Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Thin Places and the UU Service

I've been reading Marcus Borg's The Heart of Christianity (see especially Chapter 8), and he suggests that "open hearts" and "thin places" are central to being Christian. You can tell that your heart is open (as opposed to closed) when you "see" the world clearly, notice what's right in front of you; when you are aware of the awe, mystery and wonder that is life; when you have a grateful, physical response, a gut reaction to the blessings life presents you; when you are filled with compassion for the suffering of others and feel an ethical impulse to do something about that suffering and the system that created it; when you are aware of God, the Mystery, the Other, the Spirit. Borg says that an open heart is "in the world" completely, mindful of life, and unbound.

The Spirit of God opens our hearts through thin places.

The mind set that acknowledges "thin places" sees God as Paul does in the book of Acts: God is "the one in whom we live and move and have our being." God is everywhere, right here, more than right here. Borg quotes Thomas Merton:
Life is this simple. We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent, and God is shining through it all the time.
And occassionally, perhaps often if we "tune in", we experience God shining through.

Borg goes on to say that although one of the purposes of the Christian service is to worship God, another, equally important purpose is to create a sense of the sacred, a thin place. And this is where, in my experience, our Unitarian Universalist services are sometimes lacking. Personally I know with deep certainty that if the Sunday service I attend does not create that thin place on a regular basis, I will not be attending for very long. I attended one UU church for 6 months. The sermons were thought-provoking, the hymns thematically relevant, the setting serene. But in 6months, the only service that created a thin place, that gave me a spiritual hug, that opened my heart to the sacred, was Choir Sunday. I continued to attend the UU Sunday service occassionally, and participated in the life of the UU congregation, but I became a regular Sunday attendee at a nearby Episcopal church. And I was not the only one. Other members of that UU church, many who did not identify as Christians, sought out other services at other churches. This longing for experiencing the Other, the More, is not the exclusive property of Christians.

Borg spends several pages describing the elements that can be considered when planning services that will help to create a sense of the sacred. The hymns chosen, the music performed, silence, the words used in the sermon, the rituals, the physical space--all of these can be used to encourage the deepest recesses of ourselves to open and touch the More, sense the Divine.

Does the Sunday service you now attend create a thin place? Can you, right now, remember the last service in which your heart opened and you sensed the sacred? How long ago was that? Too long? Just enough?

If your service is not creating a thin place for you often enough to nourish you, I guarantee that lack will drain some of your energy and optimism in life. Read Borg's book to get a better sense of what might be missing. Talk with your minister, worship committee, music director, whoever plans the services. Get on the worship committee yourself. In this one life we have, our hearts deserve as many opportunities as possible to be opened, to experience God. Sunday service is the best place to start.

May it be so. Amen.

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