— by B.C. —
My own spiritual journey has been more of a circular walk than a pilgrimage. There is no destination, no arrival and no worshipping at a shrine. The importance of the journey is the journey itself, the discourse with myself on that journey and with the people who travel with me – such as members of this congregation. I started out on this journey in middle age. All my adult life I had been an atheist. I suppose my beliefs were very much linked to humanism. Like most people I had some sort of ethical framework – a belief in progress through human effort – particularly collective human effort for the collective good. I have mostly worked in the political world and that suited my ethical framework. But over the years I have increasingly become disillusioned about the ability of politics to change things for the good.
My personal life also dramatically changed during this time. Every day I was face to face with my own and others’ mortality and the nothingness of life. Humanism was not enough to help me live within what was increasingly becoming an existentialist state of mind. The theologian Paul Tillich describes it as follows:
“The anxiety of meaningless is anxiety about the loss of ultimate concern, of a meaning which gives meaning to all meanings. This anxiety is aroused by the loss of a spiritual centre, of an answer however symbolic and indirect, to the question of the meaning of existence”.
How then did I discover Unitarianism? It was quite by chance; indeed a chance remark by someone years ago in a discussion on socialism and religion. She said that there was a faith – Unitarianism – which fitted well with progressive politics. It must have lodged in my subconscious for many years (incidentally the lady was not a Unitarian but a Theosophist). During this crisis in my life I suddenly remembered the words of that lady and googled “Unitarianism”. It all seemed to make good sense and I decided to visit a Unitarian church – the nearest one being Meadrow Chapel. I walked up this path – it seemed a very long walk – with great trepidation. The preacher was the Rev David Usher and his sermon seemed authentic to me – relevant to my life experience. So I kept on coming.
Things have changed for me since I came to Meadrow six years ago. I still live in my existentialist world. But very occasionally I feel the presence of God. A God that is greater than the universe – and the universe is contained within such a God. Perhaps this might be described as ‘Panentheism’ – a Universalistic dimension to Unitarianism.
I have always been drawn to nature for spiritual comfort. It is difficult to describe the indescribable and perhaps we should leave it to poets, such as William Wordsworth who says:
“A sense sublime of something far more deeply interfused
whose dwelling is the light of setting suns.
And the round ocean and living air,
and the blue sky and in the mind of man”.
Perhaps we can only describe God in terms of what may not be said about God. God is not definable in terms of time and space; God is beyond existing or not existing. This is the message in R.S Thomas’s poem ‘Via Negativa’:
“Why no! I never thought other than
That God is that great absence
In our lives, the empty silence
Within, the place where we go
Seeking, not in hope to
Arrive or find. He keeps the interstices
In our knowledge, the darkness
And maybe my quest for God is the quest for self-knowledge? Let me finish with the words of Hippolytes:
“Abandon the search for God and the creation and other matters of a similar sort.~
Look for him by taking yourself as a starting point. Learn what is within you. Learn
the sources of sorrow, joy, love and hate. If you complete these matters, you will
find God in yourself.”
This is what I hope to find on my journey of ever-increasing circles – and I am thankful to Meadrow Chapel for helping me to take the first steps.