Monday, December 28, 2009

Hanging out and spiritual practice

The new UUA president Peter Morales' article from last November has been making the rounds again. He's trying to inspire all people of faith to find their mission, to realize that we all have a ministry to follow, that we can identify what moves us and make it our mission.

Rev. Morales writes:

"I am convinced that we too often fail to recognize how much our children, youth, and young adults need to give. Hanging out is not a spiritual practice. Joining hands to work for something we care about is. Service is an essential part of faith development. We need to do so much more to engage the idealism and energy of our young people."

What moves me--what I am called to do is to work with our children and youth and helping them see the gifts they have right there in their own hearts. But I disagree with our Rev. Morales. I think that hanging out is a spiritual practice. What if we only had Service Sundays--the weeks like this past December 13th that saw tables of children and youth and adults creating gifts for folks who live in assisted living in our town--cutting greens and filling cloth bags for lovely sachets, wrapping lovely scented soaps and working hard to push hundreds of cloves into oranges to make clove oranges?

If we only had Service Sundays, what would we learn? That service is vital? That we can work hard together and live our belief that "service is our prayer?" that good works feel good to do? Yes, yes, yes. All true. But when would we learn about Jan Hus? How about Michael Servetus? Margret Fuller? Susan B. Anthony? Thoreau? Tim Berners-Lee? About where we come from? When would we discuss the teachings of Jesus and the Buddha and Confuscious? When would our children practice talking about faith? Between cutting greens? Maybe, but sometimes we need to be still and quiet or have a rocking discussion that might look like an argument from the outside.

And if we only had Service Sundays, when would we find time to relax and open up a little and really come to know each other? This past Sunday was a small attendance Sunday. It always is, it's the week after Christmas after all. We could have done a service project with the kids, or taken on a lesson or a worship. But I've learned from the years of doing this good work of ministry for children, youth and families that some of the very best Sundays are the ones that are very simple. This week we pulled out a few games; Chess, Mancala, Connect Four and Banana Split. We rolled out a rug, put on some good music (Jim Scott, a good old UU) and we played games. We hung out. It was deeply spiritual. I got to hear about the recent transition to homeschooling from one boy, about a little girl missing a family friend who is out of the country. I got to sit with a lap full of a boy I've known since before his little sister was even born, and now she can say three word sentences. We chatted, we laughed. We were quiet. We all had a wonderful time. We all went home smiling.

I think what Rev. Morales is missing is that there has to be a balance--we need more than just "education" and we need more than just "service", we need "hanging out" time together. Some of the best moments happen in the spaces in between. This is where we come together to synthesize the service we've done. This is where we come together to understand what it means to be a community. This is where we understand what it means to be Unitarian Universalists. We need all of these things in ministry for adults as well as ministry for children, youth and families.

There is no single path, there are many winding roads that lead us to our truth.

1 comment:

flyraeven said...

Thank you so much for saying this. I completely agree with you. Service is important, it's a very large part of our faith, and the benefit and joy that comes from helping ones community is incredible. But what about the time spent to become invested in said community so that our service is meaningful and not mindless?

Looking back on my childhood and youth in the UU community, some of the most spiritual moments came to me in times of "hanging out" and it was because of those moments that I WANTED to be of service to my community.