Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sunday morning brought a breezy, leafy rain. Betty's sermon was about the church as a container for growing one's heart. She donned a beflowered gardener's hat, mud-stained gloves and brandished a flower pot when the children gathered around her.

And later after the children were gone she expounded on one of her favorite names for us, faith community. I'm not sure that I followed everything she said about faith and how it is lived. I agree that one of the welcome things about church is that it is a faith community, but I get a sense that I was working from a narrower (I might even say crisper) definition of what faith means. To me (as a scientist and son of a science teacher) faith is irrevocably about the unreasoning leap one takes when one reaches the outer limit of reason/science/empiricism -- call it what you will. Unitarian-Universalists generally value that reasoned, material-experience-based working out of life's questions and answers. And that may make them interesting philosophers, humanists, neighbors, activists and so on.

But what makes them a UU is often-enough an act of faith; is as Betty put it, laying the heart down on a set of principles. These principles don't have to be (and I think can't be and probably shouldn't be) reasoned out, or argued for, or proved in some objective sense. The act of faith is taking that leap and saying that, "I don't need proof that every human being deserves my love and respect -- I'm just going to lay my heart down on that precept and simply declare it so."

(Of course, what I see as a leap of faith, other people experience as knowing what is ineffably true, and that creates some tension when the term faith seems a disparagement . . . .)

There's nothing inherently constructive or activating about leaps of faith. Most people's acts of faith are pretty misguided and counter-productive as far as I'm concerned. But when you have legitimately taken reason and argument as far as you can take them -- and you've looked into the word-less and reason-less regions of self and other and found a place beyond that, where it seems right to lay down your heart -- then faith is the act we have.

And a faith community is nothing more than the band of people that happens when a group of people make the same leap.

Maybe that's what Betty said and I just needed to put things in my own words, or maybe she was adding something to that. In any case I can thank church and leafy rain for once again for keeping the spiritual and philosophical juices flowing . . .