Seek Meaning

Rev. Fiona Heath   Presented December 12th, 2021    Principles Series

As people of the chalice we try to see clearly, to acknowledge and not deny facts, but like everyone else, it is easy to fall into assumptions of our rightness.

Being together in religious community, when we take time to listen and share, offers us access to more truth or a more whole truth than any of our singular perspectives.

The fourth principle of Unitarian Universalism is to affirm and promote “a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” In the first iteration of the principles, created in 1961, this was actually our first principle: to strengthen one another in a free and disciplined search for truth as the foundation of our religious fellowship.

We now speak about meaning as well as truth and I appreciate this addition. Meaning is considering what fulfills you, what connects you, what shapes your life?

While I don’t refer very often to the fourth principle it seems to me to be the essential purpose of any religious group – to help people find truth and meaning in their lives.

We are a place of truth seekers and meaning makers, a place where people to heal, come to explore, come to be with others who have the same questioning, hopeful spirit.

As Unitarian Universalists we have an expansive shared truth – one that encompasses belief in Gods and Goddesses and no divinity at all –sees humans as part of the web of life – and rests on scientific understandings.

Within the great container of the chalice you are invited to bring your truths and meaning. Each of us contributes a part of the whole.

We don’t claim that there is a single great meaning to life – that Jesus will save us or that enlightenment awaits – which means Unitarian Universalism can be a challenging religion. There is great comfort in being given answers to life’s unanswerable questions.

And we need comfort more now than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic was receding and now cases are exploding – when superfan Nav Bhatia has to miss a Raptors game something is seriously wrong!

When the world feels uncertain, people look for certainty. We need meaning, to make sense of what is happening.

Meaning grows out of four roots.

Belonging to a group or community. This creates connections with others and as you feel accepted and welcome and part of the group a sense of belonging develops. Belonging is a key source of meaning.

Meaning can also arise from a sense of purpose, from having a goal to pursue. This might be a pilgrimage to Mecca or creating a beautiful garden or running a marathon.

A third path to a sense of meaning is the stories we tell about ourselves and the world.  If we see ourselves as helpful, we will help others. Our stories shape us.

Finally meaning can arise from experiences of transcendence, which might be a sense of a loving God or drinking in the view from a mountaintop. These are those moments of awe when we get beyond ourselves and glimpse the mystery.

Meaning arises from four roots: from belonging, from a sense of purpose, from the stories we tell and from experiencing the mystery. (Emily Esfahani Smith, The Power of Meaning)

This chalice community doesn’t offer the comfort of a shared singular meaning – Jesus might be saving you but he isn’t saving me – but we do offer those four roots from where you can find your sense of meaning. We help each of you find your own sense of meaning.

We are a place to belong, we have a mission to deepen, nurture and act, and we tell stories about the way we want the world to be. There might even be a transcendent moment or two.

These are the gifts of religious community. It’s up to each of you to take these gifts and unwrap their meaning for you. What meaning matters to you?


As people of the chalice we are truth seekers and meaning makers. As I said earlier, this isn’t an easy path, we don’t provide cosy answers that you can just put in your pocket and hold close.

Instead Unitarian Universalism supports each of us to make our meaning, knowing that our sense of meaning will change over the years, knowing that we will have periods of struggle. We are here for each other.

Consider this Christmas season with its many layers: solstice origins, the birth of a saviour, cultural traditions, consumer capitalism, music and food. It can be hard to find any meaning at all – just obligation.

But we don’t have to accept anyone else’s meaning of the holidays, we can discover what makes this season special to us, whether it is time with those we love, time to give generously, time to enjoy great food. Each of us will have a couple of things that truly matter.

It’s good to remember that meaning is often a small thing.  Virginia Woolf wrote: “What is the meaning of life? That was all – a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with the years. The great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark…”

While the image of truth seeking and meaning making is often a long journey into the unknown, it can also be found close by, little daily miracles.

I like to think of meaning making as a dance, forever being created in the moment by those in the room, each person creating their own meaning – their own steps – as part of the swaying stepping whole.

I have a story to tell.

Word comes to the Jewish people of a small Russian town that a much beloved and very wise Rabbi is going to pay them a visit. All the town people get busy preparing: cleaning houses, cleaning streets, everything must be beautiful for this wise Rabbi.

Elders are polishing the glasses and plates, thinking of questions about heaven to ask the Rabbi. Babies are washed, and washed again, to be ready for a blessing. Many are busy preparing sumptuous foods for a feast.

Young couples are readying their finest clothing, wanting the wise Rabbi to bless their marriages. The Talmudic students prepare and polish questions to ask of the wise Rabbi, for surely she has much knowledge of the sacred scriptures to share.

At last the day arrives and the Rabbi comes to a town buzzing with anticipation. All the townspeople gather in the village square.

The Talmudic students are so eager, so afraid they might not get their questions answered, they begin to crowd around the Rabbi and each asks their question at the same time. What a noise!

In between the students, parents are holding up babies for a blessing. So many babies, some begin to cry. What a noise!

Young couples wanting recognition jostle beside Elders wanting questions answered, all trying to get closer.  They yell at one another. What a noise!

The Rabbi smiles and raises a hand. The people begin to settle down and after some final mutters and movement, they all find room to stand quietly.

The Rabbi holds her hand steady and all listen. The breeze stirs the leaves of the trees. Birds chirp in the warm sunlight.

The Rabbi begins to hum a tune. She closes her eyes and sways back and forth. The children join in, humming and swaying. Soon all the townspeople are humming and swaying. Those with pipes begin to play.

The Rabbi begins to dance. First in slow, measured steps.  Tapping here and there. Then quicker and quicker, she begins to spin around the square. People follow, joining in the dance, until the square is a mass of people dancing, spinning, singing, playing, clapping.

The joy of their dance joins with the joy of the trees and the birds. Delight shimmers in the sunlight and the soft white clouds. The land seems to be dancing with the dancers.

Hours passed before the festivities finally end. The people sit down in the square, tired, still, content. The Rabbi, leaning against a tree, looks around and smiles. She says, “I trust that I have answered all your questions.”  (adapted from a Hasidic story)

Sometimes meaning doesn’t come in words or thoughts or concepts. It comes in song, in movement, in being. It may be enough meaning to simply be here now, together.

Let us be truth seekers and meaning makers, following our fourth principle, knowing this chalice community is here to hold us.


So Say We All.



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