Our fellowship is non-creedal, meaning there are no specific beliefs you need to have or pretend to have in order to be full members of our community. Our fellowship includes Atheists, Agnostics, and Theists (believers in a God). We include Humanists, Christians, Buddhists, Neo-Pagans, Jewish persons, and many others. Many of us are combinations of these.
In recent weeks I’ve been talking with many of you about what kind of language our Sunday services should use to encompass and hold this kind of diversity, especially as a large majority of our fellowship identify as Humanist.
The temptation in the past was for services to avoid any language that sounded remotely “religious,” but what if we instead expanded our understanding of what religious language actually calls us to? Our May Sandscript included comments by me on more expansive understandings of “worship,” “faith,” and “religion.” Here are a few more terms. Please reach out to me with any thoughts or feelings you may have.
*Covenant — As Jeanne Nieuwejaar writes, “covenant is the lifeblood of our faith.” “Covenant” refers to the agreement we have about how we will be in relationship with each other as a community. This goes beyond a contract or by-laws in that covenant deal with more fundamental values such as commitment, love, forgiveness, and integrity. To join a UU congregation is to enter, of our own consent, into a covenant and to take that covenant’s obligations upon ourselves.
*Prayer — How can we “pray” when so many of us don’t believe in a God, or are unsure? It is true that prayer isn’t a practice for everyone, and I’m thinking a lot these days about the role and place of prayer in our services. I’m recalling, though, what it means to walk. Usually, I walk to get somewhere, but sometimes I walk just to walk, because walking has value in and of itself. In my own experience, prayer can work much the same way. When we pray we give clear articulation to so much of our lives: what we are grateful for, where we need to improve, what we long for. There is power in naming these things in community, whether or not Someone is listening. It’s also worth noting that cultivating inner silence is seen as a form of prayer in some schools of Hinduism, Judaism, and mystical Christianity. What do you feel about prayer and meditation in our services?
*Spirit — A delightfully ambiguous word. “Spirit” can mean “a spirit”, but also that undefinable essence of something (“that play was in the spirit of Hitchcock”). Almost every week we sing “Spirit of Life” in our services, to acknowledge the mysterious way we are bound with each other and all the rest of life. I love the word “Spirit” precisely because it’s an impossible word to pin down with a clear definition. What does “spirit” mean to you?
*Sacred and *Holy — “Sacred” literally means to set apart, while “Holy” carries the thought of something “other” in a deep spiritual way. While these words often refer to places or things associated with the supernatural or the divine, these terms can also refer to what we set aside for use according to our deepest values, or to the experience we may have of some dimension to life that goes beyond our words and evokes a commanding sense of awe. With those definitions, does it make sense to you to call our services “sacred” and what we do there “holy”?
*Sanctuary — Is the space we gather in for services “a sanctuary”? Does it deserve that term if we also do mundane secular things in the same space, such as men’s breakfast or potluck meals? I feel the term still applies. A “sanctuary” is a safe space, a space set apart (see “sacred,”) and that part of our meetinghouse is truly set aside for important things. Even our meals and casual social functions can be places for healing and love, and the friendships that form there can be, if I may use the word, “holy.”
Not all of these terms work for each of us; the goal is to find a common language that connects us to each other, to our values, to our larger faith, and to our deepest selves.
What words draw you? What pushes you away?
Let’s keep journeying together.