Responsive readings

A selection of readings and responsive readings for us in Unitarian Universalist worship services.

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I. Opening Words
— Words for lighting the flaming chalice
— Words for the offering
II. Beauty and Truth
III. Nature and Cosmos
IV. Hope, Courage, and Love
V. The Great, the Brave, the True
VI. Work and Play
VII. The Human Community
VIII. Wisdom from World Religions
IX. The Heritage of Universalism
X. Liberation and Justice
XI. The Circle of the Year
XII. Closing Words

 

 

I. OPENING WORDS

I-1. Let Us Have Faith

Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith

Let us to the end dare to do our duty as we understand it.

— Abraham Lincoln, 1860.

 

I-2. The Stream of Life

The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world, and dances in rhythmic measure.

It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth in numberless blades of grass, and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers.

It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth and of death, in ebb and flow.

I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life. And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment.

— From a poem by Rabindrinath Tagore. (Tagore, a Nobel prize winner, was afilliated with the Brahmo Samaj, a Hindu group that influenced British and American Unitarians.)

 

I-3. Outwitted

They drew a circle that shut me out —

Heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout.

But Love and I had the wit to win:

We drew a circle that took them in.

Poem by Edwin Markham, poet, teacher, and Universalist.

 

I-4. We Believe

We believe in human nature:

That love is the most powerful force working within us.

We believe that all things change and grow:

That no creed or religion, no form of government of social order, no standard of beauty, no code of morals, is final and perfect.

We believe in the ultimate power of goodness:

That the long arc of the moral universe bends towards justice.

We believe in integrity:

It will never be put to shame.

We believe in the ability of the human spirit to continue the search for truth and goodness, even in the face of hatred and evil and falsity and lies.

We lift our hands and declare in the fact of all the follies and faults and fears that life is good.

Arranged from Harry Youlden in Social Worship; with material from Theodore Parker.

 

I-5. Together, We Affirm and Promote

We covenant with those in this congregation, and with the other congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association:

Together we affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person;

Together we affirm and promote justice, equity and compassion in human relations;

Together we affirm and promote acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;

Together we affirm and promote a free and responsible search for truth and meaning;

Together we affirm and promote the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;

Together we affirm and promote the goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all;

Together we affirm and promote respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

We know that systems of power, privilege, and oppression have created barriers for persons and groups with particular identities, ages, abilities, and histories. We pledge to replace such barriers with ever-widening circles of solidarity and mutual respect.

Together we strive to be a congregation that truly welcomes all persons, and we commit to building a congregation that empowers and enhances everyone’s participation.

As a free congregation and as free individuals we enter into this covenant,

Promising to one another our mutual trust and support.

Adapted from Article II of the bylaws of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

 

I-6. Together, We Affirm and Promote (Bilingual Portuguese/English version)

We covenant with those in this congregation, and with Unitarians and Universalists around the world. Together, we affirm and promote:

O valor e a dignidade próprios de cada pessoa;

The inherent worth and dignity of every person;

A justiça, a igualdade e a compaixão nas relações humanas;

Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;

A aceitação uns dos outros e o estímulo ao crescimento espiritual em nossos grupos;

Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;

Uma busca livre e responsável pela verdade e pelo sentido;

A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;

O direito de consciência e o uso do processo democrático dentro de nossos grupos e na sociedade em geral;

The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;

A meta de uma comunidade mundial de paz, liberdade e justiça para todos;

The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all;

O respeito pela rede interdependente da existência, da qual fazemos parte.

Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Unitários e Universalistas Brasileiros and the Unitarian Universalist Association.

 

I-7. Together, We Affirm and Promote (Bilingual Spanish/English version)

We covenant with those in this congregation, and with Unitarians and Universalists around the world. Together, we affirm and promote:

La dignidad y valor propio de cada persona;

The inherent worth and dignity of every person;

La justicia, equidad y compasión en las relaciones humanas;

Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;

La aceptación del uno al otro y el estímulo del crecimiento espiritual en nuestras congregaciones;

Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;

Una búsqueda libre y responsable por la verdad y el sentido;

A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;

El derecho de la conciencia y el uso del proceso democrático dentro de nuestras congregaciones y en la sociedad en general;

The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;

La meta de una comunidad mundial con paz, libertad y justicia para todos;

The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all;

El respeto por la gran red interdependiente de nuestra planeta tierra de la cual somos una parte.

Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Los Unitarios Universalistas de Puerto Rico and the Unitarian Universalist Association.

 

 

WORDS FOR LIGHTING THE FLAMING CHALICE

I-8. Unitarian Universalists around the World

The flaming chalice has become the symbol of Unitarians and Universalists around the world.

There are congregations around the world that recognize the flaming chalice as their symbol, too:

Unitarians in Romania and the Czech Republic, in Australia and the Khasi Hills of India;

Universalists in the Philippines; other Unitarian Universalists in North America.

As we light a flame in this chalice, let us remember:

For people like us all around the world, the flaming chalice symbolizes religious freedom and the search for true justice.

Dan Harper.

 

I-10. Here We Have Gathered

Here we have gathered:

Nurtured by the truth that some call God, and some call the highest and best in life;

Bound together by our common humanity;

Led by great spiritual teachers of past and present, from near and far;

Seeking salvation through our actions in this world;

With the ultimate goal of bringing true peace and true justice,

Here on earth, in our own time.

Dan Harper.

 

I-11. The Light of the Ages

The light of the ages has brought wisdom and truth to all peoples, in all times of human history.

We light this flame to remind us to seek wisdom in our own time.

Dan Harper.

 

 

WORDS FOR THE OFFERING

I-12. A large presence

For a relatively small group of people, we have a large presence in our community. People in the surrounding community know who we are, and what we stand for. The surrounding community may not know that we, as a general principle, believe in the inherent worth and dignity of all persons; but the community does know specific applications of this principle, such as the fact that we welcome all people regardless of sexual orientation, race, class, ethnicity, national origin, and so on.

It is time for this morning’s offering. By placing even a token amount of money in the collection box, you can publicly affirm your support for the general principles of this congregation; and by contributing as generously as you can, you can help enlarge our positive presence in this community.

Dan Harper.

 

I-13. Taking a stand for religious liberty

In the eighteenth century in North America, government money went towards supporting certain chosen congregations. But Universalists in Massachusetts fought — and won — a legal battle which established the principle that no tax dollars should support one state-sanctioned church. This was a battle against theocracy.

In the spirit of those old Universalists, this congregation receives an offering each week, as a public witness of our support for this essential principle of religious liberty. By placing even a token amount of money in the collection box, you publicly affirm your support for the principles of religious liberty supported by this church; and by contributing as generously as you can, you can strengthen an institution that stands for religious liberty.

Dan Harper.

 

I-14. A free congregation

As a part of the tradition of free congregations, we accept no money from any governmental body, nor do we receive money from any ecclesiastical authority, in order to remain free to govern ourselves. In addition to their annual pledges, each week our members and friends may choose to give a small additional contribution of a dollar or two as a public witness that we are, and remain, a free congregation.

Adapted from words used in the Unitarian Universalist Society of Geneva, Ill.

 

I-15. For special collections

Unitarian Universalism has its roots in the radical left wing of the Christian tradition. Our custom of taking an offering during the worship service can be traced back to the earliest Christian communities. Those early communities wanted to help others. And for the offering, if you were able to do so, you brought food — bread, cheese, olives, wine, dates. Then after the offering had been gathered, everyone shared a plentiful meal together. That way, the gathered community made sure the poorest members of the congregation had at least one big meal a week.

Today, in our contemporary version of that ancient tradition, all the money we collect during the offering will go to people in the wider community who are in need. [Say where the money from the offering will be given.]

Dan Harper.

 

 

II. BEAUTY AND TRUTH

II-1. The Way

The Way that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging Way. The name that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging name.

If it is conceived as having no name, it is the originator of heaven and earth; conceived as having a name, it is the Mother of all things.

We must always be found without desire. if its deep mystery we would sound; but if desire be always within us, its outer fringe is all that we shall see.

Under these two aspects, it is really the same; but as development takes place, it receives the different names.

Together we call them the Mystery.

Where the Mystery is the deepest is the gate of all that is subtle and wonderful.

Arranged from Tao te Ching [Dao de jing], Book I, trans. James Legge.

 

II-2. In Dealing with Truth, We Are Immortal

With a little more deliberation in the choice of our pursuits, all of us would perhaps become essentially students and observers.

In accumulating property for ourselves or our posterity, in founding a family or a state, or acquiring fame even, we are mortal;

But in dealing with truth we are immortal, and need fear no change or accident.

The oldest Egyptian or Hindu philosopher raised a corner of the veil from the statue of the divinity;

and still the trembling robe remains raised, and I gaze upon as fresh a glory as that first vision,

Since it was I in the ancient philosopher that was then so bold, and it is that ancient philosopher in me that now reviews the vision.

No dust has settled on that robe; no time has elapsed since that divinity was revealed.

That time which we really improve, or which is improvable, is neither past, present, nor future.

Arranged from “Reading,” Walden, by Henry David Thoreau.

 

II-3. Where Shall You Seek Beauty?

Where shall you seek beauty, and how shall you find here, unless she herself be your way and your guide?

And how shall you speak of her except she be the weaver of your speech?

The aggrieved and injured say, Beauty is kind and gentle. Like a young mother half-shy of her own glory she walks among us.

And the passionate say, Nay, beauty is a thing of might a dread. Like the tempest she shakes the earth beneath us and the sky above us.

The tired and weary say, Beauty is of soft whisperings. She speaks in our spirit. Her voice yields to our silences like a faint light that quivers in fear of the shadow.

But the restless say, We have heard her shouting among the mountains, and with her cries came the sound of hoofs, and the beating of wings and the roaring of lions.

In the winter, the snowbound say, She will come with the spring leaping upon the hills.

And in the summer heat the reapers say, We have seen her dancing with the autumn leaves, and we saw a drift of snow in her hair.

All these things have you said of beauty, yet in truth you spoke not of her, but of needs unsatisfied, and beauty is not a need but an ecstasy.

It is not a mouth thirsting nor an empty hand stretched forth, but rather a heart enflamed and a soul enchanted.

Arranged from “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran, adapted by L. Griswold Williams.

II-4. On Truth

[unison reading]

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant–
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

Poem by Emily Dickinson.

 

Strong>II-5. Great Is Truth

The young man said: Great is the truth, and stronger than all things.

All the earth crieth upon the truth, and the heaven blesseth it: all works shake and tremble at it, and with it is no unrighteous thing.

As for the truth, it endureth, and is always strong; it liveth and conquereth for evermore.

With her there is no accepting of persons or rewards; but she doeth the things that are just, and refraineth from all unjust and wicked things; and all men do well like of her works.

Neither in her judgment is any unrighteousness; and she is the strength, kingdom, power, and majesty, of all ages.

And with that he held his peace. And all the people then shouted, and said, Great is Truth, and mighty above all things.

Arranged from 1 Esdras 4.35-36, 38-41 (King James Version).

 

II-6. Wisdom

Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore gain wisdom;
and with our gain, also gain understanding.

Wisdom is more precious than rubies;
None of your jewels may be compared to her.

Length of days is in her right hand,
In her left hand are riches and honor.

Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
And all her paths are peace.

She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her,

And happy is everyone who has wisdom.

Arranged from Proverbs 6.7, 18, 26-27; 4.13-18; as translated in Translations of the Psalms and Proverbs by George Noyes (Boston: American Unitarian Association, 1886).

 

 

III. NATURE AND COSMOS

III-1. All Things Are One

It is wise to hearken, not to me, but to the Logos — the Law of all things — and acknowledge the oneness of the universe.

This Law is true forevermore, yet humanity is as unable to understand it when they hear it for the first time: all things are one.

Wisdom is but one thing: to know the thought by which all things governed.

And all human laws are fed by this one divine law. It prevails as much as it will, and suffices for all things with something to spare.

Arranged fragments of Heraclitus, trans. John Burnett.

 

III-2. The Lure of the Infinite

When you dwell at the shore of the sea, where gleaming sails swell with the breath of distant adventure, your thoughts, no matter how low and limited, cannot be entirely landlocked and earthbound.

The far sweep of the ocean calls to you, and at the sound of the booming surf there awakens in you something of the poet and prophet you were in your childhood days.

When you dwell by the shore of the sea, the wild strains of the alternating tides will keep alive whatever is wayward and untamed in your inmost spirit.

The ships that come and go will carry more than their visible freight: they will carry to far lands the invisible cargo of your dreams and desires.

You are a dweller by the shore, and your dreams are shoreline dreams. When you dwell by the shore of the sea, the merely possible is beneath your contempt, and the impossible becomes your daily meat and drink.

When you dwell by the shore of the Infinite Sea, the sand you stand upon is a beach against which waves beat from an Ocean other than sense can perceive —

When you know that wherever you happen to be, there is the shoreline between the finite and the infinite life, where tides come and go from a horizonless Vastness,

Then the sea-surge of the infinite will sing in your blood, and set your heart moving to the rhythm of eternity.

Arranged from “The Wonder of Life” by Joel Blan, adapted by L. Griswold Williams.

 

 

IV. HOPE, COURAGE, AND LOVE

IV-1. Hope

[unison reading]

“Hope” is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all

And sweetest in the Gale is heard
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm

I’ve heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest Sea
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb of Me.

Poem by Emily Dickinson.

 

IV-2. Love Casts Out Fear

For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.

We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love.

Let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.

And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts.

Those that live in Love, live in God; for God is Love.

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.

Arranged from the Christian scriptures, 1 John 3.11, 14, 18-19; 4.16, 18.

 

IV-3. Understanding the Nature of the Good

Begin the morning by saying to yourself: “Today I shall have to face an idle person; an unthankful person; a false or envious person; an unsociable and uncharitable person.”

Then say to yourself, “All these ill qualities have happened to them only through ignorance of what is truly good.”

But I am one who understands the nature of the Good: I understand that only the Good only is to be desired. And I am one who understands the nature of that which is bad: I understand that is what is truly shameful.

And I know that all these people, idle or unthankful or false or uncharitable, they are my kinsfolk. We are not related by blood, but we are related because we all participate in the same reason, the same particle of divinity.

How can I either be hurt by any of them, since it is not in their power to make me incur anything that is truly reproachful? How can I be angry, and ill-affected towards them, who by nature are so near to me?

For we are all born to be fellow-workers, just as as the feet, the hands, and the eyes must work together. So may we understand the nature of the Good.

Arranged from Meditations, Book I, no. XV, by Marcus Aurelius., trans. George Long.

 

IV-4. Times of Trouble

Save me, for the waters have risen to my very neck! I sink in the deep mire, where is no foothold, I have come into deep waters, and the waves flow over me.

I am weary with crying; my throat is parched. My eyes are wasted, while I wait for comfort.

May I be delivered from the deep waters, and saved from the mire so that I shall not sink. Hear the cries of the poor and afflicted.

The hearts of those who love life shall be revived. Then can I give glory to life with song and thanksgiving.

Arranged from Psalm 69.1-3, 14-15, 29-33 in Translations of the Psalms and Proverbs translated by George Noyes (Boston: American Unitarian Association, 1886).

 

IV-5. The Good Is Positive

Certain facts have always suggested the sublime creed, that the world is not the product of manifold power, but of one will, of one mind;

And that one mind is everywhere active, in each ray of the star, in each wavelet of the pool; and whatever opposes that will, is everywhere balked and baffled, because things are made so, and not otherwise.

Good is positive. Evil is merely privative, not absolute: it is like cold, which is the privation of heat. All evil is so much death or nonentity.

Goodness is absolute and real. All things proceed out of this same spirit, which is differently named love, justice, temperance — just as the ocean receives different names on the several shores which it washes.

All things proceed out of the same spirit, and all things conspire with it.

When we seek good ends, we are strong by the whole strength of nature.

Arranged from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Divinity School Address.”

 

 

V. THE GREAT, THE BRAVE, THE TRUE

V-1. Swords into Ploughshares

We shall beat our swords into plowshares, and our spears into pruning hooks:

Nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

But we shall sit every one under our vine and under our fig tree;

And none shall make us afraid.

Arranged from the Hebrew Bible, Micah 4.3-4 (King James Version).

 

V-2. The Open Road

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road!
Healthy, free, the world before me!

The long brown path before me, leading wherever I choose!
Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I am good-fortune,

Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Strong and content, I travel the open road.

The earth–that is sufficient,
I do not want the constellations any nearer,

I know they are very well where they are,
I know they suffice for those who belong to them.

I inhale great draughts of air,
The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine.

I am larger than I thought!
I did not know I held so much goodness!

All seems beautiful to me,
I can repeat over to men and women,

You have done such good to me,

I would do the same to you.

Arranged from “Poem of the Road” by Walt Whitman; 1856 edition of Leaves of Grass.

 

v-3. The Wisdom of the Sage

The sage, looking up, contemplates the brilliance of the heavens, and, looking down, examines the definite arrangements of the earth; and thus knows the causes of that which is obscure, and the causes of that which is bright.

The sage will trace things to their beginning, and follow them to their end; and thus knows what can be said about death and life.

There is a similarity between the sage and the cosmos, and hence there is no contrariety between the sage, and heaven and earth.

The sage cherishes the spirit of generous benevolence, and can love without reserve.

Arranged from “The Great Treatise” of the I Ching (Yi Jing), trans. James Legge.

 

 

VI. Work and Play

VI-1. Heaven and Hell

The return from your work must be the satisfaction which that work brings you, and the world’s need of that work.

With this satisfaction, and this need, life is heaven or as near heaven as you can get.

Without this — with work which you despise, which bores you, —

With work which the world does not need — this life is hell.

W. E. B. DuBois, “To His Newborn Great-Grandson.”

 

VI-2. Equalizers of This Age and Land

To us enter the essences of the real things and past and present events — the enormous diversity of temperature and agriculture and mines — the weather-beaten vessels entering new ports or making landings on rocky coasts —

The perpetual coming of immigrants — the wharf hemmed cities — the loghouses and clearings and wild animals and hunters — the free commerce — the fisheries and whaling and gold-digging —

The noble character of the young mechanics and of all free American workmen and workwomen — the general ardor and friendliness and enterprise — the perfect equality of the female with the male….

We come among the well-beloved stonecutters and plan with decision and science, and see the solid and beautiful forms of the future where there are now no solid forms.

Let us be the equalizers of this age and land —

To supply what wants supplying and to check what wants checking.

Arranged from the prose introduction to the first edition of Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (1855; p. iv in the original).

 

VI-3. A Magnificent and Generous Economy

Ellen Emerson, daughter of Lidian and Ralph Waldo Emerson, recalled this about her mother: “One of Mother’s talents was making something out of nothing and there was room to afford it great play.

“Every rag of remains of her days of fine dressing was used in one way or another with great ingenuity till there was nothing left of it. Every garment could be made to serve a second term.

“Whenever Mother saw an opportunity she spread out the wearing-out things and the stores in the bundle-trunk and devised intricate plans, having someone at hand to baste as fast as she could arrange the pieces.

“Economy was natural to Mother. She knew she was practicing a vigilant, active and inventive economy in all departments of her housekeeping.

“To her economy was a large science with many intricate and minute ramifications. Her economy did not lie in going without.

“Instead she wished everything to serve all the purpose it could. She was, as naturally, magnificent and generous.”

Arranged from The Life of Lidian Jackson Emerson, by Ellen Tucker Emerson.

 

VI-4. Putting in the Seed

You come to fetch me from my work tonight
When supper’s on the table, and we’ll see

If I can leave off burying the white
Soft petals from the apple tree.

(Soft petals, yes, but not so barren quite,
Mingled with these, smooth bean and wrinkled pea)

And go along with you ere you lose sight
Of what you came for and become like me,

Slave to a springtime passion for the earth.
How Love burns through the Putting in the Seed

On through the watching for that early birth
When, just as the soil tarnishes with week,

The sturdy seedling with arched body comes
Shouldering it way and shedding the earth crumbs.

From Mountain Interval by Robert Frost (1916). Frost’s mother was a Swedenborgian, and his father an atheist; his poetry reflects this religious mix of mysticism and atheism.

 

VI-5. The Creative Works of Humanity

What is so great a good as the joy of creating — of shaping by mind and hand the beauty which others may share.

Words that seem dull upon the lips of the crowd come alive to the poet; as a song they spring from her heart, inspiring the world.

The sounds of earth beat upon the ears unheeded; but one man touches the strings of a violin and our souls rise on wings of music.

Colors brilliant and dull pass unperceived before us; but a painter brushes them upon a canvas and discloses hidden glories.

Wonderful are the creative works of humanity; and wonderful are the minds that conceive them.

Honor to those who shape humanity’s dreams, and to all who from common things bring forth beauty.

Robert Terry Weston.

 

 

VII. THE HUMAN COMMUNITY

VII-1. I Shall Not Live in Vain

(unison reading)

If I can stop one Heart from breaking
I shall not live in vain
If I can ease one Life the Aching
Or cool one Pain

Or help one fainting Robin
Unto his Nest again
I shall not live in Vain.

Emily Dickinson.

 

VII-2. The Horizon of Our Minds

Let the horizon of our minds include all humanity:

The great family here on earth with us;

Those who have gone before and left to us their heritage of their memory and their work;

And those whose lives will be shaped by what we do, or leave undone.

Arranged from Samuel Crothers (1857-1927).

 

VII-3. Our Divine Responsibilities

If instead of indulging in pious platitudes about a perfect God doing all things well, we were all resolved to do as well as we can with the things within our reach,

There would be such improvement in human conditions that we would be astonished at our own achievements.

War, the summation of all iniquities, is buttressed, defended, and excused by all of the primitive and reactionary dogmas and traditions.

If a holy zeal to accomplish what is within our collective reach seized a majority of the human race, war and all the brood of evils that go with it would not long survive.

We are, in our collective capacities, the imperfect divinity that must make the world over into the kind of abiding place that we know it ought to be.

We cannot escape our divine responsibilities, however imperfect we are.

Arranged from the sermon “Speak to the Earth” by Stanton Hodgin, a 20th century humanist and Unitarian minister.

 

VII-4. A Time To Talk

When a friend calls to me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk

I don’t stand still and look around
On all the hills I haven’t hoed
And shout from where I am, “What is it?”

No, not as there is time to talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,

Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod: I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit.

Robert Frost, from Mountain Interval (1916).

 

 

VIII. WISDOM FROM WORLD RELIGIONS

VIII-1. The Middle Path (Buddhism)

Siddhartha Gotama, the Buddha, said: “There are two extremes which a religious seeker should not follow:

“On the one hand, there are those things whose attraction depends upon the passions, unworthy, unprofitable, and fit only for the worldly-minded;

“On the other hand, there is the practice of self-mortification and asceticism, which is painful, unworthy, and unprofitable.

“There is a middle path, avoiding these two extremes–a path which opens the eyes, and bestows understanding, which leads to peace of mind, to higher wisdom, to full enlightenment.

“What is that middle path? It is the noble eightfold path: Right views, right aspirations, right speech, right conduct;

“Right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right contemplation.

“This is the middle path. This is the noble truth that leads to the destruction of sorrow.”

This noble truth was not among the religious doctrines handed down from the past.
But within the Buddha there arose the eye to perceive this truth, the knowledge of its nature, the understanding of it, the wisdom to guide others.

Arranged from the Dharma-Chakra-Pravartana Sutra, trans. T. W. Rhys Davids.

 

VIII-2. The Person of Steady Mind (Hindu)

Arjuna asked: What are the characteristics, O Krishna, of one whose mind and heart are steady, of one who is intent on contemplation? How does the person of steady mind speak, sit, and move?

Krishna replied: Such a person, O Arjuna, in sorrows is not dejected, and in joys is not overjoyed; dwells outside the stress of passion, fear, and anger; and remains fixed in the calm of holy contemplation. Such a person is the Sage of steady mind.

Being without attachments anywhere, the person of steady mind takes evil things and good, and neither exults nor falls into despondency,

As the wise tortoise draws its four feet safe under its shell–so the one who has wisdom’s mark draws five frail senses back from the world, which otherwise assails them, back under the shield of the spirit.

Even a well-governed mind may chance to feel the sense-storms sweep over it, wresting strong self-control by the roots.

Restraining them all, such a one should remain engaged in devotion, and sit in quiet contemplation. When the senses are under control, the mind will remain steady.

If one ponders on objects of the sense, there springs attraction; from attraction grows desire, desire flames to fierce passion, passion breeds recklessness;

Then the memory — all betrayed — lets noble purpose go, and saps the mind, till purpose, mind, and person are all undone.

But, if one deals with objects of the sense, not loving and not hating, making them serve the free soul which rests serene —

Such a person comes to tranquility; and out of that tranquility shall rise the end and healing of earthly pains, since the will that is governed sets the soul at peace.

Arranged from the Bhagavad Gita, 2.55-63; drawn from two translations: that of Sir Edwin Arnold, and that of Kashinath Trimbak Telang.

 

VIII-3. Care for the World As You Care for Your Body (Taoism)

The Tao which originated all under the sky is to be considered as the mother of them all. When the mother has been found, we know what her children should be.

When we know that we are our mother’s children, and proceed to guard the mother that belongs to us, to the end of our lives we will be free from all peril.

Heaven is long-enduring and earth continues long. The reason why heaven and earth are able to endure and continue thus long is because they do not live of, or for, themselves. This is how they are able to continue and endure.

Therefore the Sage puts self last, and yet it is found in the foremost place. Because the Sage avoids self-interest, the Sage’s self is fulfilled.

You who would govern the world, honoring it as you honor your own body, you may be employed to govern the world;

And you who would govern the world with the love which you bear to your own body, you may be entrusted with the world.

Arranged from “The The Tâo Teh King of Lâo Dze,” trans. James Legge, Sacred Books of the East, Volume 39; chapters 52, 7, 13; with reference to the translation by Stephen Addis and Stanley Lombardo.

 

VIII-4. The Breathing of the World (Islam)

Cloak yourself in a thousand ways, and still I shall know you, my Beloved.

Veil yourself with every enchantment, and yet I shall feel your Presence, most dear, close and intimate.

I shall salute you in the springing of cypresses, and in the sheen of lakes the laughter of fountains.

I shall surely see you in tumbling clouds, in brightly embroidered meadows.
O beloved Presence, more beautiful than all the stars together,

I find your face in ivy that climbs, in clusters of grapes, in morning sun on the mountains, in the clear arch of the sky.

You gladden the whole earth and make every heart great. You are the breathing of the world.

Adapted from “Shams Ud-Dun” by the Sufi poet Mohammad Hafiz.

 

VIII-5. Human Nature Is Good (Confucianism)

Human nature is constituted for the practice of what is good. This is what I mean in saying that human nature is good.

When people do what is NOT good, you cannot blame their natural powers.

The feeling of commiseration belongs to all people; the feeling of shame and dislike belongs to all people;

The feeling of courtesy and respect belongs to all people; and the feeling of approving and disapproving belongs to all people.

The feeling of commiseration implies the principle of Humanity; the feeling of shame and dislike, the principle of Righteousness;

The feeling of courtesy and respect implies the principle of Propriety; and the feeling of right and wrong implies the principle of Knowledge.

Humanity, Righteousness, Propriety, and Knowledge are not infused in us from something outside ourselves; we are originally furnished with them.

To think otherwise is simply owing to want of reflection. Hence it is said, “Seek and you will find them. Neglect and you will lose them.”

Adapted from The Works of Mencius, 6A:5, trans, James Legge (with reference to translations by Wing-Tsit Chan and Charles Muller).

 

 

IX. THE HERITAGE OF UNIVERSALISM

IX-1. What Worship Is

Worship is awe in the presence of majesty,
It is hope towering above the wrecks of hope.

It is the thirst of the scientist for truth;
It is the passion of the artist for supernal beauty.

It is the mountain climber struggling toward the windswept peak;
It is the mariner launching upon unknown seas.

It is the seed pushing toward an unseen sun;
It is a mountain stream rushing toward the distant ocean.

It is the mean and ugly rising toward the sublime;
It is the sensitive ear listening to the music of the spheres.

It is this gathered community reaching out to the wider world,
As we express together our deepest yearnings for the loftiest in the universe.

Arranged from Clarence Skinner. Skinner was a Universalist minister who was prominent in the Social Gospel movement of the early 20th C.

 

IX-2. What Does It Mean To Be Religious?

It is in the round of common everyday life that to many of us religion must have meaning, if it is to have any meaning at all.

Not in formal observances, not in creeds or doctrines, however long ago proclaimed,

But in the lives we live, in the home, the community, and in the world, is the religious way of life to be found.

A religious person is one who fulfills the highest function as a human being in all relations with other human beings.

Arranged from Clinton Lee Scott. Scott, was the Superintendent of the Massachusetts Universalist Convention in the 1950s.

 

IX-3. The Universalist Idea of Humanity

Universalism believes in the universal relationship of all humanity.

A common origin means a common relationship. We may deny the fact, as many have denied it.

We may exalt one person to kingship and reduce the other to beggary.

But the fact of our common relationship persists through all denial and partiality.

Universalism believes in the common destiny of humanity in all times and in all stations of life.

Universalism believes that all human souls have a spark of this divine in their nature, and eventually, all those human souls will reach a perfect harmony.

Never was there such a bold proclamation of universal human relationship;

Never such implicit faith in the solidarity of the human race.

Arranged from “The Social Implications of Universalism” by Clarence Skinner. Skinner was a Universalist minister who was prominent in the Social Gospel movement of the early 20th century.

 

IX-5. A Pantheist’s Creed

I believe in the existence of a universe of suns and planets, among which there is one sun belonging to our planetary system;

and that other suns, being more remote, are called stars; but that they are indeed suns to other planetary systems.

I believe that the whole universe is Nature, and that the word Nature embraces the whole universe,

and so far as we can attach any rational idea to either, that God and Nature are perfectly synonymous terms.

Arranged from “Philosophical Creed” by Abner Kneeland (1833).

 

 

X. LIBERATION AND JUSTICE

X-1. Justice Like Waters

(unison reading)

Let justice roll down as waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

From the Hebrew prophets, Amos 5.24.

 

X-2. The Birthright of Every Human Being

Learned women are sure of an admiring audience, if they can once get a platform on which to stand. But how to get this platform, or how to make it of reasonably easy access is the difficulty.

Plants of great vigor will almost always struggle into blossom, despite impediments. But there should be encouragement, and a free, genial atmosphere for those of more timid sort, fair play for each in its own kind.

Some are like the little, delicate flowers, which love to hide in the dripping mosses by the sides of mountain torrents, or in the shade of tall trees. But others require an open field, a rich and loosened soil, or they never show their proper hues.

What women want is that which is the birthright of every being capable to receive it: the freedom — the religious, the intelligent freedom of the universe — to use its means, to learn its secret as far as nature has enabled them.

Arranged from “The Great Lawsuit” by Margaret Fuller (1843). Fuller was a Unitarian and Transcendentalist, and one of the great American intellects of her day.

 

X-3. True Reform

Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reforms. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions, yet made to her august claims, have been born of earnest struggle.

The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing.

If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground.

They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.

Find out just what a people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both.

Frederick Douglass, from “An address on West India Emancipation,” August 4, 1857.

 

X-4. True Reformers

Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, never can bring about a reform.

Those who are really in earnest must be willing to be anything or nothing in the world’s estimation.

Susan B. Anthony, “On the Campaign for Divorce Law Reform,” 1860.

 

X-5. Liberation of Mind

This is how to give rise to understanding and liberation of mind:

Go into the forest and sit at the foot of a great tree, or go to a deserted place and sit. Hold your body upright, and practice introspection.

Breathe in attentively, and breathe out attentively.

Breathe in and be aware of your whole body. Be aware of your whole body as you breathe out.

Breathe in and make your whole body calm and at peace. Make your whole body calm and at peace as you breathe out.

Breathe in with joy and serenity. With joy and serenity breathe out.

Become aware of your thoughts as you breathe in. As you breathe out, become aware of your thoughts.

As you breathe in, concentrate your thoughts and dissolve them. Concentrate your thoughts and dissolve them as you breathe out.

As you breathe in, you will liberate your mind. You will liberate your mind as you breathe out.

You will understand that all teachings are impermanent. You will be able to let go. You will contemplate liberation.

Arranged from the Anapanasati Sutta, trans. Chao Kung, with reference to the translation by Thich Nhat Hanh.

 

X-7. Four Freedoms

In the future days which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in their own way — everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants — everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments so that no nation can commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor — anywhere in the world.

That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, from the “Four Freedoms” speech given January 6, 1941.

 

 

XI. THE WHEEL OF THE YEAR

XI-1. The Circle of the Year

From the east, out of the air, the growing brightness of dawn comes each day.

May the rising sun bring me wisdom, may all beings share in the enlightenment I seek.

I await the light of gentle dawn in my dreams, clearing my thoughts for wisdom.

From the south, where summer never ends, comes the warmth that makes earth green and good.

May the work of my hands transform the world for good, as the summer sun ripens fruit and makes it sweet.

I await the fire and passion of summer entering my dreams, guiding me to create a world where all may live in peace.

From the west comes the power of the drenching storm, the surging waves, thunder and lightning, and the sweet waters of the rivers.

May the power of the waters wash away injustice and hatred from my heart.

I await the gentle mists flowing into my dreams, filling my heart with love for all beings.

From the north the groaning winter winds bring death of the old year, preparing the land for birth and new life.

I will draw strength from the darkness of winter, the darkness of the earth where seeds lie dormant, waiting to grow.

Into my dreams shall come mystery and power, and wonders of life and death.

Dan Harper.

 

XI-2. Litany for Flower Communion

The Flower Celebration is not a substitute for Easter or any other myth.

Its only motivation is to stress and to bring about the common humanity of us all.

As a symbol, we use flowers;

Because no wars have ever been waged in the name of flowers, though wars have been waged in the name of the Cross or the Chalice.

The flowers are used as symbols of the gifts which each person can make to our congregation and through our congregation to other persons.

Each person is able to express their individuality through the large variety of flowers.

And the exchange of flowers means that I shall walk, without reservation, with anyone, regardless of their social status, or former religious affiliation,

As long as that person is ready and willing to go along in search of truth and service to humanity.

Arranged from Rev. Maja V. Capek’s letter to Rev. Ernest Kuebler, June 1, 1961 (accessed from http://www.essexuu.org/majaltr.html, September 17, 2007).

 

XI-3. The Meaning of Christmas

Suddenly a cheerful voice cried out:

“A merry Christmas, uncle! God save you!” It was the voice of Scrooge’s nephew, who came upon him so quickly that this was the first intimation he had of his approach.

“Bah!” said Scrooge, “Humbug!” This nephew of Scrooge’s had so heated himself with rapid walking in the fog and frost, that he was all in a glow; his eyes sparkled, and his breath smoked again.

“Christmas a humbug, uncle!” said Scrooge’s nephew. “You don’t mean that, I am sure?”

“I do,” said Scrooge. “Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.”

“Come, then,” returned the nephew gaily. “What right have you to be dismal? You’re rich enough.”

Scrooge having no better answer ready on the spur of the moment, said, “Bah!” again; and followed it up with “Humbug.”

“Don’t be cross, uncle!” said the nephew.

“What else can I be,” said Scrooge indignantly, “when I live in such a world of fools as this? Merry Christmas! Out upon merry Christmas! What’s Christmas time to you but a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer?

“If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart!”

“Uncle!” pleaded the nephew. “Nephew!” returned the uncle sternly, “keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.”

“I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time,” returned the nephew, “when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time;

“The only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.

“And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”

Arranged from the first chapter of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

 

 

XII. CLOSING WORDS

XII-1. Look to this Day

(unison reading)

Look to this day;
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course lie all the truth
And reality of your existence:
The bliss of growth,
The glory of action,
The splendor of beauty;
For yesterday is already a dream,
And tomorrow is only a vision;
But today well-lived,
Makes every yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.

From the Khalidasa.

 

XII-2. Until the Shadows Flee Away

(unison reading)

May the truth that sets us free,
And the hope that never dies,
And the love that casts out fear
Be with us now
Until the dayspring breaks,
And the shadows flee away.

Arranged from the Hebrew and Christian scriptures (John 8.32, Romans, John 4.18, Song of Solomon 2.17).

 

XII-3. Go Forth in Peace

(unison reading)

Go forth into the world in peace,
and be of good courage,
and hold fast to what is good,
returning to no one evil for evil.
Strengthen the fainthearted
and help the weak;
and be patient with all,
loving all living beings.
So we rejoice in life,
and give thanks for that which is good.

Adapted from 2 Thessalonians 5.14-18.

 

XII-4. Eternal oneness

(unison reading)

Claim your right to touch the eternal oneness of life; promise yourself to do this.
Reach out to life, reach out to those around you; reach out in hope, in courage, and in love.

Dan Harper