So from this Unitarian Universalist’s perspective, faith is a commitment to a free and responsible search for truth and meaning, grounded in relationship with the transcending mystery and wonder that creates and upholds life.
Spirituality, then, is how we live out that relationship on a daily basis. And one of the gifts of the Unitarian Universalist tradition is that it acknowledges and even celebrates the variety of ways individuals relate to the that transcending mystery and wonder. Here are just a few ways (as identified by John Ortberg).
People on the intellectual pathway draw closer to the transcending mystery as they learn more about it. My favorite example of someone on this pathway is Carl Sagan. Sagan liked to use the word “Cosmos” to describe that transcending mystery.
Cosmos is a Greek word for the order of the universe. It is, in a way, the opposite of Chaos. It implies the deep interconnectedness of all things. It conveys awe for the intricate and subtle way in which the universe is put together.
And here’s how he described his first experience of just how powerful an intellectual relationship with the Cosmos could be:
I went to the librarian and asked for a book about stars … And the answer was stunning. It was that the Sun was a star but really close. The stars were suns, but so far away they were just little points of light … The scale of the universe suddenly opened up to me. It was a kind of religious experience. There was a magnificence to it, a grandeur, a scale which has never left me. Never ever left me.
People who follow the relational pathway find that they have a deep sense of that transcending mystery and wonder when they’re involved in significant relationships. Ortberg suggests that small groups and community experiences become indispensable to this type of person in their spiritual quest.
People on the serving pathway find their sense of place in the cosmos most tangibly when they are involved in helping others. Ortberg notes that if this is you, you may find that you are somewhat uncomfortable in a setting where you don’t have a role to play in helping others. Acts of service come naturally to you.
If you prefer this pathway you have a natural gift and inclination for celebration and worship. Some of your most formative moments occur during times of worship along this pathway, like those colleagues I mentioned earlier who enjoy writing sermons and preaching every week.
People on the activist pathway have a high level of enthusiasm and energy. Ortberg says that if you are on this pathway, you have a passion to be involved through action. Persons on this pathway have a fervent desire for social justice, peace initiatives, and causes that lead to transformation.
People on the contemplative pathway love large blocks of uninterrupted time alone. If you’re on this pathway, Ortberg notes that making time to be present to the mystery and wonder in silence and solitude is vital to the health of your soul.
People who follow the creation pathway find they have a passionate ability to connect with the forces that create and uphold life in nature. For Emerson, Thoreau and other of our New England Transcendentalist forebears, time alone in nature was an essential part of their spirituality.
Ortberg closes his summary of each of these pathways the pretty much the same way: Persons preferring a particular pathway will need to be open to other pathways in order to maintain a healthy balance in their spiritual life.
And that’s where religion comes in.