Good blogger's etiquette would have me reply to each of the comments that come in after my posts. As a schoolteacher coming into the final month before my students face their AP exam, that's just not happening. I usually take the hours right before Meeting to write about spiritual matters, and while I'll read on weeknights, I'm just not available to hold up my end of the conversation in more than fits and starts.
The recent thread of posts and comments around theological diversity seems to be focusing in on three intertwined questions:
- What is G*d?
- What is worship?
- What is a "spiritual center"?
Big questions--questions that we spend our whole lives answering. But there are a few small things I've learned through these conversations, and I want to pull them together here.
I think Liz Opp was right on when she said,
I do however still affirm that my experience is quite different when I worship with a mix of atheist-Quaker, Buddhist-Quaker, humanist-Quaker and Christian-Quaker worshipers than when I worship with a mix of theist Quakers, whether they are Christ-centered or nature-centered.
I also believe, as you do, that "two worshippers with different beliefs about G*d can still [experience] the same G*d." The distinction that I make, though, is that two worshippers with different ideas of how to use that appointed hour of worship will not necessarily result in a corporate experience of worship or of the Living Presence among us.
Worshippers with very different ideas about G*d can still share an openness to being touched by the Divine, and thus still nourish and sustain one another's worship. Our spiritual center as Friends isn't so much in our doctrine as in our corporate practice. I have often wondered how typical the practice at Mt. Toby Monthly Meeting is. I haven't done nearly enough intervisitation to have a sense of the larger landscape, so I was very interested to read Marshall Massey's comment:
You may be experiencing sitting in an ocean of light - in fact, I'm sure you do, since otherwise you'd never have brought the matter up - but if you ask around, I think you'll find, as I myself found, when I asked, and as Michael Sheeran found and recorded in his book Beyond Majority Rule, that a great many of the members and attenders at liberal meetings do not experience that ocean, and are actually present for other reasons.
Sheeran's book sounds interesting, and I'm going to order a copy of it. Thanks, Marshall!
I knew that my comment about Unitarian Universalists not worshipping would annoy some UU's like Julia, but honestly, to put it any less bluntly would have failed to communicate. The UU Church was one of the places I tried to reconnect with G*d when I was a disillusioned ex-Christian, before I found Paganism, and for me it was awfully thin soup. Julia, I'm sorry I pissed you off, but if I did, I hope that your anger will make you think about what it is that nourishes you in UU worship and hold it that much more dearly.
David Miley knew exactly what I meant by the comment, and sent me a link to a sermon he wrote on the question of UU worship. He concludes,
The witness of our path is the true Unitarian-Universalist worship. It transcends niceness and is beyond doing the right thing. Our worship, at it's best, connects us to our deepest spiritual Power and midwifes that Power's entrance into our heart, mind and soul. That love spreads out to our community and the world and makes change. This is what distinguishes us from an ethical society or service club. There is a Light at the end of our tunnel. Our worship services, at their best, connect us to that Light - for when we are at our best, we recognize that Light within ourselves and within each other.
I love the poem with which David concludes his sermon.
There is a Sound
There is a Sound,
That supports the World.
It is tree dance
And brook babbling.
It is summer storm and volcano.
It is in us and apart.
As loud as sleigh bells -
Still, you may not hear it.
Dance in moonlight.
The Sound is silent
Til you sing it.
The poem speaks to my condition. It sums up really well in one collage of images what I experience as the heart of both Quaker worship and Pagan practice.