As I sat in the second row, center aisle of the Opening Ceremonies of the 2011 General Assembly of the UUA, next to my military chaplain colleagues, what struck me most about the service was how many times the word “Spirit” came into the ceremony/celebration/worship service. By the time I noticed the prevalence of this reference to “Spirit”, it had already occurred too many times to make counting worthwhile. We had references to divine spirit, to sacred spirit, to the spirit of life and love. In the prayer offered by UUA President Rev. Peter Morales, I heard so many references to the spirit that I knew from that point on it had to be an intentional move on the part of those who crafted the service.
Two things struck me about that service. First, it seemed completely appropriate in the context and to the occasion… and second that it might not have been so appropriate as recently as a decade ago.
I sometimes describe my personal theology and faith as a “Unitarian of the Holy Spirit” or even a “Pentecostal Universalist”. When I sing the hymn “Spirit of Life”, as we did in the opening ceremonies tonight, it is not a compromise or a platitude for me. I have seen the Holy Spirit move in the rocks and the trees, in the lives of congregations and individuals, in hospital rooms and funeral homes, in military barracks and in the lines of peace protests. I have seen something move and flow between the places and spaces of human life, calling us to and creating in us the ability to transform ourselves and the societies we create. It can only be noticed by its effects, and it is for me both the symbol and the reality of the Divine.
I begin most of my prayers in both civilian and military contexts with the phrase “Spirit of Life and Love known to many as a Gracious God…”
As I heard the Spirit, in its many forms, being evoked this evening, I also felt the spirit flowing among us. As the ceremony recognizing the consolidation of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America began with a frank recital and atonement for some of our denomination’s past sins of racism and inequality, I heard the people of color sitting behind me whisper a prayer of “Amen”… and I felt the Spirit move. As a speaker spoke of the reason that the Southeast District had changed its name from the Thomas Jefferson District, I felt the Spirit move through the hall. It seemed to me that, even if they would not attach the meaning to it that I did, many felt that there was something among us in that moment… something sacred.
I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe in the Spirit of Life and Love that calls us to beloved community, not just as a denomination, but as a world… and as our youth and young adults spoke of the Unitarian Universalist movement they dreamed of, hoped for, and would work for 50 years from now, I felt the Spirit moving again, beyond the bounds of our own limited time and space.
How amazing that we as a Religious Movement have changed so much that we could be so invoking and evoking of the Spirit… I guess you really do “gotta move when the Spirit says move!”
Yours in Faith,