My sister and I stopped by the Barrow Book Store today; they have a great stock of books related to Transcendentalism, and the owner of the store, Pam Fenn, knows books by and about Transcendentalists. Pam told me this story, which she heard from a descendant of Hawthorne (I have shortened and altered the story as Pam told it to me):
In her girlhood, Ellen Tucker Emerson went through a time when she swore a lot. (Swearing in those days did not mean using the f-word, it meant taking the name of God in vain.) This embarrassed her family. Once, Ellen was invited to a birthday party, and her parents weren’t going to let her attend because of her swearing; but she finally convinced them to let her. She left, but came back ten minutes later. Her parents knew what had happened and began to discipline her, but she yelled that they should stop. “I came back because the g———d party is next week,” she cried.
Probably not a true story. But who knows.
For the past decade or so, I’ve been most concerned with the institutional health of liberal religion: there are human values which are carried best by human institutions, and without a strong institutional structure those values seem likely to wither like a plant without water and adequate soil.
But recently I have become increasingly concerned about the spiritual health of liberal religion in general, and Unitarian Universalism in particular. We religious liberals spend so much time on social justice — and there is indeed an overwhelming amount of social justice work to be done — and we spend so much time on the health of our institutions — and again, there is indeed an overwhelming amount of institutional work to be done — that it has come to seem to me that we are slighting our spiritual well-being.
Along with that, we have come to understand “spiritual well-being” in such individualistic terms that the phrase has almost no meaning within the context of institutional Unitarian Universalism. In the past month or so, I have heard the following mentioned, and even glorified, as activities that foster spiritual well-being: yoga; Zen retreats; shamanic training; dream work; walking the labyrinth; meditation that is rooted in non-Western practices. These are either highly individualistic practices, or practices rooted in another spiritual community; or both.
Yet I rarely hear religious liberals speak lovingly of the core practices that lie at the center of our own liberal religious tradition. Those core liberal religious practices include the following: Continue reading “An item of concern”