An expression

This past weekend I spent the day singing shape note music, and there was a moment when I was sitting on the front bench of the bass section, and I looked up as the leader brought us in on a fuguing tune: the leader’s facial expression caught my eye — eyes rolled slightly upward, lids slightly lowered, cheeks slack, head tilted slightly back — it was subtle, but I recognized that facial expression. It was the expression that comes at peak experiences, at moments of religious ecstasy.

And it occurred to me that I had never seen that particular facial expression in a Sunday service of a Unitarian Universalist congregation.

6 thoughts on “An expression”

  1. This is an expression that only happens when we let down our guard. Maybe to get to a place where we trust enough to have moments of religious ecstasy, we have to work on the reasons for our mistrust, for our guardedness.

  2. My wife and I were raised in the Southern Baptist tradition. They placed a lot of emphasis on emotional release in their worship service. This was included throughout the semom, music and the “invitation” at the conclusion of the service, not to mention the warm fellowship that went along with belonging to the church. They expressed a genuine feeling of Christian love toward one another. When you attended their church you became part of an extended family. There was a deep sense of belonging. You immediately felt the warmth and acceptance.

    By contrast, our somewhat limited experience with UU churches has been very different. Even though we now, as adults, agree with the concept of a creedless, dogma-free church we miss the emotional boost that we got from our associations with the Baptists of our younger days. The UU services we have attended don’t have the same sort of emotional build up and release. The music is often unfamiliar and the sermons are vauge. The UU’s place a great emphasis placed on “coffee hour” but we have never felt the same sort of warmth and personal attention that we received when socializing with the fundamentalists.

    As a result, even though we now identify as people on a spiritual journey, we find it difficult to get excited about joining a UU church. To be blunt, the UU churches we’ve attendee are obviously filled with nice, well-intended people, but we just aren’t feeling the love. The UU sermons can be uplifting at times but they don’t approach anything close to the transformational experience we knew as youngsters. I am starting to hear more passion in some UU services via podcasts but I have seldom felt that same sort of joy in person.

    If we could find a UU church nearby that addressed our emotional (spiritual) needs as well as satisfying our intellect we would probably become regular, active, supportive members. As of late, we are still searching for that initial spark. Maybe we will finally encounter it with the UU’s or perhaps it resides elsewhere in another liberal church. One thing is for certain, even though it’s a difficult concept to explain, we will know it when we find it again. When that happens, we will have arrived at home.

  3. Al, I’m with you. My family have been Unitarians since there were Unitarians in North America, so I’m committed to staying in Unitarian Universalism. But it’s a rare UU congregation that meets my emotional/spiritual needs — for those needs, I have in the past gone to Friends meeting for worship (unprogrammed), and now I go to Sacred Harp singings.

    This has been a problem for Unitarians going back at least to the Transcendentalists in the early 1800s. The early Universalists did better at meeting emotional/spiritual needs, but by the mid-1800s most Universalists had decided to get “respectable,” which meant to them that they should get rid of emotion.

  4. Dionysus or Apollo?

    Do the humanists/naturalists/UUs (or some of us) fear the emotional boost/release/ecstasy within a religious setting? We might even be right to be wary given that groups of people caught up in the moment can do abhorrent acts.

  5. Ah, Erp, we Unitarians have been worrying about Dionysus at least since the Second Great Awakening. The fears are well-founded, but surely the answer to “be wary of groups of people in states of ecstasy” is not “ban ecstasy from your gatherings altogether.” Reason without emotion carries its own dangers, after all.

  6. There should be emotion in balance with reason. I listened to a fascinating talk yesterday by a scholar of early Christian manuscripts, Michelle Brown, on the interactions between the Levant and the British Isles in the second half of the first millennium CE. The passion (and knowledge) she had for the subject was poured out for us.

    but ecstasy is a bit beyond that…. And certainly avoid bacchae.

    I get the feeling it is not the style of current UU ministers to work the congregation into a pitch of excitement like an AME Zion minister would do (admittedly I suspect a UU congregation would be poor grist [I’m judging from how Stanford Hospital’s AME Zion chaplain has trouble working MemChu when preaching]). However my experience of UU ministers is limited so I could be very wrong.

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