Marian Maciej-Hiner, UUFD Board President, and Alyssa Zasada, Membership Committee Chair, explore the relationship between charting your individual spiritual path and being in a spiritual community.
“Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, [we] cannot live without a spiritual life.”
“Spirituality is a broad concept with room for many perspectives. In general, it includes a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves, and it typically involves a search for meaning in life. As such, it is a universal human experience – something that touches us all. People may describe a spiritual experience as sacred or transcendent or simply a deep sense of aliveness and interconnectedness.”1
Readings: Views of Spirituality
Judaism deals with matters of meaning and significance, and invites us to place our lives in a context greater than ourselves: God. There are many ways to experience God – one way is transcendent, beyond everything – and another is immanent, God fills everything. There are practical guides to help understand how to be a person created in the image of God.2
Christian spirituality is a set of beliefs, values, and way of life that reflect the teachings of the Bible. It includes knowledge – along with integrated and authentic faith and action – and good deeds, for the honor of God. It depends on the power of the Holy Spirit to live according to God’s will.3
Native American spirituality does not separate the supernatural from the natural world – they are the same thing. There is a sense of connection and oneness – that all beings are relations of each other – that spirit is in every person, animal, plant and object that exists – and everything is connected in some way.4
The heart of Buddhist spirituality is the quest of wisdom and compassion. The spiritual life begins and ends in practice, not belief and doctrine. It is not necessary to believe in God or deny God’s existence, or to affirm or deny answers to metaphysical questions that cannot be settled with certainty. Seeking answers to unanswerable questions diverts time and energy from spiritual quest.5
Humanists believe each of us constructs our own spiritual meaning, through a deep need to connect with something greater than ourselves. This could be a connection with nature, the earth, the universe, family, friends, or something else. It is also linked to a sense of awe and wonder – experienced through insights into the natural world, the universe, the arts and other sources.6
Adapted from April 2020 letter from Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, President, UUA
During this time when our lives and world are so different than we imagined they would be – just a few short months ago – everything shows us how interconnected we are, how much we need each other.
This is a time for connection, for community, for cooperation and solidarity …
May we lean in more to the rituals and practices that remind us of our interdependence.
May we lean more fully into our relationships and our community.
May we find ways to give as generously as we are able, so everyone in our communities will feel held – and have enough.
May we invite the practices that keep us connected, compassionate, and loving in these days.
May loving community surround and hold us.
Reflection: Marian Maciej-Hiner
When I returned to the Fellowship in 2016, after having stepped away – for personal & professional reasons – for about 8 years. I was ready to talk about – yearning to talk about – spirituality. I didn’t have a clear definition of what I meant by that – but I felt that something was missing in my life, and this was one of the ways to fill the void.
I know now that I was looking for meaning. Within one year, I’d lost my husband, my soul-mate of 36 years … my son & daughter-in-law had moved from being 1 hour to 5 hours away … and I retired from a 37-year career. I was trying to chart my life course without the people and the enterprises that had given me purpose for so long.
Since returning, I’ve been grateful to Kent Mayfield, Michael Schuler and other religious professionals for speaking to and nurturing that spiritual dimension of our lives. I greatly appreciate the Program Committee for inviting a wide range of presenters, Fellowship members & friends to reflect on their spiritual journeys. I’ve gained great insights from small group discussions such as the “Renowned UU Ministers” series coordinated by Frank. And I’ve grown my knowledge of other views of spirituality, through one-on-one exchanges that I cherish – for enriching and expanding my spiritual awareness … and understanding.
But I still have a sense that, as UUs, we aren’t totally comfortable talking about “spirituality.” We may avoid that word entirely, because too closely associated with beliefs no longer fit us. We may talk about spiritual journeys with a personal understanding of what that means to us – but without a clear understanding of what it means to share those journeys in community.
So … when I took on the role of Board President in January, I added this to my list of personal goals for the position: to help promote opportunities to not only talk about but to cultivate our spirituality. I believe it’s important to have that word, that concept, in our vocabulary – so we can have deep conversations about an important aspect of our individual & collective lives.
When Bob Dunn asked if I would consider presenting a reflection on my spiritual journey, I saw it as an opportunity to have a broader conversation – to explore together what we mean by “spirituality” – not just as individuals, but as a community, to engage others in this quest. I wanted Alyssa to come along, not just to share the conversation, but to help guide us in bringing our individual spiritual journeys into the spiritual life of our Fellowship community. Alyssa and I have enjoyed sharing our thoughts about spirituality and talking about community … and we’re pleased to expand those conversations today – to include all of you!
Each of us probably means something different when we use the word “spirituality.” As we heard, there are different views from our religious and cultural backgrounds … our individual definitions of “spirituality” may be informed by many experiences … beliefs. Is it possible to reach an agreement about what we mean when we use the word “spiritual?” So that, when we use the word in our Fellowship, we know what we’re talking about?
Think it helps that the concept of spirituality is now part of secular, as well as religious, realm. This is from a description of online course offered through FutureLearn, an international education company – course is Introducing Humanism: Non-religious Approaches to Life: “Today, the word ‘spirituality’ is used routinely in public services and elsewhere as a broad term, signaling the inclusion of all people in spiritual nurture and care, including those of us who are not religious. … This is important because research suggests that spiritual resilience helps people deal better with life’s challenges. Human beings are a wonderful result of natural evolution but, because we are self-aware, being human involves existential challenges. To face such challenges and enjoy life to the full, non-religious people need opportunities and support in developing spiritual meaning and strengthening spiritual resilience.”7
So … perhaps a fluid definition – like this from the “Taking Charge” site – could be useful: “Some may find that their spiritual life is intricately linked to their association with a church, temple, mosque, or synagogue. Others may pray or find comfort in a personal relationship with God or a higher power. Still others seek meaning through their connections to nature or art. Like your sense of purpose, your personal definition of spirituality may change throughout your life, adapting to your own experiences and relationships.”8
When I returned to the Fellowship, I was continuing on a personal journey that started many years ago. I was looking for meaning … I was looking for connection to something larger than myself … I was looking for a safe place, a sacred space, a home – where I could say what’s in my heart, without judgement … I was looking for enlightenment – where I could revisit – test – and expand what I know and what I believe – about many things.
Through personal work – reading, journaling, time in nature – along with interactions with this community and others – I found what I was looking for, and more. My spirit has been renewed … my definition of spirituality has evolved … and my resolve to talk about spirituality has been strengthened.
Thanks to Alyssa for encouraging me to share my definition of spirituality – it isn’t a great revelation, it isn’t unique, it needs fine-tuning … but it’s how I think about spirituality, today: I envision spirit in each of us as a spark of energy and light. It’s up to each of us to find ways to ignite, kindle, feed that spark so it grows brighter – and we glow with the light within. The way I see it, the most important thing we can do in our lives is to nurture our spirit, our light – so it glows not only for us, but for the people in our lives – in our families, in our communities, in our world. So when we see that the light in others around us is getting dim, or is in danger of being extinguished, we can share our light – and help illuminate their path.
We’re now at the point of talking about the relationship between charting our individual spiritual paths – including coming up with our individual definitions of spirituality – and joining with other travelers on their individual spiritual quests, in communities such as this Fellowship. So … how does that play out? In another part of her April 2020 letter, Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, UUA President, makes an observation that might get us started on considering an answer: “ … Unitarian Universalism lives with an inherent tension between individualism and interdependence. The values of freedom, liberty, and the right of conscience are a core part of our principles – as are the values of equity, responsibility, and interdependence. Ideally, this represents a middle path that celebrates the beauty of individuality and the power of beloved community …”
That brings us to talking about being in Community … and I’ll turn it over to Alyssa …
Reflection: Alyssa Zasada
So what is this tension between individualism and interdependence that Reverend Susan Frederick-Gray is talking about? Well, UUs tend to be people who feel very strongly about our individuality and independence. Just look at our principles – we value our own pursuit of truth and meaning, we fight for equity and justice, and we make it known that it’s okay to have different beliefs and opinions from one another, especially when it comes to spiritual beliefs.
But at the same time, we really value coming together and our connection to others. We know the benefits of being in community – having a support system, feeling cared for and valued, having a network of others to learn from and grow with. We value community so much that the one thing that unites all UUs is a set of principles about how we want to treat each other. Taking it even further, we value community so much that membership revolves around a commitment to a specific congregation rather than the faith. When you become a member, you are not asked to commit to a dogma or creed, you’re not asked to commit to the seven principles. You are asked to come into covenant with the other members of that congregation.
As many of you know, I first became a member of a UU church when I was living in Birmingham, Alabama. I went through their membership process where I was agreeing to come into covenant with their community. To me, that meant working together to promote and live the seven principles, and when we faltered in that, agreeing to help each other back up. The latter part of that is the most important – when we falter in living up to the seven principles, we agree to help each other back up. We are human beings, we are imperfect, we are going to make mistakes. But as a community we are making a commitment to accept each other as worthy and to accept each other as whole, as we are, right now.
When I moved here and started attending this Fellowship, I was back to square one as a visitor. You had no commitment to me, I had no commitment to you. As I considered whether I wanted to become a member, I looked at the way you treated each other. I knew your core values would be tied to the seven principles, but how does that show up in this Fellowship, with these people? How have you come into covenant with one another?
What I found was a tightly-knit group of individuals who each give a piece of themselves in order to together create this Fellowship, this family. You each bring something different to create a spiritual community that is uniquely UUFD. For example, I saw the woodwork of Jon giving us sacred spaces for our reflections; our joys, sorrows, and concerns; and our chalice. I saw the curated library of Pam telling the story of our Fellowship and our faith. I saw the caretaking hand of Tam working to make our space a place of comfort. Every week I was discovering new ways members and friends were giving of themselves to create this community.
So when Frank asked whether I was interested in becoming a member, I knew I was ready to say yes. I was ready to join this quilt of a Fellowship where each person adds to the greater whole, and where we as UUFD are defined not by a creed, and not by our building, but by how we are together.
And while I would love to end here on such a lovely high note – it’s important to swing back to the interplay between individualism and interdependence we were discussing earlier. When we create communities where it’s okay to be your own unique self, with that comes different opinions about how to be in this space and be in this community together. There are going to be different perspectives about how we are treating each other and how we should be treating each other. We’re not going to all get along 24/7 because, you know what, it’s really hard to be in community with people who are different from you. So what do we do when there is conflict, or tension, or hurt feelings, or a sense of not belonging?
We need to remind ourselves of our covenant to each other, our covenant to our community. I offer three things to consider as a reminder of this:
First and foremost, I ask that we always accept each other as worthy and whole. It’s one thing to accept each others’ differences, but it’s another thing to create a space where everyone feels safe to express their whole self, to speak their truth. We need everyone in the community to feel safe and worthy and whole.
Second, when we make mistakes, when we falter in trying to live up to the seven principles, I ask that we give each other grace and support. Give grace by allowing each person to be a human who is growing and learning, and give forgiveness when needed. Give support by pushing each other to be our best selves and by giving comfort when we’re dealing with the hard parts of growth.
Giving each other grace and support also means being willing to have tough conversations. We need to be a place where we’re okay talking with each other about sensitive issues because when we are able to push and grow in order to stay together as a community, we all grow. We grow as individuals, and we grow as a community. We’re committing to muddle through the hard times together so we can come out better on the other side.
Lastly, I ask that we each deepen our own spiritual practices so we can deepen that of everyone’s. We are first and foremost a spiritual community, so by centering our spiritual practices we can stay focused on what matters most. Spirituality to you may mean the quest for wisdom and compassion, the need to connect with something greater than ourselves, a connection to the earth, a connection to gods or goddesses, or something else entirely. We as individuals each bring something different, and our community needs all of those pieces of spirituality. We covenant together to accept, nurture, and grow in that. I covenant together with you.
“So if someone tells you that they know pain, loneliness, loss, fear, and dismay, but does not know the feeling of being sustained by a love that is wider, deeper, and infinitely vaster than the sorrows, hear these words as a commission.
Hear your commission to love, to create community, and to heal. One at a time in personal relationships, ten at a time in covenant groups, hundreds at a time in our congregations, hundreds of thousands at a time in our religious movement, millions at a time as we take our commission deeper and deeper into humanity’s heart as a justice-loving people who will transform the world.
This is the Good News of our faith.” – Rev. Thandeka
Extinguishing of the Chalice
“The Work We Share” by Krista Taves
It is our work, shared with each other in covenant,
That creates and sustains this beloved community.
We extinguish this chalice, but its light lives on
in the directions we have chosen today.
The light of this faith lives on in us, together,
in our hearts, minds, bodies and spirits.
Amen and Blessed Be.