Many Paths, One Community
Reading from Scott Alexander:
“What it means to be a Universalist . . . is to have a heart that seeks and sees at every human turn the natural worth and preciousness of people -- all people -- especially those very different from oneself. . ..What a wild and welcoming a doctrine our Universalist forebears bequeathed to us . . The early Universalists said, pure and simple, that every human being, no matter how strange or flawed or unlovable or broken or weird they may seem, is to be protected, cherished, welcomed, loved. . . This is not an easy faith to have [at the dawn of the 21st century]”
The gathering and centering songs we sung this morning lifted up two different moods. The first moved outward -- evoking energy and vitality -- stirring our blood and connecting us with one another. The other, after our time of silence, turned inward, drawing its power from silence, aloneness, stillness. The two together are a microcosm of a rhythm of life, this pulse of inward and outward. They also reflect different spiritual journeys – for few of us are perfectly balanced in the midst of such polarities.
No one else can tell us what rhythm is right for us – yet sometimes, perhaps, we can invite one another into a rhythm beyond our easy comfort. We can teach one another dance steps that extend our responsiveness to the life unfolding before us. The challenge is to both honour our differences and share our riches. We claim to celebrate diversity here – yet how often, in our hearts, do we really yearn for a community that agrees with us and reinforces our own sense of being “right?” We wouldn’t be here if there were not ways in which we are “like-minded” – yet there are many ways in which we are not, and I would contend that this diversity is core to our collective wisdom and creative genius as a religious tradition.
Depending upon our personalities-- our life experiences-- our family and cultural background—we find that our feet most naturally walk differing paths to the goal of a deeper, fuller, more grounded life. It is not always easy to appreciate the different eyes with which we see the world, the different ears with which we hear our call to serve love, the different tongues with which we taste life’s flavours and mysteries.
Yes, there are differing spiritual journeys among Unitarians – journeys natural to people who find inspiration, motivation and fulfillment in different values and experiences and teachings. Within our larger movement, we’ve experienced a number of tensions between differing theological positions over the decades. But I have come to believe that these different theological leanings are the natural fruit of differing psychological profiles. Debating in the realm of ideas may be engaging for many of us. Yet ideas are somewhat irrelevant if divorced from their roots in human story – in the experiences that have shaped our worldview and the underlying structure of personality within which we process our experiences.
In Hinduism, the four “yogas” were an early description of these differing paths. Each has a preferred spiritual practice, and has garnered fruit from different areas of human wisdom. A contemporary description comes from my colleague Peter Richardson, in a book titled Four Spiritualities: A Psychology of Contemporary Spiritual Choice.
We are all something of a mix, of course. Yet one of these tends to be dominant. There is no right or wrong to it. Yet there is also value in strengthening our ability to be spiritually multi-lingual – to understand enough of each other’s “languages” to learn from one another and enrich our own journey.
Peter uses the two middle indicators on the Myers-Briggs personality inventory – “sensory” vs. “intuitive” and “thinking” vs. “feeling” -- to define four spiritual journeys. Differing goals might be named: “clarity,” “connection,” “covenant” and “concrete action.”
First, let’s look at Peter’s “intuitive” paths. Studies suggest that at least 80% of Unitarians and UUs are “Intuitives” – almost the reverse of the population at large. For Intuitives, ideas really matter. Remaining in a religious tradition whose teachings are at odds with one’s own ideas is really difficult, so many find their way to us.
“Intuitive thinkers” are only 12% of the general population. However, at least three times as many of us walk this path. This could be called the “Journey of Clarity”, since “clarity is the basis of spiritual enlightenment” for Intuitive Thinkers. The Buddha is a mentor for this path. Listen to these words from the Dhammapata:
“Clear thinking leads to Nirvana, a confused mind is a place of death. Clear thinkers do not die, the confused ones have never lived. The wise man appreciates clear thinking, delights in its purity, and elects it as the means to Nirvana.”
Intuitive Thinkers love ideas and problem-solving. You are drawn to equanimity – to balance – to stillness --and may be wary of the destructive potential of emotional intensity. You have high standards. “Natural change artists,” you can often “see a better way to do things.” You are interested in social justice, as you are motivated by strong principles.
Our faith ancestor William Ellery Channing, clearly an Intuitive Thinker, wrote:
“While passion whirls the madmen, as they toy,
to hate, I would my simple being warm
In the calm pouring sun; and in that pure
And motionless silence, ever would employ my best true powers.
“Intuitive Feeling” folk, on the “Path of Harmony,” are represented by Jesus of Nazareth and Lao-tze (founder of Taoism). They are often artists of one sort or another. The Poet Tagore, an “Intuitive Feeling” Indian mystic whose father headed the Brahma Samaj (a “unitarian” Hindu group), was friendly with Unitarian congregations during his sojourn in the States.
I love Tagore’s words:
The same stream of life that runs through my veins
Night and day runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures.
It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust
Of the earth in numberless blades of grass and breaks
Into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers . . .
Is it beyond thee to be glad with the gladness of this rhythm?
To be tossed and lost and broken in the whirl of this fearful joy?
How similar to Unitarian Transcendentalist Margaret Fuller’s Dryad Song:
I am immortal! I know it! I feel it!
Hope floods my heart with delight!
Running on air, mad with life, dizzy, reeling,
Upward I mount—faith is sight, life is feeling;
Hope is the daystar of might! …
Nothing can sever me from the Spirit of Life!”
Intuitive Feeling folk may also be only 12% of the general population, but they are far more highly represented among canonized Christian saints -- and also among Unitarians and Universalists! Close to half of us walk this path. Those of you on this journey are good communicators. Like your I“intuitive Thinking” companions, you tend to see the large picture and the world of possibility. You use symbol and metaphor comfortably, but not literally. “Intuitive Feeling” folk particularly value the quest for authenticity and self-actualization. The Interdependent Web metaphor has great appeal.
You are likely to be flexible, and may be tempted to bend more than is comfortable to avoid conflict. You tend to be idealistic, while not always firmly grounded in the here-and-now nor tuned in to the details!
Much less common among Unitarians are the sensory paths. I think of the story one sensory young woman told me of how she found her way out of Catholicism and ultimately into Unitarianism. It seems she was at a religious camp at the age of ten or so, and was told that if she had sufficient faith, she could walk on water. So she went to the end of the pier, stepped off-- and sank! A very sensory way of testing religious reality!
Richardson names the sensory thinking path the “Journey of Work.” It is represented by Confucius. In the words of a Confucian sage, “If he keeps putting one foot in front of the other without stopping, even a lame turtle can go a thousand li.”
About 38% of the general population, no more than a third that many “Sensory Thinkers” are found among us, most commonly those born before 1945. You who are on this path are responsible realists -- good at organizing and detail work and at practical management tasks. You like physical activity and order. Peter suggests your motto could be “Get on with it” -- especially when the free-spirited intuitive-feeling folk want to extend the process! You have an even stronger sense of ethics, duty and of covenantal commitment than others among us. You see work -- whether in the formal workplace or volunteering -- as providing much of life’s meaning.
From Edward Everett Hale, a Unitarian minister from a century ago:
This true allegiance . . . to the Infinite Law implies. . . the obedience of every act. . .
The errand boy does not loiter on his errand. … The screw-maker never puts one deficient screw in the parcel. We shall gain this absolute allegiance when the kingdom of God wholly comes.
To gain it, to bring in that kingdom, is our present hope and duty.”
The “Journey of Devotion” names those scoring highest in Sensory-Feeling. They are represented by Mother Teresa, St. Francis of Assisi, and Mohammed. Mother Teresa wrote: “Love cannot remain by itself—it has no meaning. Love has to be put into action and that action is service. Whatever form we are, able or disabled, rich or poor, it is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the doing; a lifelong sharing of love with others.”
About 38% of the general population, though perhaps only 10% of Unitarians, are Sensory Feelers as their primary spiritual path. You are concretely people-oriented -- usually warm and friendly and living in the present. Down-to-earth caregivers, you are practical helpers who care deeply about personal relationships, and may have little interest in immaterial ideas. If you are on the Journey of Devotion, you probably like concrete stories, ritual and sensory experience as a focus of worship. These characteristics keep many Sensory Feeling folk within more traditional faiths. Yet you are a gift to us – reminding us of our own yearning to offer our devotion back to a universe that has -- somehow—loved us into being.
Deepening understanding, deepening interrelatedness and process, deepening covenant, deepening action and caring presence -- we need all of these in a healthy community. Only if all four types work together with mutual respect and understanding can we be whole and effective. That is best accomplished when we recognize that we contain something of each within ourselves, and are willing to stretch ourselves in our weak quadrants as well as to make use of our strengths.
But it is not always easy. What inspires one personality type may leave another cold. The way a problem is addressed by one may frustrate another. When we are dancing such polarities, there is no “right” answer, because there is positive value to be found in each pole. We can manage polarities by being conscious of them; we cannot “solve” them. Some folks are more drawn to stability, and others to change and novelty. Some to introspective silence, and some to extraverted celebration. Some to engaging ideas, and some to more concrete action. Our human potential embraces it all, and encourages us to stretch at least a little into the realms of experience we find less comfortable.
It takes all of us together to build a healthy and effective religious community. So I invite us to deepen -- our understanding, our relating, our commitment -- and our joy. All of it is a gift -- all of us are a gift to each other. What we deepen here makes us all the more a gift to every life we touch.