The second installment of my UU-Pagan series, The Mystery of the Many: In Silence and Song, goes live today over on the Patheos CUUPS blog! In it, I tackle a topic I’ve long been pondering, how polytheistic mysticism differs from the ways we usually talk about the divine mystery and the purpose of spiritual community in a mostly-monotheistic Western culture:
One thing that is not explicitly listed as a UU Principle, however, is ambivalence — though from what I’ve seen of our quirky community so far, it probably should be. For me, sacred ambivalence, the holiness of liminality, is a principle that pulls me into its orbit again and again. I can’t escape the drag of uncertainty, the uneasy knowledge that whole-hearted, uncritical commitment to even the most well-intentioned values can sometimes lead us astray. While the Seventh Principle encourages UUs to respect the interdependent web of all existence and to value the diversity of that web — a beautifully polytheistic attitude, you might think, which should warm the cockles of any Pagan’s heart — in some ways this diversity is still often framed as just so much quantum foam floating on the surface of a vast unifying silence that transcends and subsumes all things. Call it God, or Spirit, or Mystery, or whatever you like. Scratch a Universalist, and usually you’ll find they bleed just like a monotheist.
For centuries, the search for a God that is utterly transcendent and wholly other has inspired spiritual seekers to head out into the wilderness. The silence of the mountain peak, the emptiness of the desert, and the darkness of the cloud of unknowing, have all been recurring images of Mystery at the heart of a contemplative Christian life.
But I have been to the desert, and it is not empty. Even in the absence of other humans — perhaps especially in their absence — the desert comes alive with even the slightest fall of rain, and its diversity is revealed. At dusk, the weird and wondrous creatures hidden beneath the sands all day to escape the heat of the relentless sun finally come out to explore. I have been to a handful of mountaintops, and every time their height only serves to reveal sweeping vistas of landscape unfolding around me in all directions: valleys and forests lush with variety, oceans murmuring in an always-shifting soup of life in which dwell the largest living things on earth as well as the microscopic organisms on which they feed. Even in the depths of winter, the darkness does not have its final say, but snowfall illuminates the shadows with reflected starlight.
My lived experience of progressive values leads me to the conclusion that it is not a unity of agreement that we are seeking, but the freedom to disagree in a multitude of astounding and beautiful ways, each seeking our own paths.
How do we cultivate spiritual community in the face of this diversity? I think UU offers some surprising alternative approaches….
You can read the full article here. And look for Part 3 coming in February…