Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Silence of Reverence

This is inspired by the conversation over at Peacebang. I decided to post here rather than put another comment into a big conversation.

I don't think the answer, fundamentally, is to put the word 'God' into the principles/purposes/covenant of the American UUA. In the UK, we do have the word 'God' in the General Assembly Object, but this doesn't really make a difference to anything.

The First Source, as currently defined by the UUA, is this:

Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life.

The answer, in my humble opinion, is to take this statement seriously. Whether you say the above or 'direct experience of God' is not the issue. The issue is whether you really do live and worship as if a source of your life and faith is direct experience of ___. Direct experience, not preaching about it, not discussing it, experiencing it. If we actually live our religious lives, individually and collectively, as if our purpose of being is direct experience of religious reality, then we can become the powerful religous community that we need to. It astonishes me that all these years after Emerson we still haven't taken on his central insight: that experience of the universe and its Source fully, freshly, is what matters, not preaching or arguing about the words.

Our worship needs to become centred on praise and prayer, rather than readings and sermons. You can say God as many times as you want in a sermon but I'm only going to experience God directly if you shut the hell up and give me some silence so that I can have some time with God. We can pray together, and one person can say, 'what I experienced was God' and another says 'what I experienced was Oneness with everything' or one person says 'it felt like a Mother' and another says 'it felt like Light' - then we can dialogue with each other about our different languages of reverence. But only after we have shared together the silence of reverence. What is needed is to share together in a spiritual practice that binds us to one another and energises us to change the world. If that happens, then I'm much less bothered about the language myself. I will continue to speak of God, and others may not. But that will matter less and less, and our disagreements will be less painful if we have sat together, directly experiencing that which is beyond naming, that which requires the silence of reverence.

4 Comments:

Blogger LaReinaCobre said...

Stephen, when you become a minister, I may have to move to move to England just to attend your services.

3:58 am  
Blogger PeaceBang said...

Stephen, I like much of what you say here, but doesn't this contradict a bit your earlier post where you say that seekers seek a religion that's really religious, and that Unitariansm sometimes feel like a quasi-religion?

I am always thinking about the seekers who *don't* come to us precisely because we intentionally leave traditional religious language out of our materials, leaving people to wade through euphemism, heady intellectualized. (forgive me) overwrought, masturbatory metaphors, or "corpse-cold" secular language.

This connects for me with your joy that Unitarians are once again engaging with the Bible. Isn't it sad that we failed to do so for about fifty years, leaving other religious liberals to read Scripture from a deep, appreciative, modern and post-modern place, feeding their people that way? Meanwhile, we thought we could be a vibrant religious movement and ignore it. So arrogant. Such a shame.

And look what's happened to our relevance, growth and vitality in the meantime. In the U.S., anyway. We thought we were going to fulfill the promise of the hip, with-it church-going population. As the kids say, "NOT."

5:12 pm  
Blogger smoss said...

Peacebang, I've recently read many of your posts on your blog and several comments you made on others' blogs. Most of what you have said has been challenging and constructive for me as a UU and a nontheist who is often discomforted by traditional religious language. You've pulled me out of my own shoes and helped me see another point of view. Your writings on the languages of reverence has broadened my perspective.

However, in your comment above, you in effect referred to the language that I use to communicate my spiritual experience with words that offend me. My language is "overwrought," "masturbatory metaphors," and "corpse-cold," according to you.

Unlike much of what I've read by you, these words seem to denigrate how I communicate about my spiritual experience. These kinds of words elicit my defensiveness rather than my respect.

I understand that for many theists (and others), the language of reverence that I use does not resonate. I'm not offended by their lack of response. I am interested in how they choose to communicate about their religious experiences and how/why such language resonates with them.

I also would never tell them that their traditional religious terms (including "God") are "overwrought," "masturbatory metaphors," or "corpse-cold" even though their religious terms do not resonate with me at all.

3:38 am  
Blogger LaReinaCobre said...

yes, smoss; I felt that "ouch" too.

8:01 pm  

Post a Comment

<< Home