In a year of previously unexplored firsts, the deadening and depressive effects of the pandemic have been countered to at least some degree by human adaptability as our minds stretch for new modes of communication and relationship.
Among those adaptations has been the virtual church service, increasingly refined to stand in for the currently silenced and empty sanctuaries that await the return of live, in-the-flesh worship.
It was my privilege two days ago to make my first such presentation as a guest preacher at one of my longtime spiritual homes: the Unitarian Universalist Community of Lake County, tucked into an old country church it shares with a Methodist congregation in the hamlet of Kelseyville, some 70 miles north of my former home in Santa Rosa.
I’d been making the trek to share thoughts with the good people there for the better part of a decade, and figured to continue doing so after my move east by scheduling guest appearances during the few times times a year I’d be returning to California for visits with family and friends.
That was but one of billions of human plans laid low by Covid-19.
The 16-minute You Tube video of the sermon itself, presented from the spare bedroom of my Durham home and titled “The Dynamics of Faith, Belief and Hope,” is below, a digital variation on my usual posts and one I hope you find worthwhile.
Some of it is specific to my tradition of Unitarian Universalism, some recalls my Catholic upbringing, but all of it, I trust, has relevance to the universal quest to reflect on matters central to human identity and community. Amidst the clamor of competing truth claims and encouragements, calls to keep faith, to believe, and to hope often get jumbled up together as synonyms for what it means to lead a spiritual life.
This sermon seeks to sort them out and let them stand on their own, so that we might do the same.
And one of the musical selections from the service…
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Claire and watched your sermon this morning. It was impressive, enlightening, well-written and thought provoking. Moreover, your delivery perfectly suited its solemn message. I had no idea that your mom suffered so as a victim of Catholicism. My mom, who grew up in a very Irish Catholic family, encountered a similar experience because of my father’s inability to accept Catholicism or any religion as the literal truth. He did, however, recognize it as one of the most important books ever written and a major source in his art, a lifelong love and impetus for much of his own creativity. My mom’s departure from the church she grew up in left her with a sense of spiritual emptiness. She wanted her four sons, who were baptized as Catholics, to experience the importance of faith in one’s life. She turned to Unitarianism. In that setting, she found kindred spirits and a home for her lost faith/hope to rekindle itself. Thanks.
Robert you have prompted a quick memory check on my part, which has come up empty with whether I ever asked my mom how it felt for her to know Catholics at the time preached an exclusivist doctrine in which she was among the excluded. I know us kids never got the least vibe from either of my parents of there being a “problem” with the two of them having different religions. They were just “different,” in the way that the sun and moon are different. I have to assume my mother gave it hardly a thought, and my dad had basically a live and let live attitude toward most things, so I suspect neither of them took seriously any notions that my mother was consigned to hell.
I do know that the “differentness” meant she rarely came to church with us, though she didn’t go to a Lutheran congregation, either. I would bet big money that with a 7-days-a-week job being the primary parent for six kids while my dad worked an inordinate number of hours, she luxuriated for the precious time she could in having the house to herself on Sunday mornings. Once most of us were grown, she did wind up joining a Protestant denomination for several years, can’t remember which one, not far from their house, and many years later died secure in her love of Jesus, and his love of her.
As for your mom, UU churches seem to be chock-full of lapsed Catholics. I’m glad she found a spot for herself there. It seems a natural refuge for those in whom the love of ritual and sense of sanctity is inculcated early in life, but who become disenchanted with doctrinal elements that simply make no sense in the modern world.
Thanks for posting this beautiful sermon Andrew. It certainly resonates with my experience that compassion, love, the golden rule, faith, hope, Kindness and generosity all spring from the same well… In my world that “well” it’s not about any single religion or belief but rather the daily lived experience of striving to manifest these as I stumble along … well done mate!
Kevin, that “well” is right in line with (and just as deep as) Walt Whitman’s, whom I cited in the opening reading of the service, taken from Robert Ingersoll’s eulogy of Whitman that I have shared elsewhere on this blog in the past. Ingersoll said of his buddy:
“He never lost his hope. When the mists filled the valleys, he looked upon the mountain tops, and when the mountains in darkness disappeared, he fixed his gaze upon the stars… Knowing, as he did, what others can know and what they cannot, he accepted and absorbed all theories, all creeds, all religions—and believed in none.”
Love it – frickin’ beliefs are the booby prize of life!
I am generally and severely allergic to that “lol” thing and wish it would just go away, but Bruddah, I am quite literally laughing out loud here, therapeutic as always, so thank you for that!
An addendum to this I think you will enjoy, just ran across it late last night in an NYRB article on the playwright Tom Stoppard:
“Like Whitman or Nabokov, he is at his most interesting (and most natural) when not convinced about anything.”
How’s that for a one-sentence dictum on how to pursue a life?