Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Adventures in Unitarian Land: Part 2- Additional Thoughts

Last week I wrote on my recent encounter with the Unitarian Universalists of Murfreesboro. I was actually so surprised by the similarities between my beliefs and theirs as well as stunned by their symbolism that I questioned if I wasn't already a UU. What I didn't get around to mentioning in my last post is the second half of the service.

As Sharon concluded her talk (I hesitate to use the word 'sermon' to describe this very informal talk) the UUs passed the collection plate (everyone's got to eat) and moved to extinguishing of the Chalice.

"And now we extinguish our chalice, but not the one that
forever in our hearts.
It glows bright to help us face the world's shadows,

with a chalice of light.

To face the world's coldness,

with a chalice of warmth,

To face the world's terrors

with a chalice of courage.

To face the world's turmoil,

with a chalice of peace.

May its glow fill our spirits, our hearts, and our lives,

until we meet here again in peace, hope and love."
At first I wondered why they would even extinguish the flame. Why not keep an eternal flame burning (again forgetting they were meeting in borrowed space)? I had overlooked the simplicity and symbolism of the extinguishing of the Chalice: the chalice is merely a physical representation of the symbolic flame we have within ourselves. Through community connection and reflection we keep spirit alive: that which binds and interweaves us with each other. I believe it points to that primal energy, the core of our humanity. The lighting and extinguishing of the chalice is a reminder of where we came from, who we are now, and the hidden potential of our future.

During the second half of the service we had the choice between going on a meditation walk or participating in a Q and A with the guest speaker. Although I found the idea of a meditation walk intriguing I'm drawn to discussion and dialog. The comments and questions circled around the theme of our difficulty to control ourselves during pressure situations. Belief and dependence on a deity for assistance, and even the concept of a deity itself, was never mentioned. I was tempted to bring up the Hebrew phrase hevel havalim, "breath of breath", from the wisdom of Ecclesiastes and the concept of living in an impermanent and chaotic world. But I'm not a good public speaker and I enjoy hearing others speak more than myself (I do enough of that here) so I kept my mouth shut. What I did enjoy was the open interaction as well as the themes of connection and unity you don't see at other churches. I believe these are vital for the human spirit although the symbols, language, and imagery are just what they are: symbols, language and imagery. They point towards what we struggle to name yet the tangible is just as impermanent as the rest of the cosmos, frail and extinguishable.


Sabio Lantz said...

Sounds like you found a home !
For me, listening to sermons and singing emasculated Christian songs was weird. Plus the sermon was often political and disagreed with my politics.
I want a group that just meditates (or walks), is apolitical and has no paid religious specialist and yet forms a vibrant community -- tough order.

Don said...

On this journey, I have really only made one attempt to find a community in which I could thrive. It was a church who's main focus was universal reconciliation. It did not work out well. I found it to be very similar to the denominationalism which I gladly left. Perhaps in my journey to come I may find that UU will fit the bill. It sounds very interesting. Thanks for your posts about your experience.

Unknown said...

I've only visited with the UUs once but the only issue I have is the fear of being trapped in an echo chamber having my own beliefs echoed back over and over again. I want diversity but not tribalism, dialog but not debate. I want to learn from those different from me but still retain that sense of community. It is a tough order, Sabio, maybe too tough. Which is why I am reluctant to join any one community.

Doug B said...

Were I ever to join a church, I'm certain it would be UU. But it just isn't something that interests me or that I have a desire to do. Guess I'm a spiritual solitare.

Sabio Lantz said...

@ Eruesso :
I agree and have same reluctance.

atimetorend said...

After at least a decade of being trained to look for un-biblical phrasing, I find it difficult to benefit from things that sound like that chalice ceremony. I think you do a good job of translating and gleaning what is good from the terminology used. I just can't do that at this point.

I feel partly it is because I have been brainwashed to think that way, and partly I am so exhausted with deconstructing the churches own terminology and black/white paradigm for everything that I am excessively cautious about accepting anyone else's rhetoric.

Also, I know that those close to me would balk at hearing a message like that, so I am oversensitive of their reactions. I want to be able to present an alternative to conservative evangelicalism, and language like that unfortunately closes off that path for some.

Sabio Lantz said...

@ atimetorend

Wow, I didn't recognize it, but what you wrote probably fed much of my aversion of UU. What attracted me were lots of nice people. But then, I am attracted to that in Churches and Synagogues and Temples too. It seems nice people seek each others company and religion makes them welcome.

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