AM I Spiritually Curious?

Rev. Megan Foley
Sermon Date: 
Sun, 09/15/2013

Here we are, at the kick off to a whole church year of talking about the things that people might be spiritually curious about. We’ll be talking about life after death this year, and whether or not church matters, and what makes the world more just, and how to find the best path for ourselves. We’ll even be talking about God. Most of the things that people tend to be spiritually curious about, we’ll be tackling in some way this year.

Right now, as you think about this year ahead of us, you are probably either excited, or you are mentally, way deep down inside of yourself, making a little groaning sound. It all depends on where you are in the Amusement Park of Spirituality, right? There are some of you who, when asked, Are you spiritually curious?, just come right out with a Yes!, even when you don’t exactly know what is meant by that, and you maybe don’t know what’s going to come next.

Here’s a little confession: This sermon today is not, not exactly, completely for you guys, the ones who answered Yes. (But don’t leave.)

There are others of you who, when asked Are you spiritually curious?, have a more tempered response.

Some of you want to know what is meant by the question. What do you mean by spiritual? What do you mean by curious? You need more data before committing to anything.

Some of you are getting anxious. Why are you even asking me this? Are you about to tell me to believe in something that I don’t want to believe in? UUs don’t do that! (and you’re right about that).

Some of you are getting quiet, because this “spirituality” thing has been around all your life and you just don’t get it. In fact, maybe one of the things you have liked about UU congregations is that the topic of “what you believe” doesn’t come up as often, and no-one makes you feel bad for not having faith in something you’ve never experienced.

And some of you are feeling frustrated right now, or even angry, because the thing that you’ve heard that spirituality is referring to is NOT your cup of tea.

This brings us to the first thing I need to tell you about this year we’re starting off right now. There are two things that are so important, and will need to be repeated so often, that I’ve made two signs for me to hold up as needed. The first one works for right now, when we will shortly be grappling with this tricky “spirituality” concept: [show sign]

“Apply Broadest Definition Here.”

Throughout the course of this year we will be talking about subjects that have multiple, complicated, contradictory meanings, different for almost every person, starting with today’s Spirituality and including God, Life after Death, Religion, Evil, Justice, and many more. We’ll even be talking about Right and Wrong, and everyone’s definition will vary on those as well.

And these are subjects that you’ve heard about and probably thought about your whole life already, and you’ve listened to parents and friends and loved ones and spiritual leaders and politicians all refer to them, all in different ways. Each of us is bringing a lifetime of experience to these words and concepts, and each one of those experiences is unique.

My hope is that when you hear me using these religious terms this year, like today with Spirituality, you’ll remember that the way I’m using the words, and the way liberal religion in general is supposed to use the words, is with the broadest definition possible. Let me say that again. Liberal religion in general, and especially your liberal religious minister, we use these words with the broadest definition possible.

We do this in part because broad definitions make room for lots of different viewpoints, and that’s important to UUs. But we also do it because it’s a way to expand our understanding, to stretch what we already think we know for sure. If you’ve always thought about spirituality one way, and after today you think about it a new way too, then you have grown a little bit, and there will then be room for holy things to sprout in your life. And those little holy things sprouting, things like greater understanding, and deeper compassion, and more joy, and a greater sense of peace, those holy things are what you get to keep when you’re spiritually curious.

So let’s look at some of these broad definitions for spirituality, as we ask ourselves if we are, in fact, spiritually curious or not.

Last year the Seekers religious education class, the middle schoolers, followed the UUA curriculum called Riddle and Mystery , which asks many of the big questions that we are asking this year. That curriculum has a definition of spirituality that I like. It says:

Spirituality is a human quality inside everyone. It is the capacity inside you to experience wonder, mystery and awe, and a feeling of connection, whether to the universe, to nature, to other people, to all living things, to God or the divine. Each of us experiences spirituality in our own way. Meditation, walking, gardening, running, praying, singing, marching for civil rights, working in a homeless shelter, yoga — the variety of spiritual experiences is unlimited. Elements that seem common to a spiritual experience are the acts of paying attention, being in the moment, and reflecting on the experience. Your religion can nurture your spirituality by providing knowledge and experiences that are helpful. But like faith, humans can experience spirituality without a formal religion.

Spirituality. [hold up sign] Let’s recap.

Spirituality is: A human quality inside everyone.
Spirituality is your ability to experience wonder, mystery, awe, a feeling of connection.
Your feeling of connection might be with other people or other living things, with the universe and its workings, or with the divine.
Wonder, mystery, awe, feeling of connection are spiritual traits.
Everyone experiences spirituality (meaning a feeling of wonder, mystery, awe and connection) in their own way.
The variety of ways to experience the spiritual is enormous. In other words, the feelings of wonder, mystery, awe, and connection can come from any number of sources.

With this broad definition in mind, [sign] I wonder if we might now be able to see ways in which we are spiritual that we might not have seen before.

I’ve seen people here be spiritual when they hang out with a new visitor because they are sure that visitor has something interesting to bring to this community.

I’ve seen people here be spiritual when they think they’re just saying hi to someone, and the person they said hi to tells them something tough that’s going on in their life, and they stop, and listen carefully, and maybe offer a hug, and check in with them the following week to see how they’re doing.

I’ve seen people here be spiritual when they arrive early before anyone else, and they notice the mist in the meadow and there’s a hawk circling, and they take a moment to realize that this is the way the earth is supposed to be, not freeways and tall buildings, but hills and trees and grass and animals and fresh air, and they feel peaceful, and like they belong.

I’ve seen people here be spiritual when they come to worship on Sunday so they can quiet their mind and connect with the things that are infinitely creative, and larger than they are, and much longer lasting than they are, and afterwards they feel calmer, and soothed, and for some reason, more loving.

And I’ve seen people here be spiritual when they ask themselves whether or not they are spiritually curious, and they tell themselves that no matter where they are in the amusement park, they might like to look around and see what else there is to see. Because openmindedness is what UUs do, no matter what our beliefs.

Why? Why be spiritually curious? Why bother rubbing those spiritual eyes you all have and opening them up? Why bother looking around at the Amusement Park of Spirituality?

The short answer is: We are spiritually curious so that we can open up to changing for the better. Even when we’re pretty great to start with.

But more than change for the better. As a quote by someone named Glenda Cloud goes, change is inevitable, but growth, growth is intentional.

In religious life, we choose to grow, so we can make room for being the best that we can be.

And the easiest first step in choosing to grow is choosing to be curious. In fact, if we are curious, we don’t have to worry about growing at all, because growing will just happen to us. Really, it will: take it from me. Curiosity leads right to growth.

Rev. Scott Tayler of the First Unitarian Church in Rochester, New York, reflected on the nature of curiosity by quoting another UU minister we’ve heard from before, Rev. Victoria Safford. In Safford’s meditation entitled Open Eyes, she writes,

“To see, simply to look and to see, is an ethical act and intentional choice; to see, with open eyes, is a spiritual practice and thus a risk, for it can open you to ways of knowing the world and loving it that will lead to inevitable consequences.”

And Rev. Tayler responds: “I’m not sure I’ve ever thought of curiosity in terms of consequences. But I think Safford’s got it right. There is a type of curiosity that leads to entertainment, that mostly just fills our time. But there is another type of curiosity that leads to consequences, that leads to us being different.”

Do we want to be different?

There’s always going to be a part of us that says no, I don’t want to be different. I want to hold on to what I have. I want to find sure footing right here where I’m standing. I don’t want to rock the boat. I’m going to just stand in front of the “you are here” sign in the Amusement Park Of Life, because I’m afraid if I turn and look around, I will not know where I am anymore. There’s an aspect to changing and growing and consequences that is just plain scary, and maybe we’ve been scared enough, thank you very much. Maybe we don’t need to invite any more of it by being curious.

There might be another part of us that remembers how long it took us just to get to this part of the spiritual amusement park, away from the rides we hated. We’re happy to be standing where we are because we know how much of the park is full of rides that we just don’t like, the ones that turn us the wrong way or are too dark or make us feel sick. We made all the effort to track over here to the place we like better. Why keep moving when you’ve already moved so far?

Well, let me put it this way. We’ve already heard that spirituality is that feeling of wonder, mystery, awe, and connection that every human being experiences at least in some measure. Wonder, mystery, awe and connection, well, those are the things that make life worth living.

If you’ve ever wondered, “is this all there is to life?,” or “how can I keep going in the face of all of life’s difficulty and pain?,” well, the answer to those questions is to dive further into wonder, mystery, awe and connection.

Wonder, mystery, awe and connection cure life’s troubles. Wonder, mystery, awe and connection give life meaning when otherwise its meaning is not clear. When life is hard, even when it’s really hard, just a little bit of wonder, mystery, awe or connection shines a bright light on everything, making it not just a little bit easier, but even, sometimes, miraculously all okay.

We’ve all had those tough days that made us question it all, and then something objectively ridiculously small like a beautiful sunset, or a child’s welcome, or a talk with a friend, made our problems fade into perspective and gave us renewed strength for living. It’s like someone shared about what they experienced on 9/11/01: all that horror happened and that very night their child took his first steps, and that person realized that the world would keep on turning despite it all.

This always happens. It is the core of spirituality. But the other core is that you can’t just sit around waiting for it to happen on its own. Spirituality works with you. You have to be curious, open eyed, seeing. And if you do that, be curious, then all those holy sprouts, the wonder and the mystery and the awe and the connection, they find their way to you. That’s the deal.

I don’t know about you, but if I’m asked if I want to be different in the sense of having more moments of healing, redeeming wonder, mystery, awe and connection, then I find it easy to say yes to that.

There’s this guy named Brandon Trean who runs a website called He has a quote that may be useful here. He says this:
Regardless of how this [life] really ends, regardless if any religion is correct, regardless if a God or Gods exist, regardless if any consciousness continues after death, regardless if reincarnation exists, regardless if science has all the answers to this material world, regardless if ancient scriptures or scientific journals are true . . . This life is yours to lose, yours to snooze and yours to choose . . . So don't let some authority, regardless of how subtle or likable, stop you from loving, inquiring, growing and evolving.”

Maybe there is a sign that tells you “You Are Here” in the Amusement Park of Life. But that sign isn’t the boss of you. This life is yours to lose, yours to snooze and yours to choose. You can choose to grow, to open your eyes, to look around the park, to become more spiritually curious and invite more wonder and mystery and awe and connection in. I think you should choose that. I think we all should choose that.

I’ve read that to mystic poets, everyday people are like sponges, floating on an ocean of sweetness and blessing, trying very hard not to get wet. For the rest of this month, for the rest of this year, for the rest of your lives, I invite you to be like a sponge floating in the ocean of sweetness and blessing, and allow yourself to get totally soaked .

So may it be.