The sermon went pretty well. Due to some things outside my control, the service was a little chaotic, but I felt like I handled it ok, and I hope people still enjoyed the program. Upon delivering the sermon, I really wished I had delved a little deeper and pushed myself to just make it a little more professional. I keep trying to remind myself, I am not a minister and have only given one other sermon, so hopefully people gave me a little leeway. It is not my best, so please don't be too critical!
Developing Your Own Spirituality: Why It Is Important
Good morning! I am T., a relatively new member to First Church A. I have been a Unitarian Universalist, though, for around ten years. In those ten years, I have been asked many, many times, so “what do you believe?” I imagine those of you brave enough to publicly declare your Unitarian Universalism have also been confronted with this question. Or, perhaps you have kept your UUism within the family. But, your child has come to you and asked “mom, do you believe in Jesus?”. “Will I go to heaven when I die?”
These types of questions can lead to a sense of panic in many UUs. We often deflect them with clumsy answers and hope the situation disappears. Or, we hope that the children’s Religious Education classes will eventually provide some sort of answers to life’s difficult questions. I find many of us tend to answer spiritual questions in the negative. For instance: Well, I don’t believe in Jesus as my Savior. Or, I don’t believe in a Heaven. Maybe we go even a little deeper and say “I don’t believe in organized, patriarchal religions.” And “My God does not discriminate on the basis of race, class and sexuality.”
Those are a whole lot of negatives, but does it really give us a clue into what we, at heart believe? What do you believe? Some of us cringe at the word spirituality. We are devout Humanist, Agnostics and Atheist and don’t see any room for spiritually in our lives. But, like it or not, we are spiritual beings. We have all wondered: why are we here? What does it all mean? Some of us push those questions away. How do we even begin to answer them? Others spend their whole lifetime devoted to seeking these answers. Because of our humanity, though, we will never really know. But how we choose to live our lives can fill the emptiness that almost all of us experience at some point.
Spirituality can be an ambiguous term. What does it exactly mean? For this sermon, I would like to use the definition that Fredric John Muir uses. “Spirituality is the word used to describe the interdependent workings of both spirit and soul. Spirituality is about this inner dimension.” It is what is deep inside us and how it manifests itself in our lives. I love this definition because it is so intensely personal. It does not require a belief in a higher being, but the thought that there is something holy/sacred in all of us. Many of us have come to church because we are looking for something more. That something more is spirituality. We are looking to fill our soul.
Why should we be bothered by explore our own spirituality? I come to church. Isn’t that filling the void? I like what the Minister says. I feel connected to the people. I get involved in all the wonderful Social Action projects the congregation participates in. Aren’t we all about “Deeds Not Creeds?” I am doing those deeds! I am living up to my idea of Unitarian Universalism! Why do I need to delve deeper? I feel good about helping others. I am contributing and living my values. I am leading by example. Hopefully those pesky questions will just disappear and people will just see that I am good person without all that baggage of creedal spiritual beliefs. I am free and happy!
I think we all realize that life throws us curveballs, though. It is hard to see the grace in a beautiful rainbow when your life is stressed out by work, health, and family and church is just one more thing on the to-do list. Where do you go when you have had enough? What do you fall back on when you need strength and hope? For more creedal religions, it is easy to turn towards scriptural doctrine. Just have faith! God has a plan! What do you do, though, if you aren’t sure you have faith? Where do you go when you just don’t know? How do you answer your child’s need to feel secure in something?
Spending time nurturing your spiritual side can lead us to be more centered, happier, able to handle stress better and lead a more meaningful life. We only get one chance at this life, why not make it the most fulfilling it can be? Jeanne Nieuwejaar, in her book The Gift of Faith, notes that “spiritual well-being, hope, faith, and inner peace all contribute to physical well-being. It has been well documented that people we are devout, who are clear in their faith, who are meaningfully connected to religious communities, and who are actively engaged in prayer or meditation recover more quickly and fully from serious illness and injuries.” The Rev. Barbara Wells observes that her spiritual practices helps her “stay centered on who I am, why I am here, and what I am to do. I believe I am a better person because of the spiritual path I have chosen.” Thus, not only does an active spiritual practice provide practical benefits, it also helps fill that deep need for greater meaning in our lives. Who wouldn’t want this?
I need to take a moment here and also make a special appeal to parents. You are your child’s primary religious educator. Sending them to Sunday School is just one small aspect of nurturing their spiritual development. We only have them for, at the max, forty hours a year. Where are they the rest of the time? With you, friends, family and a million other outside influences. Children are innately spiritual beings. Whether you help guide them or not, they will find answers to their questions. I remember a spiritual crisis I had when I was thirteen. All of a sudden it dawned on me that I was just an insignificant speck in the universe. It was a full blown existential crisis in the middle of South Dakota! I would have loved it if my parents had been open to theological discussions. I think it would have provided a lot of comfort that summer. Nieuwejaar states, “parents should take seriously their own religious grounding, their own religious education, their own spiritual nurture.” Only then can we provide our children with a deep, unified faith that will follow them to adulthood. It is yet another reason to purse spiritual development and practice.
Exploring spirituality and establishing a spiritual practice can seem daunting. Does it require special equipment? Do I have to walk in the woods and commune with nature? Do I have to pray every night? The beauty of spiritual practice is that there is no one size fits all. There are many ways to delve into your spirituality. The Rev. Scott Alexander considers spiritual practice to be any regular, intentional activity that serves to significantly deepen the quality and content of your relationship with the miracle of life.
Rev. Wells broadens this thought to include three components: personal devotion, finding a mentor, and worshipping in communion.
I find these definitions really encompass what I believe is important to spiritual development. To me, personal devotion has to be regular. Now regular could mean once a day, once a week or once a month. Something that is consistent. Many find prayer and meditation are invaluable. Others may find their morning run to be the most spiritual part of the day, while others journal in the evening. When was the last time you heard silence and could just be alone with your thoughts? In our over connected world, we are often hard pressed just to be alone. I challenge you all to find just ten minutes in your day to devote to some sort of spiritual activity. These can be the above mentioned ideas or uniquely your own, but something that brings you more deeply into yourself. If you are feeling that you need some more guidance, participate in an Adult Religious Education class. I have taken many of these (and I believe Rev. V. will be offering on in the fall) and have found them wonderful starting points in my personal mediation and prayers. Remember, there is no one prescribed way!
Rev. Wells also suggests finding a mentor. When I read that, I wondered what exactly is a spiritual mentor? Then I realized that I have had several religious mentors, but I considered them friends and hadn’t thought of them in those terms. To me, a spiritual mentor is someone I can freely bounce off spiritual ideas. They challenge me and question my thoughts. They listen to me and I listen to them. There is no right or wrong, but just an ongoing dialogue of discovery. Hopefully the mentoring is mutual and you both deepen and broaden your spiritual practice. Mentors can be found at church, in Chalice Circles or even friends of different faith traditions. I have even found some of mine through a theological book club that meets every couple of months! You may be surprised in how much you learn when you put yourself and your beliefs out there. The discussions can be quite dynamic and enlightening.
Finally, worshipping in community is one of the best ways to deepen and discover your spirituality. Coming together in the spirit of communion connects us to the greater whole. We are not alone in this world. Our lives have greater meaning and worshiping together helps us realize that larger focus. We are in this together. We celebrate together and mourn together. We grow and love together. Whether we are in a church, conference or retreat, coming together nurtures our souls and is as important as individual practice. While spirituality can be deeply personal, being with people who support your choices can be very life-affirming.
I have briefly listed three aspects of developing a spiritual practice, but I want to reiterate that there is no right path. There are as many paths as there are people. The path you choose now, may not be the one you need later in life. Almost every great spiritual leader has explored many different ways to their spirituality. The Buddha is an excellent example of going from one extreme practice to finding enlightenment in the middle way. It is okay to try several different methods. If journaling doesn’t work for you, try yoga. Just make sure to give it some time. Spiritual enlightenment doesn’t happen overnight (if it happens at all). Like most things, it takes practice and commitment.
Lastly, start small. Make little changes at first. A spiritual practice is not an all or nothing venture. One small thing my family does is light a chalice at dinner time and say a grace. The chalice connects us to our faiths tradition while the grace helps instill gratitude for the food we are about to eat. I especially like this tradition because it demands that we all be at the table, settled, and focused. It also, in a small way, helps the children connect with their own spirituality. It is a sacred moment for our family. Spirituality and spiritual practice are life long pursuits that begin when we are born.
In your order of service, I have included some Spiritual homework. I encourage you take a moment to reflect on some of the ideas I have listed and choose one to put into practice. My hope is for all of you to live the most meaningful life possible. We may never be able to answer all of life’s hard questions, but we do all have a soul that needs to be filled. Whether you choose to fill it is up to you, but the benefits of a happier more centered life are hard to ignore. Please give this gift to yourself and family. You deserve it!