When I pause to remember our spiritual forbears in the United States, I’m mindful that many Unitarians (and some Universalists) were people who believed firmly that we human beings can know the world through our exercise of reason. If we put our minds to it, we can come to know the origins of life on earth. If we put our minds to it, we can come to know the inner workings of the tiniest bits of reality. If we put our minds to it, we can visit (at least in theory) the very outer edges of the universe. If we put our minds to it, we can discern solutions to life’s most intractable problems. If we put our minds to it, and give ourselves sufficient time for exploration, we can know just about anything. There is no wilderness so deep or so dark that reason cannot penetrate it with the light of understanding. As a spiritual heir of the 19th and 20th century Unitarians, I continue to place my faith in human reason as an essential element of the well-lived spiritual life.
However, it is also clear to me that reason alone is insufficient for the full flowering of even the most modern spirituality. I think there is wilderness all around us—not only in the cold depths of oceans, or the vast expanse of deserts, or the lush darkness of rain forests, but in the depths of the human soul and the vastness of the human heart. I think there is wilderness all around us—both literal and metaphorical— and reason alone cannot lead us to understanding or clarity in the midst of it. We discover this wilderness in our encounters with evil. We discover this wilderness as we try to make sense of suffering—our own, or that of others. We encounter this wilderness when we witness human acts of selflessness, courage and love. We encounter this wilderness in our quiet, wordless moments; in our prayerful moments; in our moments of meditation; in our moments of losing ourselves in the greater whole. Sometimes, reason isn’t enough. What do we do then?
Our ministry theme for June is wilderness. I think there is a place for wilderness in our spiritual lives—a place of unknowing, a place of mystery, a place of blessed darkness, a place where wandering and searching are all we can do. I’m excited to wrestle with this idea as we pass from spring into summer. I’m excited to share my reflections on the wilderness in my life;and I’m excited to learn from you about the wilderness in your life, how you approach it, and what it teaches you.