“Inevitably in our lives we commit ourselves to something, whether worthy or not. The direction and intensity of our loyalties give shape and meaning to our lives. Loyalties, commitments, covenants, the promises we make to one another: These are the things [that] tell us to what we belong. By doing so they tell us who we are.”
– Henry Nelson Wieman
Ah, March. The beginning of Spring, when Earth re-awakens with a promise of buds, blooms and birdsong. As the weather warms, I have been dreaming of sailing, so please permit me the use of some nautical metaphor in this month’s column. Our Soul Matters theme for the month of March is “Commitment”. What does it mean to be a people of commitment?
We set a course to a destination, and even when the winds and current may favour a different direction, we hold steady. We may encounter rocks or storms or even a sunny beach that pull us away for a time, even make us re-evaluate and maybe change our course. And then we set sights on a star or horizon or port and continue, forward. Not having a goal is perilous, and wasteful of the precious days we have on this earth. Author Paulo Coelho wrote in Brida, “I’m afraid of committing myself,” she thought to herself. She wanted to follow all possible paths and so ended up following none.”
This is the season of Lent, February 17 -April 3. Those who observe Lent typically make a commitment to fast, or to give up something—a habit, like smoking, watching TV, swearing, or a food or drink, such as sweets, wine, or coffee. Some Christians also take on a Lenten discipline, like reading the Bible and spending more time in prayer to draw nearer to God.
This is done both as a form of penitence and as a spiritual tool to tame the body and ‘sharpen the spirit’ for prayer, reflection and contemplation in preparation for the celebration of Easter.
Christians and non-Christians alike, habitual behaviours tend to shape our lives. It is a good practice to examine our choices by adding or removing things for a period of time so that we may consciously commit to what we truly want directing the course of our lives, not just staying on auto-pilot. So, spend this month adding a new helpful habit to your life or removing an unhelpful one.
We constantly make commitments to ourselves, to eat better and exercise more, take more time for ourselves. We commit to relationships, even when the going gets tough, even when, sometimes, we decide to let it go and start over again.
Membership at UCV is a commitment to this community, to belong to, participate in, support and be part of a diverse, inclusive group of people, some who share similar interests and some who are connected only by the experience of belonging. In this time of Covid-19, when we cannot gather in person, there is a real challenge to feeling like we are truly connecting with one another, to being in community. And yet, being a member is a commitment that can weather this storm of distance and change.
The most important reason why people become members of our congregations: the need for growth and transformation. Theologian James Luther Adams reminds us that for practitioners of liberal religion, “revelation is continuous.” Throughout our lives we humans are learning, growing, changing creatures. Using both reason and intuition, we spend our lives seeking to enlarge our understanding of ourselves and others and the world around us.
The possibility of growth and change, of transformation, is the real basis for participation in a religious community. We have all experienced losses and disappointments, pain and grief. We have been broken by life and need healing. The closest that contemporary Unitarian Universalists may come to a concept of salvation is to offer opportunities for growth and transformation, for becoming more whole. As one of the great ministers of the past century, Rev. A. Powell Davies, memorably put it, “Life is just a chance to grow a soul.”
As your interim minister, I am committed to you, to each one of you and to UCV. To nurturing, supporting, guiding and even challenging you to live into the promise that is this religious community. UCV has been a liberal religious, social-justice-minded, progressive community for over a century, a beacon in Vancouver. UCV has stayed active and relevant through generation after generation of sometimes stormy times by being committed to its purpose, guided by its vision and driven by people who recognise that UCV is precious and truly needed in this world. Together, we will navigate the choppy waters of this pandemic and time of transition, holding before us the vision and purpose of UCV that binds us together in religious community.
If you have questions about becoming a member, or think you are a member but have not yet signed the book, please contact me at [email protected]. Making connections is the essence of the religious experience, and that connection goes both ways.
Rev. Lara Cowtan