First Unitarian Universalist Church of Berks County

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Purpose: Our Spiritual DNA

November 16, 2014
Rev. Sandra Fees

Last week, I talked about how we sometimes stumble onto our life’s purpose. It’s good to leave space for that in our lives. We’re hopefully always going to be discovering new things about ourselves and our world.

But that doesn’t mean we need to leave everything to chance. Being intentional can help us find more meaning in our lives. Articulating a clear purpose and then allowing it to guide us can bring greater consciousness and confidence to our living.

Just imagine being able to name what it is you want for your life. Imagine knowing what you want to be known for. This is the bottom line for your life. Unitarian Universalist minister Scott Tayler says that bottom line will answer this questions: “At your funeral, what do you want people to say your life was about?”

This reminds me of the story of Rabbi Zusya as told by Martin Buber.

A rabbi named Zusya died and went to stand before the judgment seat of God. As he waited for God to appear, he grew nervous thinking about his life and how little he had done. He began to imagine that God was going to ask him, "Why weren't you Moses or why weren't you Solomon or why weren't you David?" But when God appeared, the rabbi was surprised. God simply asked, "Why weren't you Zusya?"

It’s tempting to get caught up trying to be someone else. It’s tempting to try to come up with an eloquent or grand or clever purpose that makes us feel worthy enough. It’s even tempting to try to impress other people with our purpose.

But that’s not the goal. The point is to find what’s true and bring consciousness to it. The goal is to discover a genuine expression of the soul. Thich Nhat Hanh describes purpose this way:

Does the rose have to do something? No, the purpose of a rose is to be a rose. Your purpose is to be yourself. You don't have to run anywhere to become someone else. You are wonderful just the way you are. This teaching of the Buddha allows us to enjoy ourselves, the blue sky, and everything that is refreshing and healing in the present moment. We already have everything we are looking for, everything we want to become. We are already a Buddha so why not just take the hand of another Buddha and practice walking meditation? Just be. Just being in the moment in this place is the deepest practice of meditation. (Heart of the Buddha's Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, & Liberation : The Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, & Other Basic Buddhist Teachings)

Some of you know that Thich Nhat Hanh is a Zen Buddhist teacher. He has been quite ill, and his adherents say he is in the process of passing.

The idea that our purpose is to be ourselves is both reassuring and maybe a little scary. It’s reassuring because it means we already have what we need. It’s scary because so often we lack confidence that what we have is enough – that we have something to give.

Our UU faith teaches us that we are enough, that we have something to give. Unitarian Universalism affirms that each person has human worth, that we are born into this world with blessing. Our lives matter. We matter. This is our first of seven principles. We affirm he inherent worth and dignity of every person.

Part of the spiritual task of our community is to honor each person’s worth. Our covenant is to walk together nurturing the unfolding of our lives, our souls, our characters. Unitarian Universalist leader Andrea Lerner writes: “Our faith is not interested in saving your soul – we’re here to help you unfold the awesome soul you already have.”

This month, the spiritual practice for our Soul Matters groups was to craft a personal mission statement to help us do that. We were asked to name our bottom line. The Soul Matters groups are the small gatherings of 8-10 individuals who meet monthly to go deeper spiritually with the worship topic for the month.

As part of our assignment, we were encouraged to explore a variety of resources. A computer-generated program offered questions to guide the creation of a mission. It even tabulated the results into a statement. We also had the option to explore poems or songs for inspiration in developing a mission. Samples of other people’s mission statements were offered as models. There was a lot to consider.

I decided to try the computer-generated program. I just wanted to see what would happen. The program yielded a rather long and multi-faceted statement. I found it interesting but wordy. I edited it pretty extensively. I eventually distilled this into a few words. And then changed it again. As it turns out, the final statement retains little of what the program generated. That’s probably not very surprising. But the process gave me a lot of insight and helped in my reflection.

For now, my personal mission is “to give voice to the spirit.” This doesn’t tell me what job to hold, where to live or which specific social justice projects to work on. It doesn’t even spell out which issues I care about most. Instead, it reminds me to listen to what’s stirring in me and in the world.

That’s how I know what it is I need to give voice to – by listening to my life, by being open, staying awake and being willing to have the courage to act – to give voice – to what comes. What comes may be an invitation to work on environmental justice, to practice compassion, to defend religious freedom, to express joy, or rest when I’m weary.

Honing in on a personal mission can help us see more clearly when we are being true to ourselves and when we are acting in ways that don’t honor our values and commitments. It helps me be me and you be you and Zusya be Zusya.

This month as our community continues to explore the idea of what it means to live a life of purpose, I hope each of you will devote some time and energy to crafting a personal mission statement. Is your personal mission to make beautiful music, to ease suffering, to embody compassion, to create more space for joy in your life, to learn and educate, to create, to love? What is it that is yours to be and yours to do? What’s your bottom line?

Amen. Blessed Be.

We are now going to have a few minutes to get started on that reflection with a meditation and a time for sharing.