Thursday, December 10, 2009

My answers to a couple of the Pew Survey questions

In the Pew survey discussed in the immediately preceding post, I fit in the 35% who attend religious services in more than one place. Strictly speaking, I suppose, I'm even in the 24% attending services of more than one faith, depending on how far down the road one wants to go in debating whether UUism remains at the far left wing of Christianity or is now essentially non-Christian. (I'll just say that my UU church, which before the merger was a Universalist church, has a stained glass window of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, that is at least as big as any in DairyStateMom's lovely Presbyterian church!)

I would also be among the 49% who had "a religious or mystical experience," but I'm using the term very broadly, which the pollsters appear to do as well.

My own was in its own way very mundane. It was in my college years, riding a bus one summer morning from the campus down to the big city 2 hours away, perhaps on my way to mid-term break or something like that. I had read Alan Watts' The Book, which seeks to interpret Hindu conceptions of God for a Western audience. It is there that Watts introduces the metaphor of the Universe as "God playing hide and seek with God." That particular summer semester, if I remember correctly, I was taking both Astronomy and Botany, fulfilling my science requirements for a liberal arts degree. Now on this bus ride I was reflecting on the twin marvels of both: Astronomy's revelation of how huge the universe is, Botony's of how tiny and complex some of its components are. For me, in that moment the idea crystallized that there is something larger still, some greater coherence that could be called God and yet is beyond words--and that also had little to do with any one particular religious doctrine.

Now this moment didn't send me back to the Episcopal church that I'd pretty much left behind a few years before as a college freshman. And it didn't send me hunting for other religious communities -- it occurred at least 3 or 4 years before I entered my first UU church. What it mostly did was settle, for me, a nagging question about the nature of reality, at least as best as I was capable of doing.

Incidentally, about that UU church that I first attended 3 or 4 years after college: Here's the very first thing I saw, and it completely sold me on the place--the lovely "Rhenberg window":

It's what drew me into Unitarian Universalism, and remains my most important talisman in this faith.

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