December Ministry Theme


By Marlene J. Geary

From the Unitarian Universalist Association’s “Spirit in Practice” set of workshops:

The things that are holy and sacred in this life are neither stored away on mountaintops nor locked away in arcane secrets of the saints. I doubt that any church has a monopoly on them either. What holiness there is in this world resides in the ordinary bonds between us and in whatever bonds we manage to create between ourselves and the divine. —Patrick O’Neill, ” Unitarian Universalist Views of the Sacred ”

For our Unitarian Universalist congregations to reach their potential as spiritual homes, we need to provide rich and meaningful opportunities for spiritual develop­ment. The Eight Spheres of Spiritual Growth is one model, one structure upon which such an integrated program might be built. Inspired by the Eight Gates of Zen training devel­oped at the Zen Mountain Monastery in Mount Tremper, New York, Spirit in Practice articulates eight spheres in which one can develop his/her spiritual life.

You can think of the eight spheres model as a spiri­tual analogue of the USDA’s “food pyramid.” To be well balanced in nutrients, you must eat from all of the different food groups in the food pyramid, yet not every meal need include food from every group. Similarly, engagement with each of the eight spheres over time can lead to a well-balanced spiritual life. To continue with the “food pyramid” analogy, our Unitarian Universalist tradition will not tell you specifically what foods you should eat, but the collec­tive wisdom of the world’s religions and the insights of modern psychology do point to a general outline of a “healthy diet” for spiritual well-being.

Personal Spiritual Practices: These are practices done alone and, perhaps, daily—such as meditation, dream work, journaling, prayer, and so on. They’re what most people think of when they hear the words “spiritual practice.”

Communal Worship Practices: Although Unitarian Uni­versalists affirm the uniqueness and individual nature of a person’s spiritual path, our movement is also founded on a belief that community is essential to that journey. Regular engagement with communal worship—the ongoing and collective search for truth and meaning—is one way of sup­porting this belief.

Spiritual Partnerships: Spiritual development is hard work, and most faith traditions affirm the usefulness of companions on the journey. A spiritual partnership can take the form of participation in a small group, a one-on-one relationship with another congregant, spiritual guidance with a minister, or one’s own personal therapy. What mat­ters most is the intentional relationship with another person and a mutual commitment to the journey.

Mind Practices: Could a program of spiritual development be Unitarian Universalist without an intellectual compo­nent? This is a role of adult religious education: book stud­ies, film discussions, lectures, adult forums, scripture stud­ies, courses in UU history, and other RE offerings are all ways to fulfill this dimension of a “rich, integrated pro­gram.”

Body Practices: We know that mind, body, and soul are interconnected. Doesn’t it make sense, then, that a well-rounded spiritual practice includes some kind of physical practice? It might be running, sitting, gardening, tai chi, massage, or virtually anything else that keeps us in touch with the miracle of our physical selves.

Soul Practices: These are the practices that exercise our creative selves—drawing, painting, sculpting, music, po­etry, and other creative endeavors. It has been said that the Biblical expression that humans are “made in the image of God” means that we are made to be creative.

Life Practices: Religious traditions from around the world agree that we eventually need to take what we do in private and in our congregations and bring it out into the rest of our lives—in our relationships with our family members, in our workplaces, in our interactions with strangers.

Justice Practices: A fully mature spirituality does not stop at the goal of transforming oneself, but must extend beyond oneself—to others—and include a vision of transforming the world.

Share the “Eight Spheres of Spiritual Growth” model with a friend, housemate, or family member. Talk about the kinds of spiritual practices you have engaged in and those you wish to learn more about, and ask the same of your conversation partner.

If you have children in your life, discuss spiritual­ity with them. Try coming up with a definition of spiritual­ity that is meaningful to you and also makes sense to them. Talk with them about things you do, and things they can do, to connect with the Spirit of Life—things like prayers at the table or at bedtime, or sitting quietly to meditate.

Take some time in your journal to reflect on your lifelong spiritual journey. When you were a child, what (if anything) were you taught or shown about practicing spiri­tuality? What practices have you engaged in as a child, youth, and adult? How have your spiritual ideas and needs changed throughout your life? What practices might speak to those ideas and address those needs today?