Getting a Spiritual Life
March 22, 2020 | Sarah Stewart
Passage: Psalms 139:1-18
You can watch a video of this whole service on First Unitarian Church's YouTube channel.
Beloved members, friends, children and youth of First Unitarian Church, and guests we may have with us this morning, I can imagine seeing your familiar faces, and meeting those of you who are new. I love you and I am keeping you in my heart and in my prayers.
These are hard times we are going through. You’re facing illness and praying for recovery. You’ve lost your job or are worried you will be laid off. Young people, you miss the challenge and routine of school and seeing your friends. Parents, you are struggling to balance your work and caring for your children. Those of you who live alone miss the small moments of human connection. Money is tight and the future uncertain. We are all lonely and frightened, and we don’t know what will come next.
In times like these, we need our spiritual lives more than ever. You may find yourself asking, what exactly is a spiritual life?
Last year, I explored answers to that question with a small group here at First Unitarian Church. I learned a great deal about the spiritual life from the wisdom and kindness of that group.
We used the writings of Henri Nouwen, a teacher of spiritual direction and pastoral care, and a Catholic priest. In the 1980s Henri had reached the pinnacle of a career as a pastor and professor. He had taught at Yale Divinity School and had a prestigious position at Harvard Divinity School. He traveled the world and met with all the religious leaders who came through those august halls.
But his spirit was not at peace. Henri was not living the spiritual life to which he felt God had called him. So Henri left Harvard to become the senior pastor of a community called L’Arche, a collection of homes where people with and without disabilities live together in intentional community.
Henri was the senior pastor, but just like all the other residents, he had responsibilities in relationship with a disabled person. His partner was Adam.
Henri’s work included waking Adam, helping him dress, helping him eat, and being with him. At first, Henri was scared of this relationship. How would he do this work? How could he be in relationship with Adam, who could not speak? How was this spiritual work?
But as time went on, Henri learned that his relationship with Adam was deeply spiritual. He learned from Adam, in way he had known before but not truly felt, that we are all the beloved children of God, known and loved just for who we are. “You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.” This is how the Psalmist knows God. This is how Henri encountered God in Adam.
We heard Leo Tolstoy’s answers to three important questions in life. Henri also learned three important spiritual truths from his relationship with Adam.
Here are the spiritual truths he learned:
Being is more important than doing
The heart is more important than the mind
Doing things together is more important than doing things alone
We can take these truths to heart now, during our hard time, to nurture our spiritual lives.
Being is more important than doing. We may have nothing but being right now. Work, school, church and our social lives take up so much of our “doing” in our normal lives. If you’re out of work, or out of school, or struggling to work from home, you may feel that your “doing” is not worth much right now. Your sacredness does not rely on your doing.
Your holiness comes from your being. You have been holy for your whole life, from when you were a helpless infant, and you will still be holy when you are elderly and infirm. Your being, not your doing, is sacred.
The heart is more important than the mind. How we love each other is more important than what we know. We may not know all we wish we knew. We are hungry for information and we can’t always find it. We have to trust political leaders who may not know more than we do. But we have to set aside all we do not know. We make the best judgments we can with what we understand.
And we remember that the heart is more important than the mind. How we love each other matters more than what we know. Show your love to one another. Hold tight those you live with. Call those who are distant. Smile at the strangers you pass on your walk. Your heart is strong in these difficult times.
The third truth is the hardest one. Doing things together is more important than doing things alone. Our hearts ache because there is so little we can do together right now. But there are ways we can be together. Call your neighbors and ask how they are doing. Be alert to the instructions of your city or town about how you can help. Offer to get groceries or medicine for an elderly or sick neighbor. Let meanness and bitterness go out from your soul and let love for your fellow human beings in.
Even in our separateness we are together. We are slowing the spread of this virus together, each in our separate spaces. Even in this time of distance, doing things together is more important than doing things alone.
I know that you are going to persevere in your kindness and holiness through this crisis. You have been practicing your spiritual life, and your practice will deepen. Connect yourself to your deepest values. Remember your love for one another. Remember your being. Remember your heart. Remember that we are together. I love you and I hold you in my heart. Amen.