Ministers Column Februrary 2012

Our ministry theme for February is restlessness. Hmm. This is not a traditional theological term—not one of those haunting words. It’s more of a feeling or a condition. For example, my children grow restless when they’re bored. Many of us start to feel restless in February because we’re tired of winter and we’re beginning to sense the coming of spring. Sometimes my mind races at night and I lie awake, restless, unable to dream.

I think it’s fair to say that many Unitarian Universalists experience a kind of spiritual restlessness in our lives. We tend to grow restless in response to easy answers to our spiritual dilemmas. We tend to grow restless in the presence of creeds that require memorization but no analysis. We tend to grow restless with any religion that binds us too rigidly to the past. We tend to grow restless in any religious context that does not allow us to raise questions.

Restlessness (spiritual or otherwise) can be both physically and emotionally uncomfortable. When we feel restless it often means we need to move, change or flow; to analyze, question or examine; to explore, journey or travel; to mix things up, to shakes things up, to rile things up; to shift, to bend; to rise up, to wake up. When we feel restless it means we need to act in some way to alleviate the feelings of discomfort.

In 2005 the historian Leigh Eric Schmidt published a book about 19th- and early 20th-century liberal religious Americans (including Unitarians and Universalists) who were constantly pushing up against the limits of their received traditions, and constantly expanding the boundaries of what constituted acceptable spiritual practice and identity in the United States. He called the book, “Restless Souls.” It strikes me that restlessness is a wonderful source of innovation in religion and spirituality. Without restlessness to keep us wakeful and seeking to change and move, we grow stale in our spirituality. Our restlessness, if we attend to it, can lead to new beginnings, to freshness, to creativity.

I will elaborate on these ideas in my February 12th sermon, and then again in the February 19th service when we welcome spoken word artist Uni Q Mical into our pulpit. Uni Q is a dynamic, young performer whom I met at an antiracism conference in New York City this past October. She has some thoughts about restlessness and is planning to debut a poem on the subject when she visits UUS:E. Don’t miss her performance on Saturday the 18th at 7:00 p.m. at the Charter Oak Cultural Center in Hartford (presented in partnership with UUS:E!) I am excited. And I am out of my comfort zone in the best possible way!

For now, it’s February. We’re half-way through winter. Now is a time when we can expect ourselves to grow restless. If it happens to you, I pray you can move and change and flow well. I pray you can transform your restlessness into new beginnings, new insights, new perspectives and new creativity.

With love, Rev. Josh