Tag Archive for: Unitarian


OK, OK, Unitarians do not have (to my knowledge anyway) ardent pious folk who took the path of asceticism to the degree of wearing a hair shirt or living in a desert cave for decades. For edification’s sake, asceticism is the part of the mystic or saint’s path that includes renouncing worldly pleasures in order to become closer to God.  Those who have taken these extreme measures did seem to have some remarkable “other worldly” spiritual experiences (see Teresa of Avila, Francis of Assisi, Rabi’a of Persia, and lots of others in almost every other faith, including Buddhists and Hindus (Gandhi chose a life of asceticism as well).  So, I am not knocking it.  It just that most people do not feel such a calling. 

In fact, most people are adverse to giving up anything they find pleasurable, even when they know it is bad for them (hence the challenges during Lent…) However, no matter how we may kick and scream, there must be some giving up of comfort, security, and ego, in order to attain any real semblance of Communion (with a capital C).      

The first and most famous of the Unitarian “mystics”, who chose a counter cultural lifestyle of purposeful simplicity that reflected and embodied both an ancient and more modern approach for those seeking unity with God, with Nature, and others, was Henry David Thoreau.  Coming from a family of wealth and privilege, with a Harvard education, Thoreau (much maligned in his day for it…he was considered eccentric by the kindest and a nut by the rest) chose to live in a hut in the woods of Concord, MA for two years to isolate himself from society so that he could better understand himself and others.  His classic book, Walden, or, Life in the Woods, now required reading for most High School students, is a compilation of this experiment.  Unlike the Desert Fathers, he was not intending to live as a hermit, and did take visitors, he was instead seeking to understand life more deeply by consciously removing many of its distractions.          

What Thoreau was emphasizing (among other themes) was the necessity of solitude, contemplation, and nature to “transcend” our over hurried existence.  His words and works still call to us today, timeless in their appeal: “As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will become simpler, solitude will not be solitude…nor weakness weakness.” While many of his oft quoted words ring of the uniquely American self-reliant spirit, they too challenge us to think and be, rather than to be always about the business of doing.  For as Thoreau puts it, “Being is the great explainer.”  

Many of his criticisms of society were harsh and at many times his views are expressed in an overly zealous manner.  Is that not true of the prophets, the social reformers, and those considered holy men and women of every place and time? I am not suggesting by this question that Thoreau was unique or special as a long revered saint, he was a man with his foibles and misinformation.  Yet there is a reason we keep reading him.

Thoreau is not asking us to build ourselves a cabin and live in the forest, he is asking that we shake off our complacency, that we do not live an unquestioned and unreflected life.  If we are happy with our lives, that’s good and yet we should challenge our assumptions and think more broadly.  If we are unhappy, he is pointing to another way.

“If a man (or woman :)) does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.  Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”


Note: Please hold this quote from Walt Whitman while reading today’s blog: “Do I contradict myself?  Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”

Ever since my days with the nuns (the real ones, who by the way I drove crazy with my incessant questioning during Catholic catechism classes), I have struggled in vain with the dogma of the Trinity. Try as I might, my rational mind has always found it to be too much philosophy and too little of the practical.  It has been only recently that I have begun to admire its poetry, for me personally, its’ saving grace. 

The construct of the Trinity originated with a handful of  Church Fathers, around or about 345 CE.  Before that, Christians had their own local “covenant groups”as it were, which met in people’s homes or shops. Ideas about who and what Jesus was flowed freely and unencumbered.

First, let me try to explain what the meaning of the Trinity is.  It means one God in three persons. They are all coeternal with one another (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). They all have their own substances, but at the same time are consubstantial.  And oh yes, they are all one essence (and other stuff called hypostasis, which means the substance, essence, or underlying reality).

What is an essence?  You must look to the tomes of Greek philosophy for this.  Words such as substance, consubstanital, essence, all have their roots in the Greek philosophers’ discussions of ontology (the study of what it means to be, to exist).  Thank you, Aristotle… NOT! 

So I’ve decided to blame the early Christian clergy’s infatuation with Greek philosophy for introducing a tradition that I can’t find in the Old or the New Testament.  In fact, in John 20:17- Jesus refers to, “my Father and to your Father, and to my God, and to your God.”  How could Jesus say that and then add, but my Father is me and my God is me? I guess  maybe because he was in his human body and at that point had limits in his knowledge of actually being God himself?Also, Jesus was a pious, practicing Jew, which means that he was a strict monotheist.  “The Lord our God is one God.” (Deuteronomy 6:4)

A multitude of proponents point to the familiar refrain of the “unfathomable mystery” of the Trinity. I’m all for unfathomable mysteries, although life itself is already a mystery,  do we need to make it any more complex?” Yet, I quote humbly from the words of Simone Weil: “I am not a Catholic; but I consider the Christian idea, which has its roots in Greek thought and in the course of the centuries has nourished all of our European civilization, as something that one cannot renounce without being degraded.”

Nun Tuck may be a heretic, but at least one in good company.  In 1531, a scholar named Michael Servetus wrote a treatise called “De Trinitatis Errorbus” or “The Errors of the Trinity”.  He was promptly burned alive at the stake for it.  He spoke of the Oneness of God, the Unity of God.  Many Unitarians consider him to be the first Unitarian martyr. 

I wonder if it would have helped any if they had known about the popular slogan, “What would Jesus do?” before choosing to burn him alive.  It’s difficult to believe that the Jesus in the Bible would have been as intolerant. Instead, if someone disagreed with him, Jesus would have done as he advised his apostles in Luke,  “Shake the dust out of your sandals”…  forget about it (or them), and move on.

For me, being a Christian means that if I follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, I will live wholly and holy.  It’s hard work with limited success, but like those who follow Buddha or Muhammad to the best of their ability, life is more abundant.

I mentioned earlier that what moves me is the more metaphorical understanding of the Trinity; a phrase that resonates for me is “The Dance of the Trinity.” Modern poet Ruth Duck describes it beautifully:

“Holy Spirit, who moved at the beginning of creation, teach me your divine dance, that I may move with you./Through my hands, invite others to the circle of love, that we may move in rhythm together./Praise to you, Spirit, who breathes the pulse of life, through Jesus Christ, who danced among us, to the glory of God the Source, in whom we live and move and have our being.”

Mother’s Day Wasn’t Always Hearts and Flowers

Today we celebrated Mother’s Day.  In our culture, like many other occasions and events, it is a holiday that has become a commercial windfall.  Cards, flowers, chocolates, clothing, and jewelry sales all get a boost.  It is the busiest day of the year for restaurants. 

But it’s beginnings come from the suffering of the working poor (in the grit of post-war Southern lives)  and the grief of mothers, wives, and sisters of men who came home from the Civil War on both sides,  broken, maimed, vacant…or who didn’t come home at all. 

Some credit the original Anna Jarvis, a working class woman of West Virginia who was disheartened by the sanitary conditions and the mortality rates of the area in which she lived and toiled.  Out of her 13 children, only 4 of Javris’ survived.  She called for a Mother’s Day in 1858, establishing women’s work clubs to reform and improve the lives of women and children.      

Two years after her death, in the year 1907, her daughter, also Anna Jarvis, began to hold a memorial for her mother and began a campaign to make Mother’s Day a nationally recognized commemoration, which it finally became in 1914.   

Another woman instrumental in the movement to forming a national holiday for mothers (to empower women in a meaningful way) was Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910).  A  social activist  and abolitionist, Howe rallied for a Mother’s Day for Peace in 1870, where women all across the country could come out and gather in peaceful demonstrations against war in all its forms.  Ironically, Howe is best known as the author of The Battle Hymn of the Rebublic (a popular Union “fight” song), yet felt compelled to imagine and create forums for peace as the realities of war came home to her in the devastation of returning soldiers, widowed and orphaned families.  She dedicated the rest of her life to the causes of pacifism and suffrage.

Both Howe and Jarvis were outraged in their lifetimes by any commercial gain from a recognition of a Mother’s Day.  It was a day to pray and join together for peace, to remember mothers (living and deceased), to honor and support the work of mothers everywhere.  The printed greeting cards and chocolates were banal substitutes for real affection and social justice.

And while I, today, was the happy and grateful recipient of gifts, heart felt cards, and a wonderful restaurant meal from my own brood, it also good for me to be present with all of the women who came before me to make my day (of equality, freedom, and relative ease) possible.  It is also important for me to remain in solidarity with all the women of the world for whom those gifts of liberty have not yet been given.  Complacency is an insidious and  lethal anesthetic. 

I will hold my joys and  sorrows as a mother together with the joys and sorrows of those past and present with my whole heart.

Hymn of the Day: The Battle Hymn of the Rebuplic by Julia Ward Howe  (not imagery for the meek or mild, but rather a call to action) 

Quote from the Hymn of the Day: “He is coming like the morning on the glory of the wave/He is wisdom to the mighty/He is honor to the brave/His Truth is marching on….”

*An historical side note: (Julia’s husband, Samuel Howe, was the founder of the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, MA and her maternal grandfather, Willilam Greene, was the governor of Rhode Island).  Religiously, she was both a Unitarian and member of the Society of Friends.