presented on Zoom January 17th, 2021 Rev. Fiona Heath
As Unitarian Universalists in Canada we say we have seven principles to guide our choices, six sources to nourish our spirits and five aspirations to help us grow. Today we consider our fifth and final aspiration – to be spiritually grounded. We seek transformation through personal spiritual experiences and shared ritual.
This aspiration is a growing edge for Canadian Unitarian Universalism.
UCMississauga was founded in 1954 – almost seventy years ago now – as part of the wave of small humanist fellowships that emerged across Canada. At that time UUism was closely aligned with humanism – a place of free thinking and working for better society. A common joke that was partly true was “Unitarians were the NDP at prayer” and coffee was our sacrament.
But as we are theologically alive, over the years with the influence of buddhism and neo-paganism more rituals and ceremonies have been added to the UU calendar.
We are now learning how to be spiritual and religious; seeking to be theologically alive and spiritually grounded. We are in a new phase and still figuring out our form of spirituality.
I use the word spirit to refer to the wholeness of the self – our whole beingness – mind, body, emotion all together and more than the sum of the parts. Spirit can also refer to the greater whole – the Divine, the Sacred, God, the universe, the mystery.
My sense is that 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 some people when they first come to UCM need to sit in the back and cry – or these days watch with their videos off. Spirit may be intangible, but it is also vital to our well being.
In uncertain times, and I’d say right here, right now, qualifies as uncertain times, spiritual experiences ground us, keep us rooted while storms rage.
Spiritual practices help us develop resilience – reminding us that even in the worst of times we are okay – that this too shall pass – that there is still good and beauty in the world – that we are cared for and not alone.
Spiritual practices can most simply be described as moments that either take you deeper inside yourself or take you farther out of yourself. They can ground you more firmly inside yourself, so that you hear that still small voice within. Or they can bring you outside of yourself into connection with something greater – that wordless visceral experience of belonging to the whole.
And while our aspiration says we seek transformation through personal spiritual experiences– for me I experience less a transformation and more an expansion. Spiritual experiences expand us – remind us that we are more than our jobs, our bodies, our everyday selves.
We are all tardises – that blue police box of Doctor Who – infinitely bigger on the inside.
A regular spiritual practice reminds us that there is so much depth and meaning within ourselves – expanding the sense of self down and deep. And experiencing a sense of connection to the wondrous greater whole of all that is – expands the sense of self high and wide.
This is the golden spiral I spoke about last week – the spiral has the self at the centre, going out to the community, to the earth, to the universe – infinitely expanding. 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.
Spiritual experiences can be cultivated through on-going practice. The good thing is that you don’t have to go and meditate on a mountaintop for years – you can seek expansion right where you are – and almost anything can be a spiritual practice.
For an activity to be a spiritual practice is mostly a matter of attention and awareness.
This is a growing place for people of the chalice. We don’t have a distinct spiritual practice the way I associate the prayer “our father who art in heaven” with Christianity and the loving kindness meditation “may you live with ease, may all beings live with ease” with Buddhism. So we are free to search for the practice that works for us.
Prayer. Meditation. Singing. Reading the Tarot.
Lighting a chalice and watching the flame is one of my practices. Writing a gratitude journal is another – because it makes me pay attention to the good in my life.
Running can be a spiritual practice – getting into the zone and losing a sense of self.
What do you do in your life that is a spiritual experience?
Where do you pay attention and have a sense of connection – either to your inner voice or to the greater whole?
What expands your sense of self?
Don’t dismiss or judge what works for you. Think about how you feel during and after the experience.
I hope each of you were able to find something that brings you a sense of depth, or connection or peace. If you struggled with this exercise but want a spiritual practice, consider something you love to do and do it with more attention and awareness. Try to keep your mind in the moment.
Even shopping – you may be glad to know – can be a spiritual practice.
One branch of Tibetan buddhism here in the West teaches an enlightened way to shop. It’s based on a tibetan folk belief that an object or landscape may possess a certain quality called yun. Yun gives objects a resonance or rightness, a sense of grace. The object appears luminous. Eyes are attracted to it, a sense of recognition is experienced. An ineffable something shines through.
This tibetan yun means that shopping can be a spiritual practice – an attentive seeking out of resonant objects.
I discovered this practice in an essay by the Rev. Jaelyn Scott – a UU community minister – who says that seeking clothing that is yun became a vital spiritual practice for her during her gender transition. As a black man in the US becoming a woman Jaelyn found herself struggling with gender norms and family expectations – so much so that choosing clothes became a source of pain. As she fully embraced her new identity and began to intentionally seek clothing that felt yun to her, shopping became an experience of grace.
Jaelyn slows down to find the pieces that speak to her and finds they are the ones that feel just right when she tries them on. For her, the dressing room is a sacred meditation cave. (Scott, J. P., Enlightenment in the Dressing Room in Faithful Practices, pg 49)
Spiritual practices are experiences which help you feel connected, rooted and resilient. They develop through attention and awareness.
The Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker, the former Dean of Starr King, a Unitarian Universalist seminary, once said that spirituality is concerned with moving from a place of existential isolation toward communion with the greater whole.
From isolation toward communion.
Parker says UUs seek to “live deeply rooted in knowing and feeling that we are connected to one another and to the earth, that our life is held in embrace of something larger than ourselves— a wisdom, a presence, a grace whose beatitude is accessible to us.” (http://kvuu.org/a-rev-bill-sermon-spiritual-practice-101/)
As Canadian UUs we seek this connection through personal spiritual experiences and through shared ritual. Shared rituals matter.
No matter how good our intentions, how strong our desire, we can’t always access the awareness and attention that brings that sense of connection.
Often when we are most in need, we feel the most isolated. God goes silent. Our inner voice is critical and mean. We sit for meditation and just watch our thoughts spin faster.
Or our spiritual practices are delightful and we know we are fine and feel that wondrous connection to the greater whole and yet we still feel lonely.
We need community. Shared rituals create energy that feeds our spirit.
If you have ever attended a blue jays game in person it feels entirely different then watching it on tv. There is a visceral aliveness to sports events – which is part of why people become dedicated followers of a particular team – you get to belong and participate in this great shared energy.
Indeed it is this shared energy we are all missing so much right now – whether we find it at a blue jays game or a concert or right here on a Sunday morning.
Unitarian Universalism’s embrace of ritual and ceremony – enhances that shared energy and shared meaning.
Our ceremonies give shape to our year. We flow together into community in September with the water ceremony, then enter the dark of the year honouring loss and grief with a ritual of mourning, then move through the dark to arrive at the fire ceremony, which we will hold next week, where we celebrate the light at heart of all life. After this we head towards March to rejoice in the spring renewal of the land and close out the year with the flower ceremony, honouring life’s astonishing diversity.
This is a dance through the seasons of the land and its elements – water, fire and earth and through the seasons of life – community and death and energy and diversity.
From pouring the waters to lighting the candles to setting aflame the flash paper to sharing earth’s blessings to giving flowers, we use these ceremonies to bind us as a chalice community.
Our weekly rituals do the same – lighting the chalice and singing, sharing joys and sorrows, sharing silence, holding hands.
We are bound together in shared experiences which try to connect us with the mystery. To feel – physically and emotionally – more then ourselves, to feel ourselves held.
We have to participate in ceremony for it to work. To open ourselves to the moment, to be willing to feel. That takes practice and intention. Just like with our own spiritual practices, we can’t always get there. And that is not failure, it’s just part of the experience.
All that matters is the trying.
As people of the chalice we have been stretching ourselves – embracing new theologies, seeking to radically inclusive to all, to be actively engaged in healing the world, to be deeply connected. To be spiritually grounded through spiritual experiences and shared ritual.
These are our five aspirations. May we use them to help us grow as individuals and as a community.
In these uncertain times, may we be spiritually grounded, connected, rooted and resilient.
May we trust our intuition, and experience the wonder of all that is.
May we be held in the golden spiral.
So Say We All.