An article in the current UU World magazine challenges UUs to insert more spirituality into our churches. (“Imagineers of Soul” by Christine Robinson can be found at www.uuma.org.) I couldn’t agree more, although I must say that I feel spirit moving in our church more than I did when I started attending in 2000.
At that time, I was struggling with living in a segregated city where I felt not only were race relations like something out of a 1950s movie, but where I felt my life was in danger as an out lesbian in a close-minded town. But then I found UUCF, where the world felt sane and balanced again. I felt safe holding Deb’s hand and saw interracial couples where outside those walls I’d seen few. Although the church fed the part of my soul that rallied for social justice and equality, the halls were oddly silent when I listened for the voices of the ancestors and elemental spirits, or when I listened for the voice of Deb’s Jesus. My social and political thirst was satisfied, but my spirit still felt parched.
I joined the worship committee and announced the lack that I felt. My concerns were heard by both the minister at the time and the worship committee. They asked what would help me to fill that hunger. I was offered the opportunity to lead a lay service.
I can’t remember what my first sermon entailed, but I do remember being nervous and apologetic when speaking about God, Goddess, Great Spirit or spirit. It took me a while to lay claim to the UU commitment to honor all paths toward truth. Partly because the language being used at that time was kept not religiously neutral as people seemed to believe it was, but it was spiritually bland. This sounds harsh, but it came to me full force when, during choir rehearsal, members were brainstorming ways in which to erase God from the prayer of Saint Francis. That prayer begins with the words “Lord, make me an instrument of they peace.” I lost it! I took my stand then and there and refused to sing if it was altered because a fear of the L word. I said that if I, a pagan, could embrace that amazing Christian prayer, than other people should just deal wit it. For a house of worship where all are welcome, why wasn’t God welcome? We didn’t sing The Prayer of St. Francis, and I didn’t stay in the choir too much longer.
Things have changed a lot in less than a decade. I think it’s odd that when we got a new minister and he said from the pulpit that he is an atheist. He caught as much backlash for that as St. Francis would have if he stood in the pulpit. Atheist, like God, is a religiously loaded term, despite the fact that outside of the pulpit, many church members claimed the label of atheist and a few identify as Christian.
Our congregation seems to be much more comfortable with a wide range of spiritual expression now. “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace” has since been heard at least once in our sanctuary. The elemental guardians of the East, South, West and North are regularly invited into our sanctuary and are welcomed. The liturgy of the Big Bang has been celebrated along with Buddhist ethics and humanist affirmations. There still seems to be a tentative void that surrounds Islam and Hindu teachings, I think mostly because no one in our midst has enough experience with those traditions to liven our souls with their theologies. There is also a gaping void in regards to overt Christian thought.
Although most of us were raised in some Christian tradition or other (after all, 84% or so of Americans identify as Christian), there is a pointed deafness to any reference to Jesus or the gospels. A glazed look comes to people’s faces (or downright angry indignation) when a guest speaker reads from scripture or confesses a Christian belief, while a few sit up straighter, lean slightly forward and have sparkles in their eyes because their souls are being fed in a way that they have missed within our walls.
I think that Christina Robinson hits that nail right on the head in her article where she writes about the shame so many of us experienced around our Christian upbringing. “We left those communities because we no longer believed what they taught, and we often left wounded and bewildered by our experiences. If we were led to believe that our inability to believe what we were taught was due to a flaw in our nature, we brought with us a burden of shame.” She goes on to eloquently describe and draw out this phenomena, then gently asserts the need to set that shame and fear aside and open ourselves to being receptive to “spiritual risk-taking.” She offers the possibility of healing using language that rejects the spiritual blandness that so many UUs claim as their adopted native tongue. She suggests attempting an open receptiveness to spiritually charged language (not specifically Christian, but language that sounds like it is related to the religious language of our youth).
Perhaps this is kind of like when LGBT folks embrace the language that once caused us harm when used as weapons: dyke, sissy, queer- to name a few. Those words, like religious language that may have been once used to confine us to a small claustrophobic box of spirituality, can be re-claimed to instead empower and enrich our lives and release our souls to soar free of the cage constructed by any past shaming to conform.