Everyday Spiritual Practices

“Everyday Spiritual Practices” a homily

Rev. Brian J. Kiely  May 29, 2016

Unitarian Church of Edmonton

Last Friday night just after the opening of the CUC Annual Conference in Vancouver I had the privilege of introducing my colleague Rev. Melora Lyngood of Victoria.  She had been named Confluence Lecturerer, an event sponsored by the minister’s association.  It is intended to a thoughtful and stimulating reflection for all of the Canadian Unitarianism.  Melora did not disappoint.  Her theme was compassion;  more specifically “by our compassion shall you know us.”

But the spiritual grounding she gave her remarks seemed well suited to our topic of Everyday Spirituality.  After all, what is spirituality but an opening up of heart, mind and soul to connection with others, with the universe and with whatever you understand divine.  Spirituality and growing compassion go naturally together.

I will be quoting extensively from her lecture in order to set up a conversation amongst ourselves.  So let me give you the questions to ponder right now:

If you have one, what heart-opening spiritual practice do you have?  How does it touch you?

Where do you find support for your practice? 

How is your practice reflected in your everyday life?

Let’s think about where this spirituality might fit into a life of compassion:

In her lecture Melora noted that all of our Principles are not really created equal.  Principles 1 – affirming the inherent worth and dignity of all persons and 7, respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a bit different from the others.

She quoted Rev. Barbara ten Hove:

Principles 1 and 7 are “statements of what we affirm about life;”

whereas the others are “more about how we agree to be together.”

Says Melora,

(Compassion)… is the logical conclusion of our 1st and 7th principles —

If everyone is valuable and we are all interconnected,

then we are called to care for all with compassion.

Our own new CUC vision statement (passed by delegates earlier in the day) makes  this point – “our interdependence calls us to love and justice”

That’s what I’m talking about when I say embodied compassion.

I think there is unity in our theological diversity.

I think over the past decade,

that unity has become a solid grounding for theological depth,

and for the practice of a set of common values,

not the least of which is the practice of embodied compassion

The genius of our principles as a basis for a religion is that it gives us:

core theological claims about what has worth;

as well as support for individuals in exploring

a wide range of personal theological variations–

theist, agnostic, atheist, pantheist, and so on.

Ours is a religion very well suited to today’s pluralistic culture.

There was a time, in UU circles, when we used to lift up,

as our most important principle, the one about freedom of belief, and we would then paradoxically use it as an excuse to wield our own particular beliefs as weapons.

“I’m a Unitarian. I can believe whatever I want.”

We would proclaim our own individual beliefs loudly and defiantly, with a subtext- sometimes implied and sometime stated–that anyone who thinks differently is stupid or unenlightened.

As a result, we ended up with many people feeling marginalized at best, maligned at worst – pagans, Christians, humanists.

It seems that nearly every theological group, except maybe the UU Buddhists has, at some point, felt disrespected in our UU communities.

I think we’ve matured since then.

I’m sure it still happens here and there, but I think we’re getting better.

I myself find the theological diversity in our movement exciting & enriching.  And I think more and more UUs feel the same.

Instead of crossing our arms and arguing against someone else’s theology, we lean in, “How interesting!  Tell me more:

how do your beliefs affect your day to day living?

How do your beliefs support you in your justice work?

This is the part of our new CUC vision that says we aspire to be “theologically alive’– ‘open’ and ‘ever-evolving,’

When I set my sights on the inspiring models of compassion…I see the spiritual work I have to do to live into my own best self.

You see, when I am busy or tired, when I’ve had too many difficult conversations, when I feel I can’t take on one more thing, I tend to assume this spiritual posture.  [ ]  head down, shoulders hunched, arms crossed, heart closed.

It’s a rigid, self-protective, self-focused posture.

It’s an emotional stance I can fall into when I’m feeling hurt, fearful, worn out, or just plain cranky.

My spiritual challenge is to stretch to this [  ] posture –

arms wide open

to be the warm, loving me that I can be, when I am centered, rested, and relaxed. —

The flexible me — open-minded, open-hearted, reaching out, able to hold others in empathy and compassion.

It’s the spiritual stance that goes with our core theology and common intention to hold one another and the world in love.

How do we do that?

How do we go from this  [ ] to [  ] arms wide open?…

I wonder how many of us engage in

heart-opening spiritual practices regularly.

I’ll admit that I don’t  – which kills me – I mean, what’s up with that?!?  I’m a minister – you’d think it would be a part of my job to engage in regular spiritual practice.

But other things always seem to squeeze it out – committee work and worship prep and email and so on. …

I should perhaps clarify what I mean by spiritual practice.

I see a spiritual practice as anything that evokes in you, a felt sense- a visceral sense-  of connection to something beyond yourself – That something beyond yourself could be god, or human community, or the web of life.

A humanist’s spiritual practice could be hiking to the top of a hill to watch the sun rise – as the light touches the clouds, the earth, your face.. you feel your body both expand and kind of melt.. you feel held in a larger interconnected web of life, and your heart opens..

Brian  So what do you do?  What practices open your heart? Inspire your sense for connection and compassion?  This isn’t a competition.  I know I have to think about it and what I call spiritual practice isn’t what you would necessarily expect from a ‘Minister”.  So what works for you?  What practices open your heart…to others, to life, to mystery?

A congregational discussion followed which is captured in the on-line audio file.


Buddhist loving kindness meditations are 

another effective heart-opening spiritual practice.

Many of you are familiar with these-

you wish wellness for self,

then for others, in widening circles..

family, friends, acquaintances, local community, global community…

You bring each person or group into your mind’s eye,

hold them in your heart, then recite a series of wishes…

Let’s do an abbreviated version right now.

I invite you to get comfortable, breathe in… breathe out..

Bring your attention to your center

Take a moment to check in with yourself…

How is it with your heart?

As you continue to breathe in and out..

I invite you to repeat aloud these phrases of meditation…

May I be well

May I be safe

May I be content

May I live with ease..

Now, bring into your mind’s eye, someone else – you choose –

an individual person or a group, known or unknown,

perhaps a loved one about whom you are concerned,

perhaps the refugees sponsored by our congregations.

Bring them to into the circle of your loving attention.

Then repeat these phrases-

May you be well

May you be safe

May you be content

May you live with ease .So may it be.