Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Is there a place for a devout Unitarian Universalist?

And by devout, I mean, deriving from the same route of "devotion."

Recent discussions about god-language and UU Christology in the UU blogosphere have me thinking about this.

I know that for myself -- newly rebirthed seminarian -- I have, and have always had, a pull in my heart for something transcending regular life. Something honoring and yearning for what can be found in The Great Mystery.

Benedictine monks chanting, Buddhist nuns doing 100 bows, a Hindu mother creating a small altar room ... these speak to me.

Where is the room for my devotion? The very idea could bring forth ideas suited for ridicule -- a young woman placing a candle on her daytimer or a young man making a mantra "To Whom It May Concern."

Those of us who have pledged ourselves to this religion, Unitarian Universalism, can shrug those off. There are plenty of jokes about "Whiskey-palians" and Baptists who don't recognize each other in the liquor store, too.

But we pride ourselves, so often, on what we are not. We are not dogmatic. We are not illogical. We are not ritualistic.

The unspoken is there ... We are not Silly.

If someone walks into our sanctuary and goes down on one knee at the altar, how do we, in our hearts, respond? If someone were to cross themselves, or bow repeatedly, upon entering, how do we respond?

These actions, in and of themselves, do not go against our UU principles. Because someone crosses himself does not mean he feels it is the only way to the Divine Unknowable.

I do not cross myself. I do not bow. Tracing a chalice across my chalice is cumbersome, at best.

But I am passionate about this faith. For me, it is not just "a religious movement." I am not just a part of similarly fashioned society. My belief in what we stand for is powerful. My hope for what we can mean to others transcends mere helpfulness.

I am not a Buddhist. My meditations are not exclusively with the goal of quieting my mind. I am somewhere between Christian -- meditation as contemplation -- and Buddhist. It depends on the day.

I am reading Simply Pray and enjoying it. I like the idea of a UU "Rosary." I seek the experience of communion with the divine.

You may think me silly. But know this: I am not the only one.

I suggest we make room for the devout UU.


Kaleigh said...

One of my favorite ladies at church often introduces herself as an evangelical Unitarian Universalist. If there's room for her (and there most certainly is) then there's definitely room for the devout. No question.

ms. kitty said...

LE, have you read UU minister Peter Richardson's "Four Spiritualities"? He includes the Path of Devotion (which sounds like what you are describing) as one of his Four. I found it very helpful to me to see myself walking the Path of Harmony, as he describes it.

Shelby said...

I hope there is!

The Wellspring program at the Unitarian Universalist church in Rochester is giving congregants the opportunity to engage deeply in spiritual practice and reflection. That's one example of how a UU congregation can nurture its devout members.

Small groups, particularly those that revolve around a spiritual practice, can also provide this kind of support to devout members. Being a member of a UU prayer group has been very meaningful for me.

Faith of the Free said...

In my web activities, I describe myself as a "UU cheerleader" and "armchair evangelist," and have set up several websites to try to "further the conversation" of UU identity, vision and mission" along a bit. Obviously, I believe there's plenty of room "even for the devout" in our liberal faith.



Comrade Kevin said...

For nine years, I was a devout UU. I took my faith very seriously, never shied away from openly revealing myself as UU, and took every opportunity to explain my faith to those who inquired about it.

I think it's a challenge to all practicing UUs to not circle the wagons and keep cross-cringe at bay. I left the faith because I sought something more God-centered rather than man-centered. And so long as UUism is man-centered, it will constantly need to remind itself that devotion, ritual, and practice are essential to daily life.

Jaume said...

Yes, Comrade Kevin, but how can God be away from man? If God is everywhere, why not inside as well?

Comrade Kevin said...


You bring up a good point, and one that I haven't totally reconciled within myself.

I suppose I interpret UU doctrine to seek for some ultimate state of perfection.

Garrison Keiler said: Unitarians don't want rapture! They want closure! I don't believe you can make a religion/faith tradition out of the scientific process, which up to this point is what UUism has tried to do, in my humble opinion.

It may yet reform itself over time but speaking only on behalf of myself, I had a feeling within myself that it was time to leave. I'm not saying that I won't ever return to UUism. I think as a Unitarian you would agree that faith changes over time. For this period right now in my life, Liberal Christianity seems right. But if I know myself well enough I know that my faith journey is not set in stone and will evolve as I grow older.

To answer your question directly, I don't believe that God is separate from man, but I do believe that it's borderline idolatry to presuppose that man's ways can ever be God's ways. God has proven himself to be too mysterious. And I'm okay with that, finally.

Earthbound Spirit said...

Hi LE -
I've been mulling over this post off and on all day. I was wondering if some "common" practices among our congregations count as "devotional?" For example - lighting a chalice, lighting candles for joys and concerns/sorrows, or, reciting the principles or a covenant? I suppose that would be corporate devotion. (I did participate in a UU service recently where lighting candles for joys/concerns was quite devotional in flavor. Candles were lit silently(!) by worshippers during meditation time. It was quite wonderful.)

As for individual spiritual practice - I don't know - it does seem that we borrow devotional practices from other traditions (e.g., Buddhist meditation). On the other hand, perhaps our devotions are simply more individual. I meditate, sometimes I journal, sometimes I take a walk in the woods. Any of those can open my heart & mind to that communion with the divine. Any of those can be a form of prayer.

Or, maybe I've taken this in another direction - in which case, I apologize.

Lizard Eater said...

No, Earthbound, that's exactly the right direction. I think that many of us have our own forms of devotion -- "on our own time" or, at best, in small groups.

My question in all of this is how do we support those who want to bring it to church? How to we encourage others not to cringe?

And Ms. Kitty, I'll look for that book. Danke.

Earthbound Spirit said...

Oddly enough, I have the book that Ms. Kitty mentioned! Picked it up at a book sale. Having just skimmed the section that Richardson says applies to my type, I think he's onto something. Interesting - I'll have to make time to read the rest of it.

I do think reciting a covenant or lighting candles is a form of devotion, and common practice in many UU churches. I also agree that many churches do nurture small groups who explore devotional practices - and don't discount the influence of those small groups!

The first source of our tradition is "direct experience of transcending mystery and wonder." Maybe that's a place to start, with appropriate sensitivity to those who prefer other sources.

Rivka said...

We've recently started pausing before supper every night to hold hands and sing grace. It feels great - all of us, even the two-year-old, enjoy that special moment of closeness and gratitude.

But it does seem a little unusual for a UU family to be doing something that, for example, would've been "too devout" for my liberal Protestant family of origin. I don't know if anyone else at our church does it.

kim said...

Wow! I've been calling myself a "devout Unitarian" for years.
I've even tried to start a "Chalistry", which is what we have called a UU monastery. I'm (jokingly) called "Mother Abbess Kim". We had a rather long thread on it on Beliefnet in the UU section, some time ago. It's still a dream....