A few weeks ago I mentioned Barry Andrews’ article “The Roots of Unitarian Universalist Spirituality in New England Transcendentalism” in a post about the role of spirituality in our tradition. That post (and Barry’s article) come to mind as I think about this week’s small group ministry session on X-The Mystery, based on resources from spiritualityandpractice.com. Why? Because the reading for this session is from the poet Mary Oliver (beloved by UUs everywhere, it seems). Oliver mentions something that reminded me a lot of a quote by Emerson in the “Roots” article. Emerson says that his “transcendental experience” (the one where he becomes a gigantic eyeball or something like that) gave rise to a “double consciousness”; that even though one lives mostly in the mundane world, a single experience with the divine, the Mysterious X, “will characterize the days.” Oliver says a similar sort of thing: that her “sudden awareness of the citizenry of all things within one world” was a moment that she has “never forgotten, and upon which” she has “based many decisions in the years since.” Definitely sounds like it has characterized her days. At any rate, take a look at the complete passage from Mary Oliver. Perhaps you’ve had a similar sort of moment. If so, does it continue to affect your decisions? Does it characterize your days?
It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.
— Albert Einstein quoted in Holy Clues by Stephen Kendrick
An Excerpt from Long Life by Mary Oliver
This collection of prose and poetry by poet Mary Oliver offers what she calls “little alleluias” to nature, animals, soul, place and literature. Here is an excerpt on the spiritual practice of mystery.
Once, years ago, I emerged from the woods in the early morning at the end of a walk and — it was the most casual of moments — as I stepped from under the trees into the mild, pouring-down sunlight I experienced a sudden impact, a seizure of happiness. It was not the drowning sort of happiness, rather the floating sort. I made no struggle toward it; it was given. Time seemed to vanish. Urgency vanished. Any important difference between myself and all other things vanished. I knew that I belonged to the world, and felt comfortably my own containment in the totality. I did not feel that I understood any mystery, not at all; rather that I could be happy and feel blessed within the perplexity — the summer morning, its gentleness, the sense of the great work being done though the grass where I stood scarcely trembled. As I say, it was the most casual of moments, not mystical as the word is usually meant, for there was no vision, or anything extraordinary at all, but only a sudden awareness of the citizenry of all things within one world: leaves, dust, thrushes and finches, men and women. And yet it was a moment I have never forgotten, and upon which I have based many decisions in the years since.
Questions: Reflect upon the things you just can’t explain in your daily life, especially ones that you are having difficulty leaving alone. Describe the mystery but don’t try to add an explanation.
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Accustom your tongue to say, I do not know.
— The Talmud
To Practice This Thought: Take time to really see what is right in front of you.
For a PDF version of this small group ministry session, click here: X-The Mystery.
For more information on small group ministry, visit the UU Small Group Ministry Network.