Monday, January 13, 2014

You are a Mirror of Eternity

By Bob Deyle

You are a mirror of eternity! What an empowering assertion. What a marvelous embodiment of Universalism. What a call to community.

Elizabeth Andrew, author of Writing the Sacred Journey: The Art and Practice of Spiritual Memoir, encourages each of us to share the stories of our personal spiritual experience: the grand questions with which we have wrestled, the wonder and awe that have filled us, the pain and suffering we have endured, the compassion we have expressed, the hope we have cultivated, and the glimpses of truth we have beheld.

Each of us has a story of inherent worth.
Each of us is the world and the heavens boiled down to a single drop.
Each of us is a concentrated universe made of stardust from the Big Bang.
Your pain taps the world's suffering.
Your loneliness reveals creation's drive for connection.
You are a mirror of eternity.

How empowering to be told that your personal spiritual experience is inherently worthy and true. Someone else does not assign worth and truth to our religious experiences. They are our own. William James, writing specifically about personal mystical experiences, asserts in his Varieties of Religious Experience that such experiences "have the right to be . . . absolutely authoritative over the individual to whom they come." He argues that each of us should be the sole judge of the value of our personal religious experiences based on their "immediate luminousness, . . . philosophical reasonableness, and moral helpfulness."

Elizabeth Andrew's assertions bring to mind former UU minister Forrest Church's metaphor for Universalist theology, "The Cathedral of the World," which he first described in Our Chosen Faith: An Introduction to Unitarian Universalism (1989), co-authored with John Buehrens. Church invokes the metaphor of a cathedral that embodies the whole of human religious experience, the windows of which offer unique illuminations of the mystery of existence. At one level, we can take the metaphor to represent the diverse religions of the world and the many individual sources of religious inspiration they have produced. But at another level, following Elizabeth Andrew's vision of individual universality, each of us is a window in the Cathedral of the World. In Church's words, "Each in its own way is beautiful. . . . Each tells a story about the creation of the world, the meaning of history, the purpose of life, the nature of humankind, the mystery of death."

None of us will ever see the Whole or be able to claim to know the Truth. We cannot insist that someone else accept the insights we form from our personal spiritual experience. Yet we should want to listen, with a willingness to be transformed, to each other's stories, because each of us is, in some way, a mirror of eternity.