June: What Does It Mean To Be A Community of Joy?
Our theme of joy this month is deceptive. One could easily see this is a way to end the year “on a light note.” But there’s deep work for us to do with this topic.
There have been many religious perspectives that begin with the idea that this world is broken, a place of pain, toil and struggle. Our earthly job is to survive it, transcend it through sacrifice and work through our brokenness with an industrious “Protestant work ethic.” Joy is reserved for a time far off and found in a heaven granted to those who earn it.
And yet there are others – Unitarians Universalist included – that just don’t see it this way. They look out, and like the God of Genesis, their response is “behold, it is good!” Heaven, as our UU forbearers argued, is right here on earth; our job is to see it and take pleasure in it. And far from being indulgent or seductive, this “work” of pleasure and delight is the key to humanizing us. As Barbara Kingsolver’s words suggest, joy has the power to transform us.
With “one, long, holy stare at a single glorious thing,” balance is restored. We see the world not simply as broken and dangerous, but also as gentle, surprising and woven with a Love that will not let us go. This simple act of sacred staring is about achieving a wider view. Step back and see it all as a gift. When we feel joy, we don’t simply feel delight in one tiny piece of the world; we feel welcomed back in – connected once again to the whole.
June’s packet “What does it mean to be a community of joy ?” is available here.
Themes already explored
September 2016: Covenant
Covenant is one of those words that can initially sound kind of stuffy, academic and out-of-date. But when you unpack its meaning and its practices, covenant holds a whole vision for how to live in this complicated, beautiful and broken world. It is a vision that says we are most human when we bind ourselves in relationship. But not just any relationship – relationships of trust, mutual accountability and continual return.
October 2016: Healing
Well this one certainly seems easy to answer: it takes work. To be a community of healing requires dedication and a willingness to dig in – to fix what’s been broken, to listen away each others’ pain, to battle the bad guys and gals, to ask forgiveness when we are not the good guys and gals we so want to be. So yes, it is easy to remember that it takes work.
But what if we just as easily remembered that it takes perception and sight as well?
Or to be more exact, what if we remembered that healing always begins with perception and sight?
November 2016: Story
Our lives are not just made up of stories; they are also made by stories. This might be the most important reminder of this month. Indeed, who of us hasn’t felt controlled by a story? Stuck in a story? Hopeless about the way our story will end up? Simply put, stories write us as much as we write them.
December 2016: Presence
The underlying message here is that the world is full of unnoticed gifts and grace. It’s a message perfectly fit for this month that so often celebrates presents over presence. In the face of commercials and billboards that tell us our lives will finally be complete if we stuff them with a few more shiny objects or plastic gadgets, our spiritual traditions come along and remind us that our lives are already complete. Their message: The greatest gift of the holidays is noticing the many gifts that have been sitting there all along.
Prophets are known for their condemnation. Images of an angry bearded man shouting and predicting God’s judgment come to mind. But for Unitarian Universalists, the prophetic voice has always been less about shouting “You’re evil!” and more about pointing out “We’re all asleep!” The prophetic message, for us, is not so much “Repent!” but “Wake up!”
Recent political events are relevant here. On election day, many of us realized we had been living in a bubble. We existed in an echo chamber but told ourselves we had a clear picture of the world. Whether it was class, condescension or comfort, something distorted many people’s view.
Afraid that our inner light will be extinguished or our inner darkness exposed, we hide our true identities from each other. In the process, we become separated from our own souls. We end up living divided lives, so far removed from the truth we hold within that we cannot know the “integrity that comes from being what you are.” ~Parker Palmer
It’s one thing for a religion to offer you an identity; it’s quite another for a religion to celebrate your identity.
At our best, we UUs seek both. Our entire Soul Matters program is about UU identity. Each month, we lift up a unique value or human quality that our faith calls us to live and lean into. Together, our themes tell us who UUs uniquely are. But that’s only half of the equation. In addition to “UU identity,” there’s also “your identity.” And our faith communities are just as committed to that.
We agree with Parker Palmer that our society has separated us from our souls. Indeed, the only relevant religions today are the ones that take this seriously. Hell certainly exists; it’s the state of having to hide ourselves. And we also cheer on Walt Whitman’s celebration of messiness and contradiction. We don’t just want people to be honest about their contradictions; we want them to see those contradictions as great gifts! Bottom line: we want our congregations to be places where you don’t have to pretend.
The important question about risk (and about life) is not “Are you willing to jump off?” but “Are you willing to jump in?” Not “Are you willing to put yourself in danger?” but “Are you willing to give yourself to something bigger?” Not “Will you be daring?” but “Will you stay true?”
And the message changes too. Suddenly, it’s not “Run to what’s thrilling!” but “Don’t run away!”
It’s all about remembering not to let the thrilling trump the faithful. As exciting as roller coasters and jumping out of planes might be, let’s remember to remind each other that the most deeply rewarding risks are the ones that involve jumping into causes and putting our hearts in the hands of others. As the poet David Whyte puts it: “We are here essentially to risk ourselves in the world. We are meant to hazard ourselves for the right thing, for the right woman or the right man, for a son or a daughter, for the right work or for a gift given against all the odds.” Soul Matters March Packet
So this month, jump in!
This month’s theme of risk looks to be extremely powerful. March Soul Matters packets that have questions to reflect on and walk with all month and optional spiritual exercises are available here or in our lobby. The packet includes poetry and lists of articles, movies, podcasts, video’s, songs and books to explore on your own. Then join one of our sharing circles where we take what we have learned and know and help each other to become the poeple we most want to be. Our sharing circles offer a formative space that embraces the theology of connection and strengthens community.
That may not sound like anything radical or revolutionary. But it turns out that it is one of Life’s favorite ways to make us into something new.
Be cautious with those cultural messages about aggressively tilling and turning up your whole soil. Watch out for all the heroic talk about striving and perfecting, struggle and control. Much of the time, transformation is a much subtler art. It’s about stillness, listening and waiting to be led, not fighting with yourself and others to make sure you are in the lead.
In short, when it comes to transformation, the message of spirituality is “Be careful with what you’ve been taught and told because much of it takes us in exactly the wrong direction.” Our challenge as a community of transformation is to remind each other to take a different tack. More often than not, it’s about breathing rather than becoming better; patience not perfection; depth not dominance; attention not improvement.
The April Soul Matters packets are available for download here or in our lobby. Included are questions for you to reflect on and walk with all month and optional spiritual exercises. The packet also includes poetry and lists of articles, movies, podcasts, video’s, songs and books to explore on your own. Join us Sunday April 9th sharing circles where we take what we have learned and know and help each other to become the people we most want to be. Our sharing circles offer a formative space that embrace the theology of connection and strengthens our community.