Spiritual Quotient

I am grateful and humbled to have been called – and now installed – as minister. I do, as Zbigniew Herbert's poem says, “look at my clown’s face in the mirror and repeat, I was called, weren’t there better ones than I?” In three and a half months so far of serving Community Unitarian Church, most of you have already had occasion to notice that I am not perfect. But have you noticed that I am? By which I mean to ask: Have you noticed that you are?

For I do believe that more important than all the ways that we supposedly aren’t perfect is the fact that we are. Perfect, yes. Able to simultaneously exhibit contradictory qualities, no. We can’t, for example, at the same time, have both youthful exuberance and the wisdom of many years, though both of those have their advantages. Nor can you be a person who freely speaks her mind while also being carefully diplomatic, avoiding giving offense. Some positive traits contradict other positive traits, so you can’t have them all. Still, perfect you are.

And your perfection is a dynamic, unfolding thing. How would you like it to unfold? I believe people don't come to church to stay the same. We come to be transformed. We come to be intentional about the way our perfection unfolds and develops. We come for community, we come to have friends along the path, and we come hoping that path will help us grow.

Equanimity, peace, acceptance, kindness, patience, humility, a pervasive attitude of gratitude, not being judgmental: call these the spiritual virtues. The spiritual virtues don’t just happen, and they don’t happen just by wanting them to happen, or by hearing words from people who have them, though that does help -- it’s good to have coaches. It takes doing the exercises, the ones that retrain our habitual neural pathways so that everything we do and are looks and feels more like love and less like one or another form of addiction.

PQ. Physical fitness is a long-established idea and ideal – and, we know, it’s good to exercise.

IQ. We have more recently begun to develop a notion of cognitive fitness. IQ tests have been around for only about a century, and we are not as clear as we are with measures of physical fitness just what, if anything, they measure. While some doubts and ambiguities remain, the idea of cognitive fitness is much better developed and supported than it used to be. Certain games and puzzles can help, somewhat, maintain memory, mental flexibility, problem solving, mental speed, and attention. For cognitive fitness, too, it’s good to exercise.

EQ. Then there's emotional fitness -- also called “emotional intelligence”: the ability to detect and identify emotions in self and others, harness emotions to facilitate the task at hand, and understand the language of emotion, including ability to recognize slight differences between similar emotions. Some of us are really good at that -- others, not so much.

Closely related to “emotional intelligence” or fitness is "social intelligence" -- because really resonating with someone, clicking with them, is a matter of knowing your feelings, recognizing theirs, and being able to synchronize with the emotion. Because our skills at managing our feelings and managing our relationships (i.e., managing other people's feelings) are so interrelated, let's treat emotional and social skills together as one thing: emotional-social fitness. With attention to exercising those skills, it’s possible to get better at that, too.

SQ. Finally, there’s what we could call spiritual fitness: “inner wisdom guided by compassion, equanimity, and inner and outer peace.” The spiritually fit have the same ego-defense mechanisms we all have, but the grip of those mechanisms holds them a little more loosely. The spiritually fit are in touch with the suffering of the world, yet also and simultaneously feel joy in that connection. The sorrow and the joy, for them, are not so much two different and opposed moods, but merge into one continuous awareness.

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This is part 2 of 4 of "Spiritual Practice"
Next: Part 3: "A Bit More Accident Prone"
Previous: Part 1: "Courage and Uselessness"

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