“Spirit and Soul”

Worship Script 3



Worship Script (3 of 4)

 

OPENING WORDS

Holy the moment in which we meet again

Holy is every breath we draw in this meeting.

Holy the memories—the stories—and the hopes—that have guided us here.

Holy is the ground on which we gather

Let us understand, friends, that we are surrounded

By what is holy.

We dwell in it here.

And take part in it all.

Let us worship together

 

HYMN #142 "Let There Be Light"

 

 FIRST READING

“My soul is a hidden orchestra; I know not what instruments, what fiddlestrings and harps, drums and tamboura I sound and clash inside myself. All I hear is the symphony.” 
― Fernando Pessoa

 

SECOND READING

“Like a wild animal, the soul is tough, resilient, resourceful, savvy, and self-sufficient: it knows how to survive in hard places. I learned about these qualities during my bouts with depression. In that deadly darkness, the faculties I had always depended on collapsed. My intellect was useless; my emotions were dead; my will was impotent; my ego was shattered. But from time to time, deep in the thickets of my inner wilderness, I could sense the presence of something that knew how to stay alive even when the rest of me wanted to die. That something was my tough and tenacious soul.” 
― Parker J. Palmer

 

HYMN #89 "Come, My Way, My Truth, My Life"

 

STORY FOR ALL AGES

 

 The Book of Acts, in the New Testament, is written by the same author as the Gospel of Luke.  If the Gospel of Luke tells the story of the life of Jesus, the Book of Acts tell the story of the community around Jesus, after Jesus has been killed by Rome.  At first, his followers are not only grief-struck, but hopeless.  They gather in an upper room, and they don’t know what to do.  But then something wonderful happens, that fills them with hope.  A shared mystical experience.  It’s remembered as “The Pentecost.”  And, from Chapter 2 of the Book of Acts, it goes like this, “When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. 2 And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. 3 Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.

5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. 6 At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 They were astounded, and in amazement they asked, “Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how does each of us hear them in his own native language? 9 We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, 11 both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.” 12 They were all astounded and bewildered, and said to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others said, scoffing, “They have had too much new wine.”

Imagine this congregation feeling so free that we could speak to each other, each in our different languages and from our different perspectives, and yet understand one another!  Imagine us so joyful that people looking on from a distance would assume we’d had too much wine!  That’s the story that starts the early church—a story of joy and diversity, swept up in the spirit of love!

 

MEDITATION

I invite you to take a deep breath in, and a deep breath out.

Let your shoulders drop.  Feel where you are sitting or standing supporting you, solid.

Continue to breathe deeply, slowly, steadily.  Maybe exhaling a little more than you inhale.

Allow your eyes to close, or your gaze to settle on one still point of beauty in this room.

Let’s be like this for two minutes.  Notice what comes up, but don’t pay it too much attention—let it float by, like a leaf on the river.

 

CANDLES OF JOY AND CONCERN

Those who are so moved are now invited to come forward to light a candle, expressing a joy or concern in their lives. As you do, you may briefly share what it is. We ask that people coming forward speak for no more than a sentence or two, and speak from the heart about issues in their lives, rather than political issues, which we can take up at coffee hour or in the parking lot.

 

SERMON ESSAY

Sermon: “Where is the Soul in Unitarian Universalism?” by Rev. Christina Sillari

 

Opening:

 

INVITE YOUR SOUL

Invite your soul

To enter into your mind-jungle

To clear it up.

Invite your soul

To enter into your heart-insecurity

To strengthen it.

Invite your soul

To encourage you in all that you do and say.

Your soul will inspire you,

Fulfill you

And

Immortalize you

 

Excerpt from Transcendence-Perfection by Sri Chinmoy

 

What is the soul?

Do we have a soul?

If so, where is it?

Why do we even inquire about something so elusive, so utterly ineffable, and totally unidentifiable as the soul?

The staff here at First Parish was a bit stunned when I asked them to share their thoughts about the soul during our weekly staff meeting. After a bit of silence and a few deep breaths here is what they said:

·       Love, caring

·       Being connected to every person I have ever been connected to, hoping when I am gone, I am still connected.

·       The part of me that learns and absorbs from experience and hopefully shares it with others. Not my physical being going through space.

·       No idea at the moment. It is hard for me to get there.

·       A karmic relationship to all creatures in the world, the interconnectedness of others and balance or at times imbalance of our connections.

·       An inner experience.

·       The soul is difficult to describe, thoughts and feelings that are separate from the body which a lot of people express artistically through painting, music, or any type of creative endeavor.

 What is meant by the soul is often vague or half-forgotten. Soul is a word that has to be held very lightly because it points to a mystery for which no one has a clear understanding, a true name or the real story.

Though the definition is elusive, we hear it often mentioned in the Western world “soul retrievals,” “care of the soul,” “the soul of a nation,” “soul mates.”

Thoughts of the soul surface during the birth of a child or the death of a loved one. Why have human beings since antiquity been aware of and drawn to the idea of the soul? Because it is a vehicle for uncovering our yearning to understand who we are, where we come from, and where we are going. 

Many ancient wisdom traditions speak of soul as part of their theology.  Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism and Islam see the soul literally existing in time and space, whereas Christian mysticism and Sufism understand the soul as a metaphor for our inner reality. Buddhism denies the existence of the soul as an entity, yet offers us some of the most practical methods for awakening our souls. The practices of loving kindness and sitting meditation are examples.

 Although many religions speak of the soul as a crucial element in their spiritual tradition, it is rare that we as Unitarian Universalists discuss the soul as part of our faith. This saddens me because I have had to journey outside of our faith to explore my soul. Yet, many of our religious ancestors spoke about the soul. The great Unitarian minister A Powell Davies said “life is a chance to grow a soul.” Now that I am embedded in our religious tradition, I am determined to “grow my soul” within Unitarian Universalism.

 During my exploration into the meaning of the soul from both eastern and western perspectives, I learned that the soul is sometimes symbolized as a lotus in the east and a rose in the west. How appropriate for our new members to receive a rose today as a symbol of their commitment to grow their souls, through our mission here at First Parish.

 Since ancient times, humans have been aware of the soul, defining it as the psyche, the mind, the breath, the divine spark...the organizing principle of the body. In Shakespeare’s time the soul was thought of as the deepest moral, emotional, and intuitive current of consciousness. The soul is also understood as an energy that exists beyond the death of the body as an immortal part of the self that continues on. History shows us that our understanding of the soul has been changing throughout time, influenced by philosophy, religion, mysticism, and science. Through biology, chemistry, and physics the territory of the soul, formerly governed by religion and philosophy, has now attracted the disciplines of science, which seek their own understanding. 

In his concluding remarks during a televised debate “Can science seek the soul?” Robert Kuhn answers both yes and no to this question, explaining that it is the dichotomy not the harmony between science and theology that brings us closer to the truth. My husband would agree...for he tells me that he wants the soul to remain a mystery... a mystery unraveling itself. Personally I am seeking validation for my soul’s existence to ease my fears of death and mortality. If I do have a soul that has always been and always will be, then my actions here on this planet appear to have greater meaning. And if it is true, as some of the mystics claim, that we come to this earth in soul groups or soul families, than separation from my loved ones through death may be temporary and this thought brings me peace and joy.

A few years ago my daughter Selena was spending a lot of time in the woods at her school. One day she asked me “Do trees have souls mommy?” My heart melted. I believe she was tapping into a feeling, a sensing, a quality of experience, so innate, so raw...an inner awareness that can be numbed by the social burdens of adulthood and the effects of worldly experience.  Do trees have souls? Do we have souls?

The traditional meaning of the soul was “that which makes things alive.” I would add “that which makes us whole.” Educational activist Parker Palmer speaks of the soul as a hidden wholeness. He says it doesn’t matter what we call it...true self, original nature, inner light, divinity, identity...how can we name something that is beyond our consciousness? 

I believe our soul is our truest self that slowly becomes dulled by the pressures of society, the roles we play, the struggle for survival and the desire for success. Our egos and our intellects continuously compete with the soul’s struggle for expression. Palmer explains that our sense of being becomes divided between our soul and our role. Children have much to teach us about the soul, for they often allow their souls to lead the way. Like my daughter’s awareness of the trees, like the six-year-old boy in the story, like all of the children in our lives. 

Meister Eckhart, one of the great Christian mystics, tells us that the soul is where God works compassion. We saw this in our reading today when the boy was willing to give up his life to save his sister. I contemplated the story for a while trying to understand if the boy’s decision came from his heart or his mind and decided that it came from his soul. We are witnesses to our children growing their souls and inspiring ours to grow as well.

Yet, how do we as adults grow our souls in a liberal religious faith that cautiously, if it at all, speaks of such things as God and souls and the afterlife? After reading our unison affirmation of faith for many weeks, for the first time last Sunday I noticed the line, “To the end that all souls shall grow into harmony with the Divine.” I took a deep breath of relief. Maybe we are not as uptight about the soul as I thought. We do recognize our souls as growing towards something far greater than our humanness.

Contemporary theologian Mathew Fox tells us that our souls have shriveled up, resulting in a shrinking of both the mind and the heart. If this is true, then we must find ways to remember, uncover, and reconnect with our souls. What feeds your soul? What is it craving? What will grow your soul today?

I think we must consider these questions. And we must take time to listen to the stirrings of our souls, for our lives and our world depend upon it. In his Testimony of the Soul, Rufus Jones, the most influential Quaker of the 20th century, says, “There can, I think, be no more serious business on our hands today than the search for the soul.” 

Two of our religious forebears Ralph Waldo Emerson and William Ellery Channing both spent time exploring the soul. Emerson wrote and spoke about the oversoul as the whole that encompasses all of the interrelated parts. He described it as a light that circumscribes all things existing beyond time and space and as the perceiver and revealer of truth. Channing believed the soul contained a character of infinity, which was thirsting continuously

for wider knowledge. What I find fascinating about Emerson and Channing and so many of the great men and women throughout history who have made a positive impact in this world is that they first went deep within themselves to what the father of liberal theology Fredrick Schleiermacher calls “the inmost sanctuary of life” in order to then be moved outward towards action in the world. 

This week I came across a book by Paul Loeb, called “the Soul of a Citizen” which invites Americans to become passionately involved with issues that matter during these challenging times. Loeb challenges us to move out of our private sanctuaries into public participation which he views as the very soul of democratic citizenship.

Historically Unitarians and Universalists have served this world by working on social issues such as the separation of church and state, prison reform, capital punishment, the abolition of slavery, women's rights, pacifism, gay rights, and immigration reform.

The soul in Unitarian Universalism lives in our commitment to serving the world. The soul in Unitarian Universalism is right here in this church, sitting in these pews. Loving and supporting one another, reflecting on sacred moments in our lives, sharing our joys and sorrows, and slowing down is the work of the soul. If we listen to our soul’s voice in our dreams, our meditations, our silence, our prayers then perhaps we will be inspired to create, to heal, to serve. Our soul keeps striving for renewal in our lives through relationship, community, our search for truth and meaning, and our desire to give to the world. If we ignore the soul’s calling and try to numb our hopes and our fears with substance abuse, overwork, consumerism, or mindless media noise, then we are not available for ourselves, for each other, or forour world.  Let’s listen to the whisper of our souls.  Let’s follow our soul through the pervasive alienation of our world and move towards deeper relationships with each other, with our communities, and with our natural world . May we as a community invite our souls into our awareness and help each other grow our souls so that we all truly grow into harmony with the divine.

 

HYMN #123 Spirit of Life

 

BENEDICTION

Carry what you have found here

Out into the world

Which is needing your vision,

Your hope, and your spirit.

Go in peace.