Covenantal Faith

One of the comments I hear from time to time is that because Unitarian Universalists have no core doctrine, no central dogma therefore Unitarian Universalism cannot be a religion, let alone foster spirituality.  While it is true that other religions have doctrines and dogmas that shape the boundaries of their practice, our covenants shape ours.  One popular covenant that is heard in our congregations is this one.

Love is the doctrine of this church, the quest for truth its sacrament and service is its prayer; to dwell together in peace, to seek knowledge in freedom, to serve human need, to the end that all souls shall grow into harmony with the divine.  Thus do we covenant with each other and with God.

These are lovely words though sometimes hard to do. In this covenant we define how we are going to be loving people. We have placed seeking truth as a sacrament, as a holy obligation, and as something that holds a sacred significance to us. Service as its prayer; meaning that in our efforts to support the church, in our supporting our justice making causes, in our compassion to serve human need, and in our seeking to dwell in peace that truth is found in these efforts empowering us to be loving people. The prayer is answered through our loving actions “…to the end that all souls shall grow into harmony with the divine.” Notice we do not state that all souls shall grow into harmony with each other but rather with the divine. There is great wisdom here. It is in the diversity of our human relationships that new desires / new thoughts / new ways of being together can develop and shine. The divine here is that quality of connecting to our best selves / our higher selves / our higher power. We state in the last sentence that we are going to hold each other accountable to each other and to God.  God being that which is ultimate in our lives; the creative interchange as Weiman states; the ground of being as Tillich states.   

This covenant is sometimes hard to live out consistently. That is okay because it also teaches us how to forgive as we connect to the promise we make. In any relationship there will be opportunities for forgiveness and a church community is no different. We can never know what filters people are wearing on any given day. People could be wearing the filters of exhaustion, filters of feeling overwhelmed with work or projects, filters of not understanding, filters of a day where everything seemingly went wrong, filters of not feeling adequate, filters of being abused, filters of not feeling well physically. The list goes on. So in the process of interacting with one another, words are also spoken and heard through these filters. Misunderstandings occur, misperceptions occur, and feelings are hurt with people withdrawing from the situation or the task at hand.

This covenant reminds us to seek forgiveness from each other, to try to listen to the other person without our own inner self chatter happening at the same time. To reflect on what is being said to us and to grow in new understanding and appreciation of the other. Through this deep attentive listening to the other we can begin again to honor our covenant of faith.

Covenants require re-commitments in order to uphold them as central to our being together.  Covenants act as a centering touch stone that we can call each other back to and help remind of the promise to higher commitments and ideals we seek to reveal in our coming together.  When we fall short of that promise to each other and/or to ourselves we can always renew that promise and begin again. 

It is in examining our covenants on a regular basis that we can discover how we are fairing as a community of faith.  Even for those faiths that have doctrines and dogmas that its adherents are asked to affirm for themselves personally, covenants are sometimes developed to aid the congregants in living the ideals those doctrines point towards.  Covenants are deeply spiritual in their very nature dating back at least to the covenant made between God and Abraham and his descendants.  This covenant was reviewed regularly and was often the topic of the prophets.   Keeping a covenant is spiritual discipline. 

Love is the doctrine of this church, the quest for truth its sacrament and service is its prayer; to dwell together in peace, to seek knowledge in freedom, to serve human need, to the end that all souls shall grow into harmony with the divine.  Thus do we covenant with each other and with God.

Blessings,

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6 Comments

  1. Nicely said!

  2. I like the covenant except that the word “god”, in my opinion, should be dropped. It is redundant and unnecessary.

  3. Roger: This particular covenant is found as written in the current hymnal, “Singing the Living Tradition” number 471 and written by Unitarian Universalist L. Griswold Williams. Whether the word “god” is redundant and unnecessary depends on one’s concept of god.

    There are some congregations that have dropped the “and with God” phrase, perhaps for the reasons you gave, perhaps for other reasons. I gave a few definitions of god above; the ultimate, the creative interchange, the ground of being; all of which make the phrase an important one because they point to something that is larger than just each other.

    But the point of my post was not on using this particular covenant but on the concept of covenants being a part of a spiritual practice to live our values as Unitarian Universalists. There are many other covenants that congregations use all creating promises of living our values. Some include a concept of god and some do not– all valuable and useful towards a spiritual practice. Thank you for expanding this discussion.

  4. Hi Rev. Hammond,

    I agree with you on the importance of covenants, particularly as a spiritual practice. And I also agree that there are many variations in the use of the word “god.” That there are so many differences of opinion on what the word means makes it, in my opinion, useless. It causes confusion, at the least. If we wish to make a covenant between us AND something else, then we should name that something else in such a way that it is agreeable, recognizable, and understandable. That is my opinion.

    In any case, I enjoyed your post and will be visiting again!

    take care,
    roger

  5. Roger: Thank you again for adding another point regarding covenants. Covenants created between people need to be worded in such a way so that each person can assent to follow it with integrity. Covenants cannot be one sided agreements, they need to be mutually developed or chosen. The example of the popular covenant that I used above only partially works for you so if this covenant were to be used the members of your congregation would need to discuss and come to consensus; either to decide what the final phrase means to them or remove it entirely. Blessings,

  6. Thanks Rev. Hammond,

    take care,
    roger


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