When I went in, I was overwhelmed by nostalgia for my childhood and youth. Everything from the friendly greeting at the door and being handed a hymn book, to the traditional church layout with rows of pews and stained glass windows, to the piano that the man started to play, was like being back in my home town church, which I haven’t been in for about 9 years. It felt really nice.
Someone lit the peace candle, and announced that she was lighting it for “goodness”. This was the first of many things that seemed to have been arranged just for me… with all my thinking about whether goodness exists lately.
The service consisted of hymns, readings, sermon, all the traditional things – and some short periods of quiet reflection accompanied by piano music, which I very much appreciated. It happened to be a visiting speaker this week, giving an introduction to Unitarianism aimed at newcomers, coincidentally!
There were two readings. The first was a poetic, scientific description of the history of the universe, from the big bang to through evolution to the ability of the universe to reflect on itself through human beings. Completely mind-blowing. A repeated phrase punctuated the piece: “And it was neither good, nor bad, but simply was.” An amazing reflection of my recent thoughts. In saying that the perfection or otherwise of the world is unknowable, I am essentially allowing it to “simply be” rather than force value judgments on it. I can’t tell you how validating it was to hear my own thoughts reflected back at me!
The other reading was a passage from Rumi, and incredibly, it also depicted humanity starting out as minerals and moving through stages of development into what we are now, and spoke of “remembering who we are”, which I think is both humbling and freeing.
The speaker defined spirituality as the part of us that wonders why we are here, marvels at art, and experiences a sense of connectedness to others or to the divine; the part of us that seeks worth and meaning in the human experience. I thought that was a tremendous definition. He spoke of having faith in human spirituality in its endeavor to find the good.
He pointed out that “worship” is a shortened word arising from “worthship”, and acknowledged that many of us have trouble with the traditional connotations or meanings of worship but that it really just means assigning worth. Interesting.
The hymns were in a traditional style but some of them have very untraditional words. I scribbled down the first verse of one that we sang:
We sing the joy of living
We sing the mystery
Of knowledge, lore, and science
Of truth that is to be
Of searching, doubting, testing
Of deeper insights gained
Of freedom claimed and honoured
Of minds that are unchained
I don’t think I really entered into the experience because I was too busy mentally hopping up and down with excitement over such words!
During one of the quiet periods of reflection, memories flashed before my eyes: my baptism at 12; my confirmation at 16… I found myself a little sad, then realised that just because I interpret life differently now, does not mean I have to reject everything I once was. It’s not about cleansing myself from religion, it’s about rational and conscientious freedom. I don’t have to throw the baby out with the bath water.
After that, the final hymn was announced, and the speaker explained that it came from the Judeo-Christian tradition. He said a few words about how many of us have difficulty with the notions expressed in the hymn, of a personal father God who is in control of everything, but that nonetheless, for many of us this tradition is our heritage and there is still value in it for us even if we don’t accept it in a literal way any more – we can just enjoy the ideas in the hymn for what they are. I love that he said that. And as the music started to play, I realised that I knew the tune, and I started to well up with tears. I really didn’t expect it to be so moving! I felt as if I finally understood what it means to value religion in a mythological way. And for the first time ever, I was able just to enjoy it without any nagging doubts… because those doubts were allowed to be out there publicly acknowledged. I don’t think I have ever felt so at home.
I didn’t expect such an amazing experience.