Monday, May 18, 2009

Sharing Global Faith - Issue II

Sharing Global Faith gathers Unitarian and Universalist voices from around the world in a unique devotional e-resource. Reflecting on various aspects of faith life, participants share spiritual insight into the stories and thoughts that fuel their ministerial call. Distributed monthly from April until September 2009, the publication seeks to deepen international connections and nourish the individual spirit.

In the second installment, three global luminaries explore the meaning of FREEDOM to our faith tradition by reflecting on the words of great American singer and activist Paul Robeson. We are honored to include the following contributions:

Rev. Steve Dick (former Chief Executive, General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches in Great Britain) sings of freedom’s unending revelation and passion for engaging difference.

Rev. Roux Malan (Unitarian Church, Cape Town) locates in human freedom the need for a ‘spacious spirituality’ that binds peoples together in sustainability.

Rev. Bill Sinkford (President, Unitarian Universalist Association) lifts up the great responsibility that accompanies humanity’s fate to freedom.

More HERE.

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Distinguishing Soul From Spirit

After preaching one Sunday morning, an enthusiastic and thoughtful man approached me with the following question: how to conceptually and theologically distinguish between the soul and the spirit? Needless to say, I failed to produce a comprehensive articulation of the soul-spirit link on the spot. However, with a bit of time for reflection, I believe I have arrived at a temporary consensus that works well in my own life:

The soul, it seems, refers to that innate longing of the individual to reach out to and connect with the interdependent web - human and divine. Inversely, the spirit describes the holy's indwelling in the individual by way of the collective - a binding together of selves in spiritual solidarity.

Jewish tradition helps gesture towards this malleable expression: in terms of the soul, we read that God ‘breathed the breath of life’ into Adam and he became a ‘living soul’ (Genesis 2:7). Hence, the soul operates as an animating principle or actuating cause of an individual life - in effect, a spiritual principle embedded in the human (and non-human?) experience. Spirit, on the other hand, derives from the Hebrew ruah, suggesting wind or breath - perhaps the 'breath of life' above. Thus, it embodies a vital life force moving within and through people and places.

I also find traces of this distinction in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib. On Pannaa 18, Guru Nanak Dev emphasizes the individuality of humanity's need for sacred relationship:

ਸਚੁ ਮਿਲੈ ਸੰਤੋਖੀਆ ਹਰਿ ਜਪਿ ਏਕੈ ਭਾਇ
Those contented souls who meditate on the Lord with single-minded love, meet the True Lord.

In Raag Maaroo on Pannaa 1096, Guru Arjan Dev Ji emphasizes the collective nature of the spirit:

ਇਕਿ ਵਿਚਹੁ ਹੀ ਤੁਧੁ ਰਖਿਆ ਜੋ ਸਤਸੰਗਿ ਮਿਲਾਈਆ
You enshrined spirit within, which merges with the Sat Sangat, the True Congregation.

Perhaps most illustratively, Guru Gobind Singh paints the reciprocity and relationality of the spirit and soul in Dasam Granth: "O Individual soul, this is All-Pervading spirit of the universe" [Pannaa 326].

The two, then, interpenetrate in multivalent mutuality.

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Gaining Trust

In her blog entry entitled 'Trust and Obey,' Kit Ketcham navigates between skepticism and 'reckless trust' to arrive at a place of "not being afraid but relying on the wisdom and skill of others to help me."

Her disposition resonates profoundly. On my view, however, this trust resides not necessarily in the mind (i.e. a rational abdication of anxious agency) but rather somewhere deep in the belly of the spirit. Trust implies faith in that which is somehow moving-beyond both the orbit of the self (hence, the reliance on others) and the confines of the knowable (towards the Great Mystery). Trust demands a humble recognition of human frailty and finitude, alongside an impulsively flamboyant exclamation of gratitude for the promise of being and becoming. As such, trust speaks to the habituation of a willingness and openness to the flow of the universe.

On Pannaa 1106, Devotee Jaidev pens the following:

ਅਰਧਿ ਕਉ ਅਰਧਿਆ ਸਰਧਿ ਕਉ ਸਰਧਿਆ ਸਲਲ ਕਉ ਸਲਲਿ ਸੰਮਾਨਿ ਆਇਆ
I worship the One who is worthy of being worshipped. I trust the One who is worthy of being trusted. Like water merging in water, I merge into the Lord.

Much as water cascades over rocky tiers with the grace of adaptive elegance, so too trust enables us to endure rugged terrain with the dignity of fluidity.

O Source of Virtue - luminous source of hope - may I ever merge into Thee.

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