When I look back on my spiritual journey, I see three areas that played a role. The first was form, then social action, and finally nature. I grew up in the South and, with various relatives, attended a number of churches. One thing that interested me, as a child,was the different ways people behaved, especially in the time before service began. In the Episcopal church, they came in very quietly, kneeling and crossing themselves. In the Presbyterian church, we nodded discretely at our pew neighbors (always the same people). In the Methodist church they greeted friends on the rows around them with a few whispered words. And at the Baptist church, someone on the first row might call to someone at the back to come on down and join them. I never got much further than this superficial formal analysis. Theological differences didn’t interest me and in the end I lost faith in these churches when they failed to take part in the battle for civil rights.
When I discovered Unitarian Universalism, I found a church heavily involved in social action. Richard Marius and I lived in Knoxville and attended a UU church which housed the ACLU on Monday nights and the Knoxville Council of Christians and Jews on Tuesday nights, and so on through the week. After moving to Belmont I became involved in the Sanctuary Committee which sponsored a family from El Salvador, and the Coffeehouse which gives assistance to many good causes. But when I took the course “Writing Your Own Theology” I found I could not work out a definition that satisfied me. I needed the social action, and I had found an important community in the process, but for me, it did not seem spiritual.
It was, finally, a rafting trip through the Grand Canyon which helped me see nature as the locus of my spirituality. I had long been aware of the importance of place to me. I grew up in the Mississippi Delta, an alluvial plane of rich soil and big sky, with creeks winding through the fields. My first trip out of the South was to the Rocky Mountains, and the startling contrast between that vertical landscape and the flat land of home helped me to see and appreciate each more clearly. But nothing prepared me for the splendor of the Grand Canyon, seen from the level of the Colorado River. To be in a place of immense beauty, a mile down in the earth, surrounded by stone formed close to two billion years ago, a place which will continue while we come and go, is to be confronted dramatically, unavoidable, with the smallness of our human existence. I found this simultaneously exalting and humbling. I’ve returned every chance I’ve had, but I’ve realized that the reassurance of continuity, the sense of peace, I feel in that overwhelming place can be found in subtler form closer to home. Rowing on the Charles River early in the morning where I may see scores of herons or a pair of elegant swans. Or wondering through an old orchard on the side of a hill, the trees backlit by brilliant sun. Or simply walking along the bike path near my home with a glorious sunset peeking through the trees. These have become for me resting places on my spiritual journey.