The primary task of a spiritual community is to remember and affirm who we are and to live dynamically from that remembrance and affirmation. This remembrance informs the community’s teachings, fellowship and outreach.
In the Unity context, remembrance and affirmation center around the Truth that we are spiritual beings, living in a spiritual universe, governed by spiritual laws. As Teilhard de Chardin famously said, “We are spiritual beings having a human experience,” and not the other way around. Our divine essence speaks to our inherent oneness with God and with each other and reminds us that the only limitations we have are the ones we choose to place upon ourselves.
These are noble and encouraging words but they are not always easy to embody in our everyday lives. It seems to me that three broad tasks lie before us if we are to integrate aspiration with actuality.
- The first is the work of bridging the apparent divide between our oneness and the stubborn dualisms that characterize much of common experience.
- Next is the invitation to deepen our intellectual understanding of the Truth with direct experience of that Truth.
- Finally, we are called to shift from a reliance on outer resources, information, guides and experts to an interior trust in our own intuitive wisdom and awareness. In each instance we are not jettisoning the former for the latter as much as wholeheartedly integrating both into a more expansive understanding.
I know that this preamble sounds rather philosophical for an article focusing on ministering in times of violence, terror and fear but I am convinced that we can be effective only in as much as we have a solid foundation in understanding who we are and what we regard as self-evident.
In our community, Unity Fort Worth, Texas, we are not afraid to address difficult and often highly charged topics, but we do it with three spiritual friends. These are laughter, gratitude and balance.
We don’t laugh away our problems or make light of tragic situations. Rather we utilize the lightening effect that laughter brings in releasing tension and affirming our common humanity. Some subjects are too serious to be taken seriously, as they say. Laughing at ourselves and at the human condition in appropriate ways is healthy and opens us up to further investigation of what is really going on. It also inspires compassion. I rarely tell jokes during my messages but we invariably laugh at our human foibles and idiosyncrasies. Sharing my own, within reason, endears me to the congregation and shows that I am not declaiming from a pedestal of perfection. They realize that I share many of their own struggles and frustrations and a teaching point is made.
Another friend is gratitude. No matter what, our messages and prayers affirm that there is so much to be thankful for in our lives. Giving thanks for the good heartedness of the majority of humanity and for simple things like food on our tables and gas in our cars are ways to connect us back to sanity and normalcy when we are so often confronted with media that focuses predominantly on disaster and aberration.
Buddha taught the middle way and Jesus encouraged us to be in the world but not of it. In the Hindu tradition the spiritual path is likened to a razor’s edge. All speak to the gift of balance and centeredness, coming to a peace and an equanimity in the midst of extremes. The ability that balance gives us is our third spiritual friend. Staying calm and inviting our community to stay calm provides space to explore possibility.
So, to our three tasks of embodying the Truth of our being:
- oneness in the midst of dualism,
- direct experience rather than mere knowledge ingested from commentary and report, and
- a growing trust in our own intuitive knowing.
Much of the partisanship and divisiveness we see in our society, political, social or religious comes from our desire to be right. We fear getting it wrong and we are angry that others may take from us what we believe is rightfully ours, whether that be our possessions, our jobs, our status or our view of where America and our world is going. I have noticed that in times of stress and fear our congregation tends to withdraw, become more ruminative, and sit it through.
My task as minister is to continually reaffirm that outer circumstance has no real power over us, that we have everything we need within us right now and that inherently all is well. Fear arises from a sense of lack and separation. It is crucial that we affirm abundance and worthiness. We are beings of love and love casts out fear.
Nothing polarizes our society more dramatically than the divides we perceive between rich and poor, them and us, and our zealously guarded right to preserve our status especially when that is challenged by those seeking equality. Race, gender, sexual orientation, immigration are all flash points here.
Opportunity to Act Locally
The murder of six police officers by a lone sniper in Dallas earlier this year shocked us all. It was one more horrible event in a summer of violence. Sunday services were conducted just days after the event.
What was most encouraging and what helped us through that Sunday were the initiatives to connect, and the gestures of support and togetherness that came from the black community, the police and large numbers of ordinary people in the days between Thursday and Sunday. It was a testimony to what we teach in Unity about humanity’s inherent goodness and the power of forgiveness and love. Yes, we grieved that day. But we also gave thanks. Our sense of oneness created a container that provided us room to mourn, stay strong and love without judgment.
The Black Lives Matter movement was conducting a peaceful rally that night, and in response to that movement many, perhaps well-meaning people, declare that all lives matter. I think that this response misses the point. Of course all lives matter. We are, however, dealing with widespread inequity in our society in regard to blacks. This is sometimes hidden or ignored or rationalized away. It is real, and as long as the inequity exists and the injustice that arises from it, we need to place special focus on remembering that black lives matter. It cannot be taken for granted or whitewashed out with an all lives matter slogan.
Therein lies our second task of replacing intellectual stances based on our history, on limited information and sometimes simply on prejudice and mistrust, with direct experience. I encourage my congregation to be present to those they meet whether it be a co-worker, a relative or friend, or someone who serves us that day. We break down barriers by choosing to connect, make eye contact, say a few words.
I asked our community one Sunday to name one thing they could do to be compassionate that week, and someone called out, “Let a car go in front of you in traffic.” Yes! Give a little, be thoughtful and kind. It will be a nice thing for the person receiving the blessing and it is also a release for us. Instead of never giving an inch, we open our hearts to a larger reality. A little thing, but a big shift in consciousness.
The last task is probably the most momentous and one that has been taking up a lot of my contemplation and meditation time recently. It revolves around trusting the wisdom and order of the universe. In Unity we affirm Let Go and Let God, which is lovely. But I think it is even more intimate than that. I like Meister Eckhart’s phrase because it affirms the absolute unity of our being with God’s Being. He says, “Let God be God in you!” It is the ultimate empowerment and gives us soul authority over circumstance.
As we approach election time 2016 and as we continue to brace for the possibility of further terror attacks, my focus will be to encourage our community to find and trust the divine order within them, and to release the love that is present there. The spiritual work of integrating apparent dualities is mirrored in our willingness to understand and embrace differences in our society and in our world. Yes, we remember who we are: joyous, unlimited expressions of love, and we behold that love, active, transformative, in everyone we meet.