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Horizons - September/October 2000

When Do You Make Time for the Timeless?
By John Buehrens

"To open my life more fully to wholeness and holiness, I have to make time every day to cultivate that openness through simple ritual."

For many of us it's an urgent question. The pace of life is accelerating, relentlessly, it seems. Work is valued, while rest is not. Keeping the Sabbath in the traditional way has given way to shopping mall excursions and Sunday soccer games. Even our attempts at recreation are too often evidence of lives "distracted by distractions from distraction," as T.S. Eliot put it.

Like most ministers, I work Sundays, so for years my wife and I have tried to take Thursdays as our common "Sabbath." But too often that day, too, is taken up with writing, email, and other things on our endless to-do lists.

Visiting a congregation somewhere last year, I mentioned that I'd visited more than 600 of our congregations in the last seven years. (Pride in working hard is seductive, you know.) Some wise soul responded, "Just how many days a year do you work?"

I'd never thought about it that way. But when I did, I was appalled. Ever since, I have been working hard (catch the irony) at better Sabbath-keeping--and not just on Sundays, or for me, Thursdays. After all, in our society, with its religious pluralism, the question of whose Sabbath to keep arises. And then there's the danger of worshiping a false god--a mere Sunday god, a one-day-a-week god. The very definition of "idolatry" is worshiping a mere part in place of the Whole.

The only spirit ever worth worshiping, I feel, is what Emerson called "the Soul of the Whole," the holy spirit that through time has inspired human souls to visions of justice--and thereby of wholeness. Yet I find that to open my life more fully to wholeness and holiness, I have to make time every day to cultivate that openness through simple ritual. 

I said ritual, not spectacle. Spectacle is designed to distract us, ritual to restore us. A quiet time in the morning, of reflection, preparation, and prayerful thoughts, about my own needs and those of others, starts my day. This makes it more natural to stop more often during the day, if only for a moment, to try to recover some of the balance and perspective I can so easily lose.

At a General Assembly a few years ago someone asked the rhetorical question "What would it take for Unitarian Universalism to really grow and become a more powerful source of good in the world?" In response, one of our leading religious humanists, the Rev. Judith Walker-Riggs, says she found herself thinking, "A thousand Unitarian Universalist ministers praying for each other every day!"

So I have come to do that. To pray each day not only for my colleagues but for all of us. And to wonder if Judith's answer didn't focus too much on clergy. After all, what would happen if 100,000 Unitarian Universalists, of all occupations, each had a daily spiritual discipline? One that expanded beyond the personal to the public--to our common call, which is to serve the common good, religiously. Perhaps then we would grow many-fold. And not only in our numbers and influence but in the depth and integrity of our witness to the world.

The fall can be a frantic season. May yours be one in which the Timeless enters into bits of time for you--on Sundays with others, to be sure, but also in quiet time each day. Time in which all the burdens and stresses of life are enfolded in renewed awareness of the Eternal, the unmerited beauty that is Being itself. And in that awareness may all the parts of our lives find blessing, wholeness, and renewed commitment, in the fleeting time that is ours, to help create justice and blessing for others.

Peace be with you!

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