiritual sense of connection is of primary importance.

We live in a society that is busy, fast paced and stressful.

It can be a lot of fun.

But it also makes people lose perspective,

And just focus on themselves.

Personal troubles can loom too large.

People forget to live by their values.

It is easy to feel lost and disconnected.

Knowing, experiencing, living with a sense of connection to all that is,

changes our perspective, reminding us to take care of one another.

May the chalice remind us that if we take time, and pay attention,

We will experience that vital connection to the greater whole,

And refresh our spirits.

May we all slip a gear once in awhile.

So say we all.


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