Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology

Unitarian of the Holy Spirit

It has been said that how we express the chosen faith of our adulthood greatly depends on attitudes and concepts that hold deep meaning for us as children. We often form our adult faiths in rejection of those childhood forms, or we transform them into new and deeper meanings. The roots of what, how, and why we believe can be traced back to our earliest experiences, in our lives and in our “families of origin”.

I remember sitting in a Pentecostal church at around 8 years old, on the Island of Oahu in Hawaii. It was a small, whitewashed building in the shadow of the northern mountains. Named Koli Koli Chapel, it sat at the foot of the mountain pass that the Japanese airplanes flew through on their way to bomb Pearl Harbor. The Chaplain who led worship there on Sundays was very high energy and of convicted faith. He wore a tee-shirt when he ran with soldiers in the mornings that said “Turn or Burn!” on the front and back.

What I remember most about that church (besides the bullet holes that trace back to WWII), was a particular day when the chaplain declared that “The Holy Spirit” was moving among us. What I remember about that day is that I could sense something binding us, connecting us. I also remember thinking that it might not be exactly what the pastor thought it was, and in my SciFi inspired mind I imagined a cosmic force that held all things together… like gravity. (Yes, I had just seen Star Wars for the first time not long before).

That moment has stayed with me… the feeling that there was a binding force between us, that moved us, and through which we moved. The Pentecostal church we attended had a name for this (besides “The Force”). We called it the Holy Spirit or the Holy Ghost, and experiencing it was the center of our worship and of our faith.

I have written before about there being many different models of God, and that which one we resonate with has much to do with what rests deep in our lives and our souls. None of those models can capture all of what we conceive of as God, and so we must approach each of our individual ideas of the nature of God as models… as symbols for a reality so much greater than we can possibly conceive. To believe that our individual understanding of God encompasses all that is God is idolatry. Even the Atheistic model of God operates in this way… and can become an idol just as easily. To understand that you can never conceive of all that God is (or all that anything or anyone is, really) is the first step in humility.

That being said, the model of God that is operative for me is the Holy Spirit. I am not a Trinitarian because I do not see God in the image of the father, nor in the image of a deified Jesus… but rather in the Holy Spirit that binds us all, that makes all things one, and that is in all things. In Unitarian Universalism, we represent this as “The Interdependent Web of all existence of which we are a part”. It is in part this interdependence that is the foundation for “The Inherent Worth and Dignity of Every Person”, at least for me.

I do not believe that Jesus of Nazareth was himself God… but I do believe that he had a deep and abiding connection to the Holy Spirit, and that through that connection he lived a prophetic life that changed the world. Calling Jesus the “Son of God” is fine with me… for I believe we are all children of the Holy Spirit. The power in the example of Jesus is not that he was the “only begotten son” of God, but rather that the connection that Jesus had with the Holy Spirit is one that is open to any and all of us. Worshipping Jesus as if he were God misses the point… and keeps us from hearing the true challenge of his message… a message inspired by his encounters with the Holy Spirit.

I believe that others have had a similar connection to the Holy Spirit, perhaps not as profoundly and all encompassing as that which Jesus of Nazareth experienced, but profound nonetheless. Many of them understood that connection in different ways, based upon different experiences and different social contexts. When Gautama Siddhartha stood up from the Bodhi tree with a revelation of oneness and became the Buddha, I believe that what he encountered in that moment was what I term “The Holy Spirit”. I have experienced it myself, with my own rear-end on a Zen cushion… though not at nearly the all encompassing level of Jesus or Buddha. The Buddha interpreted the experience in his cultural context… just as Jesus did. I’m sure you could name others with similar experiences as well as I… Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Thecla, Moses, and many others. Perhaps even yourself.

I have experienced the Holy Spirit many different ways at many different times in my life. Though I don’t say it directly, my sermon “Speaking Through Thatched Cottages” is about some of those experiences. What changes the interpretation of those experiences in my life, and in the lives of the many others who have touched on this “Spirit of Oneness” are the contexts, attitudes, and cultures we hold and perceive them through. The experience is always different, not just for each of us but for each time any of us is open enough to sense the movement of the spirit that binds us all and abides in all things. This difference is not necessarily because the Holy Spirit is different, but because moment by moment we are different.

And so, I want to affirm the question asked by Rev. Sam Trumbore … there can indeed be such as thing as a Pentecostal UU… or in my language, a Unitarian of the Holy Spirit.

Yours in Faith,


5 Thoughts on “Unitarian of the Holy Spirit

  1. You wrote, “It has been said that how we express the chosen faith of our adulthood greatly depends on attitudes and concepts that hold deep meaning for us as children.”

    As I am growing older I am finding this true in my life as well. Thanks for a great blog!

  2. Patrick McLaughlin on Sunday October 4, 2009 at 18:42 +0000 said:

    Not the language I’d use (but then, I grew up UU… and outside of the UU community through my teens, because we lived far, far, far from other UUs…), but Peter Mayer’s music and words speak as powefully to me.

    My beloved and I went to a house concert he played at, recently, on a Sunday evening. A fair number of UUs from several congregations were there (the homeowners, however, weren’t…) and while we were not in “our” community, it sure felt like church.

  3. What about those who have never felt the Holy Spirit? I was raised as a church-going Lutheran, but I have never had any experiences such as you describe here. I believe I had “attitudes and concepts that held deep meaning” for me by my teenage years. But they weren’t spiritual. (I say that I am religious, but not spiritual.) I found UUism because there was room for me there. But I’ve wondered, how do I relate to those who experience the Holy Ghost in their lives?

    I often think of this because my sister also rejected her religious origins, but in the conservative Christian direction. We can handle discussion of politics and theology lite, but when we get to the brass tacks, our experiences are from different worlds, and we really can’t connect them in dialogue.

    Now my politics and theology is pretty close to yours, but there is still the wide gap between us on the Holy Spirit. How can we relate to each other that bridges that gap?

  4. NS,

    What you bring up is one of the reasons that I did my best to make that article about my personal faith, and not about Unitarian Universalism… because I do believe that each of us experiences what is divine in this universe differently.

    There was a concept I came across a few years ago that resonated with me on this very topic. I dont remember the title or author of the book (if anyone does please chime in) but it focused on the “Nine Languages of God”. The basic premise is that there are many different ways that different human beings connect with divinity. For some, it is through language and intellect, for others it might be through music or art. For some it is through transcendental spiritual practice, and for others it might be through feelings and emotions. All of these are valid ways to connect to the divine (and many others). What is different about them is that we are inherently different in how we are constituted as human beings.

    You and I connect to the divine (which I call God, but you may not) in differnet ways. That does not mean that we can not connect. In fact, it means that we might have quite a bit to teach one another.

    Yours in Faith,


  5. I understood this was personal, I’m talking out loud myself. And I know that we can teach each other, which is why I comment here.

    I would like to be able to step into your shoes (a proxy for my family, to be honest) and feel what it’s like to be touched by the Holy Spirit or connect with the divine. But I can’t (or at the least haven’t yet). I don’t believe in a model or a language of God, because it isn’t real for me. And it’s not just semantics. You obviously have a different experience of the world.

    My point is that you and me can be interdependent (or whatever) to the moon, but will still have this difference, and more importantly, that difference is at the heart of your spirituality. Now, difference is great, I’m UU after all, but what I’m trying to say is that this difference is well, different from all the others, unique. Any thoughts?

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