Sunday 25 Sep 2011

A Beginning

Chalice Lighting

We light this candle as a symbol of our faith.
By its light may our vision be illumined;
By its warmth may our fellowship be encouraged;
And by its flame may our yearnings for peace, justice and the life of the spirit be enkindled.

UU Principles

There are seven principles which Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote:

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Hymn: Earth Is Enough

Here on the paths of everyday, here on the common human way,
Is all the stuff the gods would take to build a heaven, to mould and make
New Edens: Ours the gift sublime to build eternity in time.

We need no other stone to build our temple of the unfulfilled,
No other ivory for the doors, no other marble for the floors,
No other cedar for the beam and dome of our immortal dream.

Reading

Piety
Sometimes spirituality implies belief in a particular doctrine or dedication to universal morals and theologies, but the spirituality of enchantment involves other qualities associated with the religious life. In particular, attitudes of piety and devotion—to nature, home, work, family, and community—help sustain an enchanted world. These words “piety” and “devotion” are not part of the mod­ern vocabulary; both are perhaps too romantic in an age of cool rationality and mechanics. Yet they represent an attitude necessary for living in an enchanted world, where careful tending of the soul results in an atmosphere full of connections and significances.

Piety has linguistic ties to “pity,” which perhaps accounts for some of the modern distaste for the word, but unlike pity, it refers to an attitude in which we give ourselves, heart and soul, to that which we revere and honor. Piety also implies some kind of behav­ior that expresses our devotion and respect. We can be completely dedicated to our work or to nature, but an attitude of piety adds the element of heartfelt attention. Piety also includes an acknowledg­ment of something sacred in whatever it is we are tending; our piety sustains the spirits that animate our world.

Acts of piety can be quite simple, like planting a tree at the birth of a child, and yet they have infinite value to the heart. In Lady Chatterky’s Lover, D. H. Lawrence has the gamekeeper drive a nail into a tree, an old traditional example of a lover’s piety. I light a can­dle before I write, not because I need the light, but because my heart needs to be invited into the work, and I need to write in a way that honors the angels, muses, and spirits who are the only true crafters of words. It’s one thing for an artist to admit that she is not the real author of her words or pictures, that something else brings the ideas, and another to acknowledge this other spirit with names and small rites of reverence.

As slight as piety might appear in an age of machines and vast storehouses of information, it is the absence of this virtue that accounts in large measure for our current degradation of nature and the loss of dignity in human labor. The smallest pious act trans­forms any activity from a secularistic, egotistic, effortful expression of human narcissism into a holy, effective, and humane act of cre­ativity. In a spirit of piety we acknowledge that we humans are not the only individuals, personalities, and subjectivities in the universe. We grant Jung’s stone its capacity to be an “I.” We allow a particu­lar farm to have its own personality and its role in the family his­tory. We let a river shower its banks with a spirit that invades the people living there, and we protect that river, knowing that without its blessings the people have no source of soul but their own lives.

In a spirit of piety we honor not only our own soldiers who have fought courageously but also those we have killed. We visit the shrine at Hiroshima, and see the blood on our hands, and perhaps find a sensitivity within us that will inhibit our violent aggression in the future. Piously, we visit prisons and perhaps take to heart the adage that there, but for the grace of God, I would sit and spend my days. Piety is often the entry to initiation, to change of heart and the discovery of conscience. Piously, we visit relatives, friends, and strangers in hospitals and perhaps have a life-changing experience in the presence of death.

Piety is an attitude difficult to cultivate in a generally impious world. With its associated virtues of reverence and devotion, piety moves us to build our shrines and protect our inheritances of nature and culture. Wallace Stevens writes: “The poet feels abundantly the poetry of everything.” His accent on abundant feeling could be applied to piety, which is an attitude that grows out of the generos­ity of our spirit to experience life fully. If we are not pious generally, it’s because we don’t think we can bear our feelings, and so we keep our emotions and attachments in reserve. Withholding oneself is the opposite of piety.

The pious person doesn’t have good reasons for his or her piety, and probably doesn’t understand the emotions that support it. Only in an intellectualized world would such a fundamental virtue as piety fall into neglect, because the pious person knows that you don’t have to understand that to which you are devoted. Piety is a form of love, and although love and knowledge can become inseparably intimate, one is not the same as the other. Piety pours from the heart and doesn’t require prior intellectual approval. My parents are pious people, but they don’t flaunt their piety, and it isn’t at all saccharine. They are not terribly worldly, but their piety virtually urrounds them like an aura—piety toward family, children, and church. Near my home, a group of monks maintain a place of meditation and retreat at the top of a wooded hill. A visit to their shrine and to the surrounding terrain, filled with carefully made gates and walkways and water gardens, places you fully in an atmosphere of piety. You know the piety of the place from the evi­dent care given to every detail of the simple surroundings.

In contrast, it isn’t difficult to find yourself in a place void of piety, where nothing seems sacred and nowhere is care evident. Not long ago I found myself in the lower level of a large office complex. I was surrounded by concrete and marble and artificial light. People were walking past me quickly, their blank eyes focused on an office several minutes in front of them. I got lost and, turning a corner, I found myself going in the wrong direction. Thousands of people were stomping toward me with briefcases and doughnuts in hand. I was forced to join the flow, like a bug floating down a sewer.
When eventually I found my way to peace and quiet, I was still surrounded by granite, but there I saw ten or fifteen swarthy men planting brightly colored flowers in a concrete circle around a foun­tain. I could see their piety as they handled the plants knowingly and carefully, and it was clear that they had not been educated in this place and that they didn’t spend their days in these offices. Piety shows itself in the grace of a hand movement and in the expression on a face that reveals love and respectful familiarity.

From The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life by Thomas More

Silent Meditation

Joys, Concerns, Sharing

Service leader
Lisa deGruyter