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19.03.2014
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Bio: Kim Rosen, MFA, has touched listeners worldwide with poetry’s power to awaken, inspire and heal. She is the author of Saved by a Poem: The Transformative Power of Words, and the co-creator of 4 CDs of spoken poetry and music. Touchstones members save 25% on a Personal Mandala or Personal Mandala Gift Certificates - visit the Product Catalog page and place your order by clicking on the "Buy Now- For TOS Members Only" button. In a culture quite enamored with its own progress, I think we can sometimes be too quick to rush on ahead to the next promising solution shining on the horizon, too quick to forget the lessons of history and, more importantly, the lessons of a living earth so much more ancient than we can possibly imagine.
They are sturdy stone outcroppings to which I cling against the relentless pull of a raging river, giving me a sense of gravity in a rushed and reckless mainstream that sometimes seems intent on plunging headlong off a cliff.
They are the same values encapsulated in the Seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism, which I hold in common with many UUs, Pagan and otherwise (as well as many non-UUs for that matter).
For me, sacred ambivalence, the holiness of liminality, is a principle that pulls me into its orbit again and again.
While the Seventh Principle encourages UUs to respect the interdependent web of all existence and to value the diversity of that web — a beautifully polytheistic attitude, you might think, which should warm the cockles of any Pagan’s heart — in some ways this diversity is still often framed as just so much quantum foam floating on the surface of a vast unifying silence that transcends and subsumes all things.
As the only polytheist in the group, I found myself uncomfortable with my own frustration at the reading selection, Sonata for Voice and Silence: Meditations, by UU minister Rev. Try as I might, I just couldn’t get over how Christian it all felt, even when it was obvious how hard Belletini was working to reinvent Christian theology and translate it into something more universal.
In his book, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality, Belden C.
Lane notes that postmodern thought can itself be seen as a recovery of the apophatic tradition. Our narratives and metanarratives are always flawed and ultimately unsatisfying, broken open by all those who refuse to be restricted by old, worn-out definitions of right and wrong. We have no choice but to recognize the undeniable diversity of stories that surround us, each with their own perspectives and biases. Lane writes, “The recovery of the apophatic tradition at the end of the twentieth century is part of a much larger distrust of words in our culture.


It is an effort to quell the verbiage that limits genuine discussion of what is most important.” Surely, we plead, there must be something that can unite us! What goes without saying is the assumption that, once we reach it, not only will we all agree on what it is, but we’ll all be in agreement with each other about pretty much everything else as well.
I look for that silence, and like the monotheistic God of Christian tradition, I continually fail to find it.
I was raised, like many people in Western culture, to think of divine Mystery as the mystery of union — whether that union is with God, or simply with the universe and one another. Even in the absence of other humans — perhaps especially in their absence — the desert comes alive with even the slightest fall of rain, and its diversity is revealed. At dusk, the weird and wondrous creatures hidden beneath the sands all day to escape the heat of the relentless sun finally come out to explore.
I have been to a handful of mountaintops, and every time their height only serves to reveal sweeping vistas of landscape unfolding around me in all directions: valleys and forests lush with variety, oceans murmuring in an always-shifting soup of life in which dwell the largest living things on earth as well as the microscopic organisms on which they feed. Some paths lead to the mountain peak, but others are perfectly content to wander among the foothills. Some dwell in the intimate harshness of the desert, while others strive to cross it and reach the sea. And each path opens up myriad unique relationships and realizations that cannot be discovered or lived in any other way.
The more we embrace diversity as a guiding value, the more obvious it becomes that diversity, multiplicity, is a good in itself, to be valued for its own sake and not simply for the imagined unity that it might one day promise.The principles of love, service, beauty, responsibility: how fantastic it is to discover there are a million ways to embody these values in our lives! What a blessing that each of us will strive towards these goals in our own unique ways!Yet within the din of our many ways of loving, there is still a need for silence, for a quiet space in which to catch our breath.
I would not betray my fellow introverts by denying how vital silence and solitude can be for the soul.
And so I find myself drawn back again — by the tricky pull of sacred ambivalence — toward a need to celebrate values that are so often overlooked, especially by a church culture defined by its extroverts. Week to week, those who are able to attend these small group discussions undeniably influence the shape that the conversation takes.
In the space opened up within a small group, each person’s individuality and unique personality has a chance to shine, fully seen and recognized by others.


I think a few moments of quiet meditation offer a refreshing and necessary break from the format more typical of Protestant Christian services that mostly involve sitting still listening to an authority figure lecture at you between organ-accompanied hymns in a range that nobody can comfortably reach. As a break from this sort of ritual, silence comes as an opportunity for gentle embodiment. It helps to balance out the heady intellectualism of Unitarian Universalism and the tendency of its Christian heritage towards disembodied theological abstraction. To sit quietly with your own body for a moment or two, surrounded by the quietly-breathing bodies of many others, is a grounding experience. Within these moments, we have time to discover that silence is not a blank emptiness, but a chance to listen more deeply, with greater attention. What we hear might be only the sound of our own breathing, the ringing of blood in our ears, or the tension in our own limbs… or we may hear the restless shuffling of other feet, the shifting weight of our neighbor seeking their own center of balance, or the occasional cough of the person sitting next to us. As much as I strive to honor my ancestors and stay grounded in the wisdom offered by earth-rooted tradition, I also grow weary of this mistake that seems all too common among Pagans today.
For it is a mistake to believe too strongly in the power of cultus and habitus, to believe that if we can just recreate the correct ritual formulas in just the right way, that alone will be enough for us to capture the spirit that once inspired them.
There is no shorter path to the empty formalism of the cargo cult.So it is the dance of sacred ambivalence that moves me through the ebb and flow of my spiritual life.
There is no dance without the tension of opposites, pushing and pulling against one another. In the end, even the desert monks and mountain sages recognized the need to temper the apophatic love of silence with the kataphatic enthusiasm for language, metaphor and imagery. There is danger in posing a sharp dichotomy between apophatic and kataphatic approaches, as if the one were superior to the other, as if the higher and purer silence of apophatic mysticism properly took precedence over the concrete concerns of community and speech. In it, Belletini shows us beautifully how contemplating the nameless bubbles up into a joyful cacophony of names, and how the astonishment we feel in the face of the multitude leads us back once more into profound silence:O Mystery that everything exists! Nurturing the earth-rooted, sea-soaked, mist-and-mystic spiritual heritage of her Celtic ancestors, she explores themes of peace, poesis and wilderness through essays, poetry and podcasting.



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