“Keepers of the Dream”
One Sunday last month when I was not scheduled to be here in the pulpit I attended services virtually at King’s Chapel in Boston, a Unitarian Universalist church with an Anglican style liturgy. The message was about extravagant generosity! Later in the day I signed on to a service from Cherry Hill Seminary in the pagan/earth-based form of celebration. The following weekend was spent in silence at Insight Meditation Society in Barre, MA, a Buddhist meditation and teaching center.
My mornings begin with reflection and every day I delve into something different until a book runs out and I replace it with another! Currently I am reading the words of Gandhi on nonviolence and an author’s interpretations for modern times, and a daily liturgy in the home church Catholic Worker Movement vain. From there it varies – poetry and reflections from David Whyte and Amy G. S. A. Brooks, meditations on reconnecting with sacred earth from Indigenous scholar Randy Woodley, mindfulness from the Hindu tradition, spiritual practices in writing and a study in women’s journeys to a higher power and healing. And that’s just before breakfast!
My poor mother! Once when I was in my teens, I sought permission to go to church with a Protestant friend – only once! Faithful Irish Catholic that she was, I am sure that mom was only trying to protect my impressionable young mind, and so permission was denied with the admonition that this would indeed be a sin were I to partake! If she is watching now from the great beyond, I hope she has received sufficient enlightenment to know that I am both impressionable and safe in my seeking.
The truth is that I hope I remain always open to new learning and ways of seeing things. I am firmly grounded in process theology – life and all potential knowing are a journey that we will be on until our last breath. When we think we are done, have arrived, we become static. There is no one truth or one way to enter into the presence of the Sacred. This I am adamant about. Life changes us from moment to moment and ours is to notice those changes and how they affect our thinking and being and doing.
You can imagine my absolute delight to have wandered into a Unitarian Universalist church for the first time! Suddenly I was at home with a loving band of seekers, thinkers, people on an adventure in greater knowing and clearer insight, fed on all sides by the great traditions that have come before. A people intentional about that search, curious about each other and the worlds that they have encountered on the path of awareness and growth.
Our Unitarian Universalist Principles – that part of the larger Association’s by-laws that we covenant to affirm and promote – those seven statements underscore an engagement with diversity and inclusion on so many levels. These days we have been focusing on race and class and gender identity because they have been for so long overlooked in our culture as a faith tradition and the larger systems that make up our American way of life. For today, though, I want to think about diversity of thought and religious experience, and about inclusivity when it comes to ideas and meaning making.
Our third Principle says that we affirm the acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations. It is grounded in the two previous Principles – believing in the inherent worth and dignity of every person – so believing that each of us has within us all we need to make good choices about what feeds us, creates meaning in our lives, a belief in our ability to think for ourselves. And the second Principle that asks us to strive for justice, equity and compassion in our relations with one another – so that as we traverse this journey of meaning-making we do so in ways that honor each other’s awakenings, mine no better or truer than yours. We accept all of it and encourage the sharing, the exchange of ideas and wisdom, to the end that all our held in equal esteem – each of us a student and a teacher of life. We make space for this to happen here in small group discussions, book studies, conversations after Sunday sermons, anywhere really, where two or more can gather. We create a container into which we can pour all of learnings, a space made safe by our promise, our covenanting, to abide by the Principles we hold.
Our fourth Principle calls us to a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. We are free to wander down any path of enlightenment that beckons us, many paths even, and encouraged to do so by the previous Principle. There is a yearning in our midst, and it doesn’t matter what path you walk upon, only that you walk and return to share what you find. Our tradition draws from sources for which we are grateful – direct experience of mystery and wonder, the words and deeds of our forebears, wisdom from all the world’s religions and traditions and their teachings. Often people come to Unitarian Universalism quite jazzed by this idea of freedom, able now to “believe whatever they want.” There is a kernel of truth in this statement, we have no creeds to which one must adhere, but I want to offer a word of caution to go along with it. We sometimes stop at that first descriptor of the search in our excitement and fail to finish the sentence! It is also a responsible search! Seeking is serious business! Not a frivolous endeavor to be taken lightly! We owe it to ourselves and to our siblings in faith with whom we covenant to take that deep dive and come up prepared to examine what we have discovered. Rather than seeking confirmation of what we already believe, we embark on this path in order to be changed by what and who we find along the way. It is risky and exciting! And this is the heart of true inclusion that goes beyond welcoming other ideas alongside our own and moves to a place of integration whereby all of us are altered by the relationships we develop and the meaning that is created. Together we expand our vision of life.
We do so in covenant with one another as congregations, promising mutual trust and support. So not just within these walls, but in communion with other UU’s in other places. We have not in our history required a creedal recitation of a statement of belief. Instead, we acknowledge our uniqueness as individuals and as congregations and promise to be there for each other as we make our way. Our earliest Unitarian forebears on this land agreed to the living out of our promises rather than simple professions of faith. Everyone had a role and membership was not taken lightly with a mind toward the good of the whole. Churches worked in cooperation with one another, ensuring each other’s welfare and admonishing each other’s failings. It was a shared ministry. Covenantal living was a necessary and valuable component in defining relationships between individuals and churches.
It is no different today. Here at UUMH we ground ourselves in love and service to one another and the wider world. We are seekers after truths yet to be known, doing so with loving hearts that are open to all that we each bring to the mix. It is how we do what we do that sets us apart. Our opening words this morning talked about our freedoms and our ability to reason as being foundational to who we are as a faith tradition and point to the active living out of what we hold as grounding principles as a means to sustain us – our tradition and our world. This is the dream that we are charged with keeping, that the world, it’s peoples and its very existence should flourish. It suggests that the spark of this resides within each of us. Ours is to mine that for ourselves and to encourage our companions on the journey to do the same. In so doing we build on the foundation of love and goodness from which all hope arises. Bound by our covenantal faith we are in this together for the long haul!
I can’t think of a more exciting place to be or a more important time in which to be acting on our Principles, applying those promises to our daily living. We come here every week to be fed, nourished by fresh perspectives and ideas, inspired by teachings and experiences from all over the world, inspired by one another’s journeys and findings. We come here to be held in all of our singular expressions of being, with joy and with great care. We come here to keep that dream of a flourishing world alive in our midst.
Whether you are visiting with us today of if you come here often, we hope you will stay for conversation – for some of that creative exchange that leads to transformation in our lives and in our world. As we say each week - we are a community of memory and hope – keepers of the dream.
May it be so and Blessed be.
Rev. Tracy Johnson
UUMH Chatham, May 15, 2022