I am a contemplative and a mystic, who is influenced by Zen Buddhist teachings, nature-based spiritual practice, and Unitarian Universalist theology. At the center of my theology is the practice of reflection on the direct experience of my life in conversation with the lived experiences of others.
As a Unitarian Universalist, I most deeply trust the transformative power of love. I trust in the spirit of love that moves through all beings, and reveals itself in the experience of our lives, in the wisdom of the world’s religious traditions, the voices of prophetic people, and through our relationship with our sacred home, the earth. I equally value the love that we create and share with one another.
We are here to question and wonder together. To ask the big questions, and to live into our most deeply held values. I believe that how we live in this life matters. I focus on how to manifest my and our wholeness in the here and now. I am called to be witness to both the suffering of individuals and the brokenness of social structures, and to focus on healing.
I not only believe that we are part of an interdependent web of all existence, but that we are called to act on that. If we are connected, if our fates are bound up with one another, what does that ask of us? Our interconnectedness, our sense of community, and our faith in the capacity for human transformation, are what give me hope that we can do the essential work of justice-making and building the beloved community.
Yet this interconnectedness does not require or desire for us to be the same. This faith has long been a vessel for a diversity of beliefs and is learning how to truly be a religious home for a diversity of people. This challenging work of dismantling our own structures of oppression and exclusion is central to our faith, because we know that we cannot be whole without being in deep and meaningful relationship with one another.
Although we may not share the same beliefs, life experiences, cultural or religious backgrounds, we are brought together through the grounding of shared values. The guidance of our principles are a reflection of our faith’s understanding of what it means to be a whole and loving person in relationship with others.
We are a living tradition, continually under construction, and open to the revelation and truth that is emerging at every moment. We are a people of faith who honor and value both reason and intuition. And we are a movement, growing in our capacity to honor the full spectrum of life experience in a container of love that is deeply transformative.
In a course called “Our Theological House" at Starr King I was asked these questions:
What has most challenged your faith and hope?
What theological resources were you able to draw upon?
Violence, mental illness, racism, systemic injustice, starvation, war, death—these are the realities that most challenge my faith. In one word, suffering. Sometimes my crisis of faith has been stirred by a deeply personal experience; the mental health issues of a family member, the tragic death of a young friend, a miscarriage. At other times, it has been collective events that bring up my grief and despair; 9/11, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the loss of life in Afghanistan and Iraq. In these times of despair I am overflowing with questions: Why do we suffer? How do we alleviate suffering? What will save us from continuing to harm ourselves, one another, and the earth?
Not surprisingly, these questions led me to Buddhism. The Buddha’s central question about life was about the existence of suffering. The four noble truths that he discovered were these: life is suffering, the cause of suffering is the attachment to our separate self, there is an end to suffering, and the pathway to end suffering is through meditation and the eight-fold path. The saving message of Buddhism is that through watching our own minds, we can wake up to the ultimate truth of reality; that we are one, that our individual egos are an illusion, and that the world is already perfect, whole and complete as it is.
This is where I struggle most with the Buddha’s central insight. How can the world be perfect, whole, and complete, while people are starving? While there is war, and injustice, and an infinite number of ways that the beloved community has not yet been realized? While living at the Zen Center, this was often the question I would ask after a dharma talk. My dharma teacher once gave the best answer I have heard: the world is perfect, whole and complete because each day we have an infinite number of opportunities to bring more love and compassion into the world. Or as Dr. Rev. Rebecca Parker might say, we choose to bless the world.
In the face of suffering, my hope lies in human agency; that we can choose to love ourselves and one another, and to create positive transformation in the world. I do not believe that we as human beings are essentially good. There is just too much pain in the world for that. But I do believe that we contain everything; that inside each person is the capacity for good and evil and everything in between. We can and do choose which parts of ourselves to water and what seeds to help grow. Through this conscious attention to our lives, emotions, and actions, we can heal ourselves so that we can be part of healing the world. My hope in human agency is supported by the container of love that holds us and lures us to the best, most whole versions of ourselves. And, like the Buddha, when we experience our interconnectedness, when we know that we are part of everything, and that to cause harm to another or the earth is to harm ourselves, something changes in us. We begin to act in the world with more love and compassion as a reflection of our deepest truths.
My hope also lies in the amazing creative capacity we have. Much of the pain and suffering in the world we cause to one another, and the systems and structures of injustice have been made to sustain self-interest and power. Yet if they have been made, they can also be taken apart, and the world can be made anew. We, each with our own wisdom, and together with our collective wisdom can continue to create a more just, loving and whole future for ourselves.
And sometimes suffering is just what is; an act of chaos in an ever-evolving, complicated world with no explanation and no apparent cause. This kind of suffering sometimes challenges me most deeply. In those times, when there is nothing to be done, nothing to create or fix, I turn it over to the great mystery. I sit on my meditation cushion or lie on the earth and let it hold me until I can breathe again and wait for love to heal me. I surrender to the grief and the despair until there is nothing left, and hope emerges again organically.