My Unitarian Universalist church has several lay-led services each year. I was asked to speak during a recent Sunday service on Resolutions. My speech, with some minor editing, is produced below.
I set a goal for myself last year. Well two goals actually, but I’ll start with this one. Of course, I didn’t set them for January 1st, because as an Elder Millennial I considered it edgy to reject the #NewYearNewMe resolution setting culture. This goal came up more organically shortly after my birthday.
After finding a new spiritual community online and having a helpful conversation with our minister, I decided that I was going to really live the 4th UU principle. That’s the one about “a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.”
My goal was to explore my faith in a way I hadn’t in a very long time.
You see, I had been going through what St. John of the Cross called a Dark Night. Spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle described the dark night of the soul as, “a collapse of a perceived meaning in life…an eruption into your life of a deep sense of meaninglessness.” It could be equated to a spiritual depression.
After rejecting Catholicism as a teen, I spent some years exploring a number of different Neopagan paths trying to figure out what I really believed. Several years ago, I found an online community of people who were reviving belief in the gods of ancient Northern European peoples. The term most often used is Heathenry. I found it incredibly fascinating learning about the methods of reconstructing the beliefs and practices of ancient peoples using language, lore, and archeological research.
However, this particular community was toxic. Not toxic in the white nationalist way of falsely using Norse runes and faux worship of the “white” gods of the Germanic people, which is a real problem for Heathens. Instead, this group acted like the gatekeepers of doing things the right way and, in their opinion, group worship was the only right way to interact with the divine.
As life got busy and my participation in this toxic community continued, I let thoughts of my spiritual well-being fall to the side. I convinced myself that since the divine didn’t appear to be directly influencing the affairs on earth, whether or not they exist was of no consequence to me. My spiritual growth had come to a standstill.
Then, my apathetic agnosticism turned into a jaded atheism. I would roll my eyes anytime someone described a personal spiritual belief.
It was a continual downward spiral of tolerance of others beliefs over acceptance. And, my other UU Principles were being compromised. It didn’t feel good at all.
Luckily, the toxicity of the Heathen community I was in caused it to collapse on itself. I had already been drifting away from it, but I’m glad it’s gone.
I found a new community that was vastly different from the last. They were incredibly helpful, providing resources and fresh reconstructions of how worship could be. Best of all, this new community encouraged new people and actively rejected the idea that group worship was the only way the ancient Northern European peoples communicated with their gods.
And so I started. It was a small ritual, with just a tea light candle, a dish, and some sunflower seeds as offering. My words were clunky, it felt weird, but afterwards I was excited. Not because I felt any spiritual movement, but instead I had finally done the thing I had spent years thinking about but feeling unworthy of.
When I set the intention to align myself with the 4th Principle, I began to feel like myself again. I began praying and leaving offerings for divine beings I wasn’t totally sure I believed in, but most of all, I felt free to search for my truth and meaning.
I mentioned earlier that I had a second goal. When I finally put my faith into practice, I also set a goal to get out of my shell and be a larger part of the communities around me. Initially it started with a desire to represent Heathenry in my corner of the Pagan Community. Then I joined leadership here at church.
I tried and failed to represent Heathenry by being present at a Pagan Pride Day. However, I succeeded on my second attempt at Pagan Pride Day Rhode Island. I also joined the newly formed Pagan Study Group here.
What really struck me about setting that first goal, to commit to living the 4th Principle, was how it led me to learning about the others:
– Joining leadership showed me how the democratic process we use here works, but also how it might be oppressing others.
– Coming to terms with my own beliefs, let me better accept the beliefs of others rather than just tolerate them
– Being part of a minority within a religious minority, let me expand my compassion for marginalized people through a better understanding
I feel I should explain that last one: I’m a straight, white, cis-gender male, so I live in a bubble of privilege. And when you are part of the status quo, one of the only ways to learn what it’s like living in the margins is through the direct experience of marginalized people.
Paganism is a minority religious movement whose members emphasis a duality of male/female divine spirit, earth centered spirituality, and a celebration of the 8 holidays of the wheel of the year. So when I found myself as a Heathen polytheist, an even smaller minority within Paganism, whose religious beliefs and practices didn’t align with any of those things, I started to experience a small piece of what a lack of representation meant to people who live their entire lives in the margins. How the language of the over culture, even one that is already a minority, can make marginalized people feel othered.
My quest for understanding has given me a much different perspective on our UU Principles and the world at large. This journey is not one I had resolved to participate in, but is nonetheless rooted in an important Unitarian Universalist tradition.
And if a millennial can embrace tradition, maybe it’s a tradition worth living.