Paying More Attention: Friends Along the Path, 2

We need friends along the path, nurturing our spiritual journey. A good group will foster you along an the arc of growth and development that will include a gradually growing facility with thinking theologically, living your calling and your ministry at home and in the wider world. You'll grow more familiar with resources for living each day with faith, integrity and wisdom; resources for dealing with challenges, tragedies, crises, as well as all the day-to-day minor annoyances; resources for finding joy in simple, ordinary life.

When the doctor reports that you have a terminal disease, or that your spouse does, or that your child, just a toddler, does, or when a natural disaster wipes out everything you have, or your house burns down, or a dear and longtime friend does something you think is a betrayal of trust, or you go on a trip and encounter – really encounter for the first time – people on another continent struggling with, and sometime dying from, hardships you had not before imagined except in hazy abstraction, it can jar the life assumptions you’d been taking for granted.

“What kind of world is this?” becomes a suddenly compelling question. And: “who am I in a world where this happens?” It’s a common pattern that only when an experience of tragedy and loss tears away complacency does a person begin a path of exploration that leads to spiritual wisdom, depth, maturity. It’s a common pattern, but it’s not the only pattern.

When I hear an adult’s anguished question, “What kind of God would let this happen?” I empathize with the harrowing experience of which that human being is in the middle. I also know: this is a person who hasn’t been paying attention. Had they been paying attention, they wouldn’t now be in such surprise and shock. I’m reminded that I, too, spend most of my time not paying attention, not taking to heart that nature destroys, sometimes as suddenly as a massive mudslide, and that random acts of violence and senseless brutality can happen anywhere, to anyone, even to me. I know these things cognitively, but I don’t really pay attention to what these facts mean, for if I did, my heart would never fail to love every precious moment, and would never be shocked or stunned when something or someone I’d habitually relied on wasn’t there anymore.

It’s a common pattern that a time of crisis provokes a person to a path of really paying attention. It’s a common pattern, but it’s not the only pattern. Sometimes a person embarks on that path before the crisis comes.

I’m sad that Unitarian Universalist congregations today do not do a better job of offering their members a common language of faith, a common set of stories, or a clear and systematic map for developing their own understanding of theology and liberal religion.

I’m sorry that, for decades now, our members have only rarely been provided with ways to engage their religious life at various levels of depth and understanding, and that, as a result, Unitarian Universalists, beautiful and perfect beings that we are, have not been developing competency in theology, familiarity with World Scripture, or the habits of deep reflection on themes of faith, death, forgiveness, hope, justice, love, brokenness, resurrection, gratitude, peace, grace, truth, salvation, evil, God, creation, mercy, freedom, redemption.

I’m saddened to notice that when members of our congregations have built up a toolbox of resources for dealing with loss, betrayal, addiction, evil -- a toolbox for building lives of resilience, presence, and joy – they mostly did it on their own outside the context of congregational life.

And I’m disturbed to realize that in 10 years as a Unitarian Universalist minister I have been so complicit in allowing this lack to continue.

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This is part 2 of 4 of "Friends Along the Path"
Next: Part 3: Gotta Have Group
Previous: Part 1: Nurturing Perfection

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