May nothing evil cross this door,
and may ill fortune never pry
about these windows, may the roar
and rain go by.
By faith made strong, the rafters will
withstand the battling of the storm.
This hearth, though all the world grow chill,
will keep you warm
Peace shall walk softly through these rooms,
touching our lips with holy wine,
till every casual corner blooms
into a shrine.
With laughter drown the raucous shout,
and, though these sheltering walls are thin,
may they be strong to keep hate out
and hold love in.
~words: Louis Untermeyer, ©1923, 1951
This lovely tune is the first hymn in the UUA hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition (StLT). I think it is very fitting from a spiritual, or rather, a ritualism perspective that this is the first hymn. It invokes the circle if you will, asking the universe for guidance and protection for what is to come. It builds from that invocation to statements of intent describing the purpose of the gathering and the hoped for outcomes. A fine invocation and a fitting beginning to my journey through the Living Tradition.
The first statement of intent is in the second verse: "by faith made strong, the rafters will..." Religion, at its best, calls us to live a life of deepening faith. We are called to strengthen faith's foundation so that through all the storms of life, though they may batter and shake our walls, the fire of our commitment will remain a living ember within our hearts that should "all the world grow chill" we remain warmed and can share that warmth with others through our love and our actions.
But, I have trouble with that word: "faith". As I have mentioned before, I consider myself a Humanist. I don't believe in a God per se, at least not a personal God. I believe that if there is a manifest God we are her. Whatever good that may happen in the world, or, for that matter, whatever evil, that others might ascribe to God happens at the hand of mankind. Thou are God - grok it.
The idea of faith seems to me to be an invitation to turn off one's intellect and accept, without proof. That seems not only dangerous but perhaps even negligent. Accepting things on blind faith leads to things like the Salem witch trials, the ravages of the church in "frontier" nations, the Jamestown massacre and suicide bombings to name just a few.
So, although I do feel called to live a life of deepening faith, my faith is not in a higher power but instead rests on what I perceive to be an inherent "goodness" in humankind (perhaps I will tackle what I mean by "goodness" in a future post). I have faith that, when given the opportunity and barring hardships such as poverty and ignorance, the "goodness" will win out over the "evil" in our natures and in society at large. I find that the faith I need to depend upon is a faith in humanity, both individually and as a whole. I need faith that each day we recognize more and more our undeniable interconnectedness, and that some day, hopefully very soon, we will come to recognize as a species that we are all one and that "inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."
I have not yet reached a place of faith in humanity so strong it can withstand the battering storms of life. I see lines of hate reaching around the block to a Chik-fil-A and I lose faith. I read stories of Olympic athletes tweeting racist messages and I lose faith. I hear stories of damaged individuals expressing their pain and illness in mass shootings and I lose faith. Daily, I lose faith.
That is why I think it is so important for me, for everyone really, to build a spiritual practice. It is like building muscle memory. I hope that through this exercise I can grow a spiritual armor of sorts, to guard myself when I am confronted by bigotry, hatred and "evil" (again, perhaps I will tackle my ideas of "evil" in another post), so that, through practice, I am girded to withstand the battering.
The second statement of intent, in the third verse, speaks to what the Rev. Dr. Earl K Holt III, interim minister of my spiritual home Valley Unitarian Universalist Congregation, spoke of in the blessing with which he ended each of his services. The blessing included the phrase from Philippians: "the peace that passeth all understanding"...
I have felt that peace only a few times in my life, a sense that all is right with the world and with me, a feeling of wholeness and simplicity so strong that I cannot mistake it. These are the times I've come closest to what others would call a spiritual experience. One example in particular comes to mind.
When I was young I was heavily involved in a Methodist church in my home town. During the summer of my 15th year, an older couple, leaders in the church, asked me if I would like to come with them on their annual camping trip to Michigan's Upper Peninsula. It was my first experience with real camping and is still one of my most treasured memories. During that trip we made the 10 mile hike along the Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore, a breath taking trail along cliffs above Lake Superior.
At one point we came to the heights above Grand Portal Point and found it shrouded in a fog so thick that, to my adolescent and city-bred mind, it seemed as though we were walking through a cloud. We stopped there to eat our lunch before resuming the hike back to our camp ground. While we were eating, encased in white, the sounds of the surf below us and the raucous calls of gulls from a nearby rookery on the cliffs came to us, muted by the fog. For just a brief moment, I felt as though that was exactly where I was supposed to be. It seemed like all my life had been leading to that moment, there on those rocks, so that I could experience the beauty of nature in a way I was sure no one else ever had.
Perhaps that is another goal of maintaining a spiritual practice: finding the "peace that passeth all understanding". It may be that through that peace we can find the faith called out in the second verse.
The last verse seems to be a call to action of a sort. "With laughter drown the raucous shout". With laughter, with joy, we keep the wolves at bay. With laughter we can even "fake it 'til we make it". It often seems to me that we find joy not by looking for it but by being joyful, as strange as that sounds.
I once gave a sermon about happiness called the Happiness Habit. In it I related a story about going in each day to a job I hated with a false smile plastered on my face and that, strangely, by the time I got to work that false smile had become real. I found through that silly, simple action of faking myself out a small measure of the happiness I was seeking found me. It may be that by greeting life with joy, joy finds us.
Perhaps I will never find a faith like that which others, usually Christians, claim to have. It may be that I will never find the "peace that passeth all understanding". But, as a dear friend who collects oddball quotes is fond of saying: "you should always reach for the stars, at least you won't end up with a handful of mud."
How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
How do you get to "heaven"?