Credo by Cathy Lilly

May 2017

I grew up as a Christian fundamentalist.  I believed that I was very fortunate to know God’s will in my life – it was written in the Bible.  In revival meetings I would listen very carefully for the voice of God and, sometime, in an electric moment, I did believe I heard it.  I was born again several times!  I was an avid bible student in my teens.  But then, in college, my first college boyfriend asked me “How do you know the bible is true?”.  I searched for an answer to this very pertinent question, that I had never once thought of asking, and then realized there was none.  For the rest of my life, I have considered myself an atheist.

Actually, now-a-days, I am more likely to call myself a non-theist.  It is a small difference, but signals to me that the question of a god’s existence is not the central question of my spiritual journey. 

It is the search to know God’s will for my life – or more secularly, my purpose in life, that continues to be the foundation of my spiritual quest.

In 1994 I attended a week-long UU leadership retreat.  I brought to that retreat my Christian heritage, my growing comfort with atheism, 10 years as a conservative Jew, and ten years in the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous.  It was a period of intense spirituality.  I wrote my first credo and I created and led my first religious services.  One thing stands out and holds truth for me even today.  We had an exercise where we meditated on what we would like to have on our tombstones.  What came to me was unexpected and I really didn’t understand it until years later: This is what I put on mine:  “She touched many lives and she made a difference.”

Now, here’s how I learned what this saying actually meant in my life.

Twenty-some years ago, I was regularly taking long walks in a beautiful cemetery close to my home.  I would start out thinking and end up praying. 

In my walks I would ask myself the question "what is the purpose of my life?  Why I am here?"  I would look at the squirrels and say :"They know how to be a perfect squirrel."  I would look at the trees and say "They know what it means to be a perfect tree.  Then I would ask: “What does it mean to live perfectly in harmony with my nature as a human being ?"  The answer came to me, clearly, that the essential nature of human beings is being a social animal. To be human means to live successfully and cooperatively in groups.  So, I concluded, the most important things I could do as a human being would be to interact with other humans, loving them, working with them, helping them and being vulnerable to them.  My fundamental role in life is in my relationships with others.

Understanding this, I came to realize that, first, my purpose in life was to love others and, second, that the way I could best manifest that love would be through work on their behalf.  If I did this, I would be doing “god’s will” in my life. 

This growing understanding resonated with a powerful mantra from my childhood,  Kahil Gibran’s assertion that “Work is Love Made Visible”.  When I run around here on Sunday mornings, I am showing my love for this congregation and the people in it.  When I spend time helping another alcoholic in early sobriety see the light at the end of the tunnel, I am making my love visible.  My current volunteer job is as a nursing home ombudsman.  Visiting and advocating for fragile elders, is work that shows my love.

Let me summarize – what I have discovered is that my purpose in life – my way of being fully human – is to be a part of human communities, loving , helping and working for other human beings.  In following this purpose, I am “doing god’s will” in my life.

This is what I do know and it is true for me.  This is what I have discovered.

There is much I do not know. All the rest, I do not know.

Here is a metaphor that is very powerful for me:    the air is full of information.  The entire history, science and literature of mankind is floating in the air around me.  Someone from the 20th century would walk in this wonderland and see nothing.  But, I pull out my phone, click on a browser, and all that information flows into my hands.  The entire legacy of mankind is in my hands at any moment. But invisible without the proper tools. 

What else lies around us that we are unaware of by our senses or by any current scientific device?  They say dark matter and dark energy is more abundant than ordinary energy and matter, and is all around us.  Thinking of this makes it easier to accept that I know so very little of the nature of the universe and makes me contented with the very limited understanding I have of the answers to so many philosophical, ethical and religious questions.

In conclusion, out of my lifetime of prayer, I would like to share with you the things that I found I need to be reminded of every day.  It began when I was walking in that cemetery 20 years ago.  Certain essential spiritual elements that were needed for my wholeness would be discovered, lost and then again rediscovered.  To hold on to them, I crafted a prayer that I use daily and distribute anonymously.  I have also created a “rosary” where each glass bead represents a phrase of the prayer.  I would be honored to read it to you today, in a spirit of meditation:

Thank you for the beauty of the day
Thank you for the good things in my life
Help me find strength today
Not my will but thine be done
Grant me serenity,
And Courage
In thy hands I place my spirit
My body too
And all I prize
I shall not fear

Thank you.

Credo by Peg Johnson

May 2017

I am a member of the Religious Education council at the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence, I am committed to supporting the development of programming to promote UU faith formation in the young people of our congregation. In addition to my work here, my daughter Annika read her Credo in this very spot two years ago.   On June 11th my son Ty, currently a coming of ager, will share his credo.

But, when I received the invitation to participate in the adult credo service I hesitated and nearly choked. I wanted to run! Until this moment, I never fully understood what I put my children through!

As a lifelong UU, I took a deep breath and I figured the time was now.  WOW. HELP. THANK YOU.

Obviously, I came around to a yes and have been delighted by how the Credo process has seeped into my daily life and renewed my spiritual self.

So as the credo lay before me, I asked myself, "What do I believe? What guides me?" As you might have guessed by now, my thinking does not follow a linear path. My father continues to remind me, according the Meyer's Briggs, I am an Abstract Random thinker. Ideas come to me like popcorn popping. Beth Ann reframed the chaos and suggested that my thoughts are like a beautiful mosaic.

I tried to open my mind to take inventory of my daily actions hoping somehow my repeated behaviors would shed light on my guiding principles.  Also, I am drawn to looking for signs and the mystical.  I opened up my heart and eyes to see what presented itself. Sign after sign came to me.  A magazine cover read, "Find your North Star!"  On April 9th, a beautiful painting of a starry night was projected on the sanctuary wall. My pew mate, Emma was wearing a shirt with stars. Luckily, at a worship meeting, Kim Wolfson looked to me and said something like, "What are you drawn to?"

The Answer - STARS. But how do stars relate to my core beliefs?

In extreme darkness, we can see the stars. In this time of uncertainty in the world, the image of a star and the constant light that it brings, gives me hope. We ourselves can become stars to light illuminate the dark path. We ourselves can help others recognize their own spark and worth. We can work together, and build communities of light.  We can become constellations!

To paraphrase Mother Teresa, "When you look at the inner workings of electrical things, you see wires. Until the current passes through them, there will be no light. That wire is you and me. The current is love. We have the power to let the current pass through us, use us, to produce the light of the world. Or we can refuse to be used and allow darkness to spread." 

These acts of illumination can be quite small. One star is my sister Jennifer. She strives to make a difference in the life of others. She is a high school cafeteria worker. Her daily mission is to take an extra minute to smile at and engage with the kids who seem to be struggling and suffering. My sister passes her glow to others. I try to follow her example.

The famous quote by Maya Angelou states-"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." If we can reach out to others in need, we can help them shine.

I strive to bring out the light in others. Recently, as a part of my job as an English as a Second Language teacher to adults, I had a chance to reconnect with a former student.  After 10 years in this country, she has a good job, has dramatically improved her spoken English, bought a home and is an actively involved mom to an autistic child. She casually mentioned how she helped a new student feel comfortable at their work place. With all of this evidence of success, she is ashamed that her reading and writing is at a basic level. She cannot see all that she has accomplished and the positive impact she is having on others.  She glows!  She is a STAR. In my interaction with her, I hope, I reminded her of all she offers to the world.  I want her to see her own light!

So in the end, we MUST recognize our own inner fire.  We need to look inside and choose to love ourselves unconditionally. We need to let our light out.  Next, we can illuminate others and them help remove the debris blocking their ability to shine.  Finally, reach out. Invite. Make a constellation. Light up the dark.

Ram Dass uses the image of a flower to make the point. He wrote: "When we see the beloved in each person, it is like walking in the garden, watching flowers bloom all around us."

Often, namaste is the final word spoken in a yoga class. This word means: The divine light in me, recognizes the divine light in you. To me, this sums it all up. You are divine. I am divine. We are divine. When we walk this path, we can create light in the dark.  We are stars.