The Spiritual Spiral

This is an excerpt from a reflection given at the Unitarian Congregation in Mississauga in May 2015, about the value of tending to your spirit.


How do you understand the term spirit?  Does it include connection? Something Greater? Something Vital?

Something greater might be God, it might be nature, it might be the universe. The words will always be inadequate. And will vary from person to person.

But the difficulty in language should not prevent us from speaking about matters of the spirit.

For me, the spirit is the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. We all have bodies, minds, and emotions.  We have personalities and histories, and experiences. And yet taking it all together we are still something more.

In Unitarian Universalism, spirit refers to the wholeness of the self  – the wholeness of all beings. It can also refer to the greater whole – again that might be God or the universe. I use it both for the wholeness of the individual self and the wholeness of the – well – whole.

Words are inadequate!

“From the Latin spiritus, the word spirit is linked with air and breath: felt but not seen, intangible yet essential, ephemeral yet connects us to one  another. No name is large enough to hold this power [that is larger than life, although it contains life], but of all the inadequate names, the one that comes to me now is spirit. […the word seems to catch the lightness, radiance, and wind-like subtlety of the power that I seek].”  (Scott Russell Saunders in The Force of Spirit)

Spirit. Breath. Wind. Air.

Air connects us all, it surrounds us, the air we breathe is the air that has always been part of the planet.

We are rarely aware of the air. We notice air when there isn’t enough of it – people with asthma know it all too well. And we notice air when it is in upheaval – whirlwinds creating chaos.

I’d say the spiritual aspect of living is a little like air. We notice when it’s missing and our lives feel constricting and tight. We notice when life is too intense and blowing us about. It’s why many people when they first come to UCM need to sit in the back and cry.

Spirit may be intangible, but it is also vital to our well being. And many people, whose lives are neither too constricting or too intense, might never pay attention to their spiritual side.

But for those who are aware, wonder awaits.

“”Spiritual treasure can be found in our everyday life. Spirit does not exist except as part of the bodily experiences of human life on earth” (Barbara Brown Taylor).

The spiritual is not separate from the material but is entangled. Just as we are entangled in air – it surrounds us and is within us. It is when we live with attention and awareness that we begin to see this.

It is of primary importance, perhaps more now than ever, that our spirit, the essence of ourselves, which some might call soul, can experience a sense of connection to the immensity of the greater whole – to the spirit of all.

Spirituality can be, at its most basic, understood as the awareness that all life is connected. Spirituality is not a set of beliefs, but a way to experience the universe whole.

Sara Maitland, a writer who went to live alone and experience true silence, describes a moment when she was sitting on a rock high on the side of a valley looking down onto a river in the distance.

“..Quite suddenly and unexpectedly, I slipped a gear, or something like that.  There was not me and the landscape, but a kind of oneness: a connection as though my skin had been blown off.  More than that – as though the molecules and atoms I am made of had reunited themselves with the molecules and atoms that the rest of  the world is made of. I felt absolutely connected to everything.  It was very brief, but it was a total moment. “

Spiritual experiences are experiences of connection. They happen in your body, in the world.

Spiritual practices are disciplines that help us develop patterns of behaviour that make it easier for us to be aware of a sense of connectedness.

Some might not even call it a spiritual sense, like sports fans. But to cheer so ardently for the Blue Jays baseball team, to feel such connection to the team’s wins and losses, what else is it but a sense of connection to something larger?

I was on Yonge Street way back when the Blue Jays won the 1993 World Series. I suspect the euphoria that night was not much different from the joy at the Hindu festival of Diwali.

We all need to belong to something larger than ourselves.

The spiritual is the sense that despite all of our knowledge, all of power, all of our control, that we are part of something beyond our comprehension.

Something so vast, so immense, so beautiful.

Something we didn’t have to do work for or sacrifice for, but simply is.

And we are part of that oneness.

Our molecules reuniting with all the other molecules.

It is a way to press the reset buttons on ourselves.

After experiences like Sara Maitland’s slipping gear up on that rock high up in the valley , people report feeling lighter, or comforted, or freer, or joyful.

After the Montreal Canadians win the Stanley Cup, (fingers crossed) people will express similar feelings!

And that’s okay, connection can be found in unexpected places.

It can also be found here.

We are the place with a spiritual perspective.  It’s what religions do. As people of the chalice we are called to look beyond ourselves and pay attention to the luminous web of life.

One of the symbols of our chalice community is the golden spiral.  Also known as the golden ratio, or the divine proportion, it is a mathematical spiral of precise geometry.

The spiral has the self at the centre, going out to the community, to the earth, to the universe.

Our spiritual lives are like this as well – a going outwards into connection with all that is and a going inwards into greater self awareness –  the spiral movement taking us ever forward.

Let us live into the spiral, live into our bodies, and so find ourselves part of the mystery.



The Web of Connection

This is an excerpt from a recent sermon.

 I grew up in a Mississauga suburb during the seventies of star wars and disco dancing, learning the metric system on new blue rulers.
In Art class, we were taught rug hooking on cushion covers and macramé plant hangers.
In grade six we learned another great folk art – String Art.
You take a piece of wood, cover it in felt, and then hammer nails into it.
You then wind brightly coloured crochet thread around the nails weaving a pattern.  I used a grass green felt, then wound bright pink, yellow and orange thread – it was the seventies – around the nails to create a webbed circle with an empty centre.
The string art lived on a shelf in my bedroom for years as a bright and joyful weave of colour.

It is only now, with the string art itself long gone, that I realize that image – the webbed circle – has stayed with me,  evolving from a goofy grade six art project to a symbol of my religious orientation.

The web of connection is the way of the universe.
We are all connected.
The universe is an endless series of connections –all the elements of life in dynamic interplay.
Moons orbit planets, planets swirl madly around suns,
solar systems whirl into galaxies, and galaxies coalesce into groups.
It is all, we are all, in glorious motion.

As a family we like to camp.  When it gets very dark my son and I will head off to an open area.  Then we lie back and look up into the night sky covered in stars.  It is always so beautiful. It also reminds me of just how small I am.

I am small compared to our planet.
Our planet is small compared to the gas giant Jupiter.
Jupiter is small compared to our sun.
And our giant blazing sun is tiny compared to the Red Giants.

We are a speck on a speck on a speck of dust in comparison to the rest of the universe.
Looking into the starry night, looking out into the mysteries of the universe, I can feel we are tiny and insignificant.  It is awesome in the original sense of the word – inspiring awe and dread.
It is both terrific and terrible, humbling to be such a tiny little part of an immense whole.
And it is also wonderful.
To know that as small as we are, we are still part of the whole.
We belong to it deeply, dependently.
Not just as part of the web of ecology where we live.
We are part of all of it, earth, the solar system, the galaxy, the universe, the whole enchilada.
Almost all the atoms in our bodies were born in the heat of a star billions and billions of years before we were born.

The stars are our ancestors, the root of our family tree.
Stars as ancestors.  Imagine that.  Joni Mitchell was right,
we really are stardust.  We are stardust.
We are golden.  This is scientific knowledge.
This science doesn’t diminish the mystery and beauty of the world,
it deepens it.  My skin, my blood, my flesh, is made of atoms born 13 billion years ago.
So is yours.  We are, as astronomer Carl Sagan said, starstuff contemplating the stars.

We are all connected.  The universe is a web of connections.

Contemporary Unitarian Universalism attempts to live out that understanding of connection between all beings.