Archive for November, 2018

Nov 21 2018

December Journal – In Our Own Voices: What Does It Mean to Be a People of Mystery?

Published by under Minister's Musings

In Our Own Voices

December 2018: What Does It Mean to Be a People of Mystery?

The Practice of Embracing Life with Humility and Awe


“In Our Own Voices” captures congregants’ thoughts and feelings on the theme of the month. This year, our Worship Associates offer their first responses to each theme. May these words inspire you, too, to ask:

  • How does this theme relate to how I want to live my life?
  • What does it inspire in me?
  • How does it trouble or perplex me?
  • How can it help us to live our Unitarian Universalist faith?


  • I love mysteries. I love to wonder; I am curious. I love to discuss mysteries. Shared mysteries give me a sense of community. I don’t need there to be a single answer, or any answer at all. I need to know that there are things that are beyond my comprehension or anybody’s comprehension.
  • Struggling with the mysteries of life can feel very much like a two-year-old repeating the question “Why?” over and over again.
  • How do we cultivate genuinely curious questions?
  • How can we appreciate the “elephants in the room”? They have something to teach us.
  • There’s magic and mystery in being able to shift the tone of a polarized political discussion with simple kindness, such as saying “have a good day” in response to a MAGA (“Make America Great Again”) comment and receiving “God bless you” in response.
  • The subhead for this month’s theme—the practice of embracing life with humility and awe—reminds me of the power of practicing nondefensive communication (which was developed by Sharon Ellison, a Unitarian Universalist, by the way!).
  • Fully embracing “the inherent worth and dignity of everyone” requires humility.
  • How we honor the mystery of others whose interpretation is different from ours?
  • Adding mystery and wonder to our experiences can make them feel bigger, more profound. As a Catholic child, just walking into church and genuflecting was pregnant with Mystery.
  • Religion and Science are people’s attempt to explain the mystery of life. Once these two were very closely related—myth and science working hand in hand. Are they coming back together?
  • My idea of mystery is that I don’t know or understand what’s happening, but I recognize it as holy or perhaps important anyway. I can perceive things happening around me that I identify as awesome or mysterious and, like Mary (the mother of Jesus), file them away in my heart—not really to understand them, but to hold them as important. Often they’re a sign that perhaps I’m not able really to getwhat I’m perceiving.
  • What everyday practices help us connect with mystery (as each of us defines it)? Meditation? Music? Nature? Relationship?
  • When I connect with a sense of mystery, it resonates in my body. I feel a sense of spaciousness—a kind of whoosh of the walls of my mind and heart sweeping open to create more room for experiences, ideas, and feelings that I hadn’t quite imagined before or that I had forgotten in my hurry to get through the day. No wonder the Soul Matters folks suggest that “embracing life with humility” is the best spiritual practice for reconnecting with mystery. Humility makes room for more than my own clutched certainties. In fact, it helps me to live with the truth that life itself is, at root, uncertain. Accepting that, I can find joy in the moments of surprise and wonder! Let’s have more of that, please!
  • It’s perfect that this is the theme for the month when we celebrate so many winter holidays: Chanukah, Solstice, Christmas … Here we are, joining human beings throughout the ages, using stories to help us make sense of this life, finding reasons to celebrate in the midst of darkening days, letting these old stories and celebrations teach us fresh truths about how we want to live all year long. I’m in! Let’s mine the heck out of this month for Mystery!

Comments Off on December Journal – In Our Own Voices: What Does It Mean to Be a People of Mystery?

Nov 21 2018

December Journal – Taking It Home: Making Space for Mystery

Published by under Minister's Musings

Theme: What does it mean to be a people of MYSTERY?

Taking It Home: Making Space for Mystery

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones


On either side of our chancel in the sanctuary at First Unitarian, we have a beautiful set of six gold disks, which represent the six Sources of Unitarian Universalism. The first one—the one at the top on the left as you look at them—is blank, a smooth gold surface that some of us think of as a mirror and others, with a wink, as a pizza plate. Either way, it’s a good representation, especially if we think of the mirror as reflecting our own deepest selves or the pizza as one we can assemble, according to our own tastes and intuitions about what nourishes us, from a wide-open selection.

The official language for the first Source reads, “Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life.” This is the source that we will explore throughout December, when the theme for worship, small groups, and religious education is “What does it mean to be a people of Mystery?”

Approaching this theme, I feel a dual longing: In the midst of so much uncertainty in our lives these days, I hunger for some reassuring certainty—some answers about how in the world we will address the many pressing problems we face. A little less mystery, please, about how all this will turn out; a little more direction and clarity about what we must do now for the good of the planet and of us all!

At the same time, I long for that sudden, often-unexpected experience of connection with those parts of life that remain, year after year, quietly, stunningly beautiful and transcendent. The carpet of fallen leaves that stop me in my tracks. The arrangement of moon and stars in the vast sky. The heartfelt conversation with my Lyft driver, shared on a cold night’s drive from the airport to my friend’s house in Brooklyn, about the deaths of our beloved parents. The dear familiarity of my friends’ faces, seen again after two years apart. The tingling tug of the interconnected web that keeps us flooded with compassion for people we don’t know but whose joys and sorrows touch us to the core of our broken-open hearts.

There are scientific or intellectual explanations for each of these experiences. Still, the very presence of them in my life sparks a sense of awe and wonder that feels mysterious.

Gradually I realize that my longing for answers and my hunger for mystery are not opposites but complements. I don’t have to stay stuck in an either/or way of thinking: either one way or the other, “all science or all supernatural” (the latter a word that doesn’t resonate with me). We can dwell in the both/and-ness of life. We can search for truths that guide us; we can choose and cherish that sense of mystery.

So in December, let’s pause at some point every day to make space for mystery in all its forms. Let us turn mindfully toward anything, large or small, that sparks wonder, awe, and deep appreciation. Let us notice what exactly grants us a “renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life”? Pause, notice, allow ourselves to feel the impact in our mind, heart, body, or spirit of these “direct experiences of transcending mystery and wonder.”

This spiritual practice makes space for hope in the midst of hard times, discouraging news, and crisis after crisis. So let us say a resounding “Yes!” to the invitation to make space in our hearts and lives for the mystery that sustains us.


With love for who we are and all we are becoming,


Rev. Nancy

Comments Off on December Journal – Taking It Home: Making Space for Mystery