On Beloved Community

On Beloved Community


Spirituality is, I feel, about holiness, or wholeness. It is the quest to perceive, feel, embrace, [engage], address any person, any event, any object in its wholeness. It is also the struggle not to address persons, events, objects as separate or apart from or alien to oneself-[to not address them] as objects.

        It is to see reality relationally. “A rose is a rose is a rose”, according to Gertrude Stein. But it is not truly perceived in a holy way apart from the rose bush, root, stem, thorns and all, or apart from the earth, sun, rain, fertilizer, gardener, admirers and the rest of the wholeness/holiness. It is this way of seeing/perceiving/embracing that makes the rose-experience awesomely, wonderously religious. …

        Roses are simple compared to people. Roses are lovely and placid. It is very easy to forget the quest for holiness when a person appears to stand astride the path-cranky, obtuse, stubborn, violent. How great the temptation not to see, sense or address the whole person, the whole circumstance, the whole situation, and the whole of oneself. …How ever-present the challenge to be on the road to the holy-to eschew the temptation to power over, to manipulation of, to winning, to judgment–and to be obedient to the holy vision.

        Ah, yes, and how transforming. Witness those who have been humanity’s great souls, those who refused unholy temptations to divide the world into good/bad, women/men, black/white/yellow/red, saved/lost, pagan/Christian, capital/labor. They said “we” without implying an excluded “them”. Transforming spirituality indeed, for it opens the possibility of a non-violent, non-adversarial, non-exclusive world. It transforms the potentially religious into the actually religious-bit by bit, moment by moment, word by word, deed by deed, little by little. (Spirituality and Roses by Rev. Dr. Gordon McKeeman)


My colleague, may he rest in peace, Gordon McKeeman, began his career in Universalist Ministry at the All Souls Universalist Church in Worcester.  All Souls was a spin-off congregation of First Universalist Church.  The church was on Woodland Street near Clark University.  Gordon, or “Bucky” as his closest colleagues called him, was an institution within our UU movement.  He served as parish minister, President of Star King School for the Ministry, and as mentor to many who are now serving our movement.

Gordon’s reflection (above) describes the essence this month’s Touchstone Ministry Theme – Beloved Community, as the actualization of sensual spiritual perception.  Moving from the quest for a perception of wholeness (holiness), we are bidden to recognize the essential “religious” impulse deep in the human spirit, the experience of deep connection, of rootedness in something larger than the self.  It is fundamentally a quest to explore the contours of a life of integrity, a term which means literally “wholeness”.

This quest is personal but it is rarely solitary.  The contours of a life of integrity are the product of those values, cultures, morals and behaviors that are shaped by the groups in which one claims belonging.  And it is to these larger relationships that we are fundamentally accountable, even if we are driven primarily by a “quest of the heart.” Here is where I think those who claim to be “spiritual” but not “religious” come up short.  Even if this phrase is short-hand for a sense of deep connection without being a part of a formal religious body, that sense of deep connection does not happen outside of the experiences that are shaped by larger communities.  And such communities, which are “beloved” if they are opportunities to sense the deeper connections we crave, and to hold us accountable to being our best selves, while they do not have to be religious in the historical sense, do ground us in the larger realities which give us meaning, hope and purpose.  So, in a very real sense, they are “religious” meaning that they “bind us” to the larger quest for wholeness.

During this month, as we continue to explore the meaning and purposes of Beloved Community, I invite you to consider what groups have enlivened, deepened, challenged, encouraged, supported and celebrated your own quest for meaning and deep connection.