Learning and Growing – Religious Exploration Sunday
I believe that we all have the light of the sacred within us. How do we make that light stronger? How do we let it shine out from our eyes and through the work of our hands?
How do we help others find the holy light that is within them too?
Today is Religious Exploration Sunday, a service when we traditionally enjoy some special presentations by our children and youth and when we also thank those adults who have lead their classes. Our classes for both adults and children run from September through May and represent quite a commitment.
We all need to be committed to help each other to learn and to grow, to answer the questions we all have about what it means to be alive.
Why am I here? What is the meaning of life? How do I know what is true? What should I do? Who am I? Is there a God? What is God? How can I find peace and purpose? How can I live my life so as to make a positive difference in the world?
The search for the answers to those questions, and for other similar ones, is what calls human beings to gather together in religious community.
Our faith does not offer just one answer to these questions, but offers a place and a way to explore them and discover what makes sense to us both as a congregation and as individuals.
The Sufi poet Rumi says,
“There is a candle in your heart, ready to be kindled.
There is a void in your soul, ready to be filled.
You feel it, don’t you?”
He also said, “Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.”
This, my friends, is the essence of our 4th principle, affirming and promoting “a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.”
Note that the words are “free and responsible”, not “free and independent.” Searching for truth and meaning is something we do together, not in lock step marching to what someone tells us to believe, but a hand in hand walk through the various sources of wisdom, places where others have found comfort and meaning.
We accept each other and our different ideas about the truth and we encourage spiritual growth in each other and in our congregations. We do this whenever we gather, at book club or potluck video, over coffee after the service, in meetings, in worship, while we mow the lawn or work at a yard sale, and most especially we do it in our religious exploration classes.
There, with children and adults, we explore in more detail our direct experience of mystery and wonder, we learn of the words and deeds of others which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil, we study the wisdom of the world’s religions, the teachings of our Jewish and Christian heritage, we investigate humanism, use the guidance of reason and the results of science, and we discover the spiritual wealth contained in the earth-centered traditions.
All of this requires commitment. Someone needs to volunteer to lead the classes, and others need to attend them. Showing up is one of the most important things you can do in life.
If you haven’t attended one of these classes you are really missing something important. Classes will start again in the fall. Take the time to go. Send your children. It will be time very well spent.
Tending to your own spiritual growth is one of the responsibilities of being a Unitarian Universalist. Undertaking that free and responsible search for truth and meaning cannot be done without serious religious exploration.
“There is a void in your soul, ready to be filled.
You feel it, don’t you?” Tend to it. You don’t have to do it alone.
We don’t do many things alone here. It is kind of like a potluck. Everyone brings something to the table and we all enjoy the feast. Sometimes negotiations are required. We don’t always agree. Some of us are vegan, some are gluten free, and some of us will eat anything that isn’t currently moving.
We celebrate that diversity and we honor differences, but it isn’t always easy. Our covenant of right relations helps. If we follow it, or come back to it when we forget, it will serve us well.
We used to call what we do in our classrooms religious education, RE for short, but we renamed it religious exploration a couple of years ago. It is still RE for short. Acronyms can have a life of their own. Why the change? We still have classes, and the students do learn things. It is education. Changing the name to exploration wasn’t something we came up with here in Ogden, but is an idea that has been spreading around the country in various Unitarian Universalist churches. The dedicated volunteers that lead our religious exploration classes are in reality more guides and companions than they are simply instructors. We have curricula, we impart knowledge in our classes, we cover the history of our faith tradition, we include wisdom for the various religions of the world, but the main purpose is, as in the words of William Ellery Channing,
“The great end in religious instruction is not to stamp our minds upon the young, but to stir up their own.”
Has that happened to you in one of our classes? Has your mind been stirred up? Have you left still thinking about the things that were discussed, about what others have shared about their own lives and experiences?
He also said the purpose was
“To inspire a fervent love of truth, to touch inward springs, to strengthen the power of thought, to awaken the conscience, to awaken the soul, to excite and cherish spiritual life…”
It is quite a task, and is some ways both harder and easier that simply imparting factual information or helping someone memorize a standard creed.
It is more difficult because if one is going to succeed in opening others to the spirit, you need to open yourself as well. Most of the curricula we use include a section on “spiritual preparation” for the teachers to use for themselves before the class.
Opening to the spirit means listening to others as well as talking. It means listening to that inner voice that I believe is in each of us. Our classes are designed to help this happen. That is the easy part, receiving the gifts that the participants offer to the class leaders.
Having fun is an important part of religious exploration too and we try to do that especially with the children and youth, but also with the adults. It certainly does not need to be dreary or boring. Having fun is an important part of worship too, I think. How can we appreciate the gift of life, of spirit, if we don’t enjoy it? There are times to be serious and there are times to cry, but laughter is simply critical. I suspect most of you agree.
Opening to the spirit also requires a sense of safety.
Questions are encouraged and everyone does not have to have the same answer. They are also allowed to pass if they don’t want to say anything. The most important thing is that individuals are treated with dignity and respect.
Sometimes people say that children are our future. That may be true, but more importantly they are our present as well. They are with us now and they have so much to offer right now. Childhood should be much more I think than simple preparation for adulthood.
I love that the children worship with us every Sunday.
The point of religious exploration, for both children and adults, is to help us open our minds and our hearts to the mystery and to the spirit. We want our children to know they are loved and we want our adults to know that as well.
I will end with these words by Sara Campbell
Give us the spirit of the child.
Give us the child who lives within;
The child who trusts, the child who imagines, the child who sings.
The child who receives without reservation, the child who gives without judgment.
Give us a child’s eyes, that we may receive the beauty and freshness of this day like a sunrise;
Give us a child’s ears, that we may hear the music of mythical times;
Give us a child’s heart that we may be filled with wonder and delight;
Give us a child’s faith, that we may be cured of our cynicism;
Give us the spirit of the child, who is not afraid to need; who is not afraid to love.
May it be so,