Worship & Celebrations
Free Thinking Mystics With Hands
The Reverend Julie-Ann Silberman-Bunn
Unitarian Universalists are freethinkers: unfettered pilgrims in search of governing truths. We are mystics as well: spiritually attuned to marvels of the universe and awake to omens of the divine. We are also blessed with hands outstretched in praise, resistance, and caring embrace. Holding fast to our mission as freethinking mystics with hands, Unitarian Universalism will transform individual lives while shaping the moral contours of the world as it moves into the twenty-first century! (Tom Owen-Towle pg.5 Free thinking mystics with hands)
I begin this morning by reiterating the words of my colleague the Reverend Tom Own-Towle, the words I used as our opening words. These words come from Tom’s book Free Thinking Mystics with Hands:
Unitarian Universalists are freethinkers: unfettered pilgrims in search of governing truths. We are mystics as well: spiritually attuned to marvels of the universe and awake to omens of the divine. We are also blessed with hands outstretched in praise, resistance, and caring embrace. Holding fast to our mission as freethinking mystics with hands, Unitarian Universalism will transform individual lives while shaping the moral contours of the world as it moves into the twenty-first century! (Tom Owen-Towle pg.5 Free thinking mystics with hands
Many confuse being a free thinker with the freedom to believe anything you want, and that is most definitely not what Unitarian Universalism is about
Since Free thinking mystics with hands is the title of today’s sermon, I want to break down for you what that passage as well as the phrase “Free thinking mystics with hands” means to me and why I chose it for today. Tom begins with this sentence: “Unitarian Universalists are freethinkers: unfettered pilgrims in search of governing truths.”
We like to think for ourselves. We do not want anyone to tell us what we think or how to think. We do not want the freedom of our own thoughts restrained in any way. However, many confuse being a free thinker with the freedom to believe anything you want, and that is most definitely not what Unitarian Universalism is about.
Being freethinkers means we have the freedom to use our minds to explore ideas, theories and theologies, cultures and constructs to determine what we may find helps us to establish for ourselves a set of thoughts, patterns of beliefs that work for us. As free thinkers, we compare and contrast, we explore, and delve into all manner of subjects and from that thinking without constraints, with out the boundaries of dogma or doctrine we are free to establish our own set of beliefs and understandings about ourselves, and our place within the world.
Owen-Towle tells us that Free thinking mystics with hands are “unfettered pilgrims in search of governing truths”. Some would say that is what the UUA principles and purposes are for, to serve as those governing truths. Others will tell you that the principles serve only as a cornerstone or frame work for our faith. I tend to fall into the latter camp. I believe we are, as Unitarian Universalist, challenged to use the principles and purposes as a foundation for the creation of our own personal belief system, a system which like Unitarian Universalism is open to continuing revelation, and so as we gain new knowledge by discussion, or exploration we can reconfigure, restructure and recompose our set of beliefs.
As a life-long Unitarian Universalist, I have changed my beliefs many times. I was raised in a UU Congregation that was Humanist to an extreme, my mother frequently said she had no worries about bringing her Orthodox Jewish in-laws to church because the sermon was always based on the previous week’s New York Times magazine section.
As a child, my humanist congregation seemed normal to me, but I had no interest in the adult church because the minister was boring! I never had any idea what he was talking about. It was so far above my head that he might as well have been speaking a different language.
When I became a minister, I realized very early on that I couldn’t expect people to think about ideas if they were either so bored their minds wandered, or that the words or ideas were so outside their normal way of thinking that they had to struggle with them. I decided my sermons would be straight forward, so that people could focus on the ideas, what to do with them and how to live them. I had one woman tell me that when she first heard my sermons, she thought they weren’t very good because they didn’t give her anything to argue or debate. But after a few years, she came to realize that because she really understood what I was saying the ideas stuck with her and came back to her when she was walking, driving, shopping, and they really made her think about what she believed and how she wanted to behave.
A free thinker needs that fuel to keep them stirring their own ideas and thoughts. Free thinkers are people who do not want to stagnate, they want to continue to journey, and they are always aware that the journey is as important, if not more so than the destination.
A free thinker needs that fuel to keep them stirring their own ideas and thoughts.
“We are”, as Owen-Towle says, “mystics as well: spiritually attuned to marvels of the universe and awake to omens of the divine.” Years ago, my dear friend, John Eric, a devout humanist and life long-Unitarian asked me about all this spiritual stuff that people keep talking about. I told him that for me, spirituality is all about finding the sacred in the ordinary. He told me that the men in the men’s group at his UU church were discussing the most spiritual experiences of their lives, and several of them had been sharing the experiences of being present at their children’s births. John, ever the humanist, scientist, honest to the point of rudeness kind of guy, told me he had said “ human-beings are mammals, mammals have live births, what is spiritual about that?”
Well, the truth is on one hand John was absolutely right. On the other hand, there are many amazing, wonderful, magnificent things that happen in the world over and over again, that continue to create wonder and amazement in those who observe them. Think about the Grand Canyon, it is simple erosion, but when you stand on the rim and observe the Grandness of it, and the colors, and complex structures, it is something more than simple erosion, science, or geology.
As Unitarian Universalists, there is a mystical side to our faith that allows us to open ourselves, to the child like wonder, at the absolute astonishing accomplishments of the universe, time and time again creating beauty, wisdom and joy. As mystics, we allow ourselves to set aside reason, in favor of wonder, to set aside absolutes in favor of possibilities. Our mystical side allows us the freedom to explore the what ifs and if only of life, to allow ourselves to remain open to complete and utter joy that accompanies setting aside the rigid boundaries of fact for the sometime squishy boundaries of possibility!
The final, yet in so many ways the most important element of this saying is: “We are also blessed with hands outstretched in praise, resistance, and caring embrace.”
Using our hands means we must come out of our ivory towers of intellectualism and be engaged in the world and the community around us.
This is the part that reminds us that our Unitarian Universalist faith is not intended to be an insular one. It is not intended to be a faith that sets us aside in an ivory tower to contemplate the great mysteries of the world. Rather, ours is to be a faith in which we take our ideas, our beliefs, and we use our hands to make those ideas and beliefs a reality. Using our hands means we must come out of our ivory towers of intellectualism and be engaged in the world and the community around us.
We are given hands to do the work of justice, to share with others, in the basic tasks that sustain life in our community. We have hands to raise in objection, to wave to get attention for those unable to speak for themselves. We have hands to do the work of transforming society and our own community into a better place for all living things.
We as a congregation, who spent much of its existence in Bridgeport, have in many ways joined the rest of the world in abandoning that city. Bridgeport is in dire need of assistance. Can we, and one of us, or all of us together, change the way of life for those in Bridgeport, who knows until we try. Phinneas Taylor Barnum, P.T. Barnum, a long time member of this congregation used his resources as well as his hands to transform the city of Bridgeport, and the life of our congregation. What honor do we give our predecessors when we allow their legacies to go to ruin?
Owen-Towle concludes the passage by saying: “Holding fast to our mission as freethinking mystics with hands, Unitarian Universalism will transform individual lives while shaping the moral contours of the world as it moves into the twenty-first century!” If this is to be tru,e we have a great deal of work in front of us. Unitarian Universalism has transformed my life, it has given me a spiritual home, a community around the world. Unitarian Universalism has offered me a theological home at every place on my personal journey, and it has offered me a vocation, a calling, a home and a life distinct from any other I could imagine with out it’s embrace and all encompassing way of being in the world.
The challenge of being a free thinking mystic with hands is that you are forever finding yourself challenged to do more, be more, and see the world without any filters, but just to observe it as it is, in all of its pain, sorrow, and unmitigated anguish…yet to survive we learn to be mystics and to act for change, for justice, and for the betterment of others.
Shalom, Salaam, Amen, Om and Blessed Be.
Closing Words: Prayers for Faith by Jane Ellen Mauldin
So often words fail us
And we do not know to whom or what to pray.
We ask for legs that can walk for peace,
Arms that can work for justice,
Voices that can speak for love,
Hands that can soothe a feverish brow.
By our actions and voices
May our prayers be sent.
Shalom, Salaam, Om, Amen