Could I perhaps be shot out of a cannon instead? Into a mosh pit staffed entirely by willing, good-looking and talented British and Irish actors?
I find myself in more at odds with Rev. Katherine Ellis’ statement: “ I think we need sanctuary in order to truly experience a sacrament, in order to feel reverent and touched with holiness. You don’t see the holiness in the red bird singing or the child’s face when you are feeling scared and lost.”
First, I do believe, from my own experience working in congregations and prayer circles that the sanctuary of a church or sacred space adds a layer to my experience of sacrament. For me it is in the power of communal worship, the sharing of a ritual that expresses my faith with others, as if we are adding an even larger beam to the umbrella of light that prayer and faith cast over humanity (and, if humans are doing ti right, all life). However. I would suggest that perhaps the “you” Ellis adopts here is unreasonable; she might have made her case more sincerely if she had stuck with her own point of view and used “I.” For, in contrast to her, I do see holiness in a red bird, even, sometimes in the midst of utter fear or despair. Sammuel Calthrop, the 19th century UU minister saw it in tomatoes! Conversely, I almost never see it in children, even in the midst of the sacred moment of a dedication or coming of age service. This is because I do not look for holiness in children; they are their own independent souls and can be either good or not good. I find I prefer to take the pressure off of them that comes from calling them holy and instead calling their nurturing, care and education ‘holy.’ That might help them to remain good human beings which in turn will keep them closer to that which is holy.
So not only do I hold a significantly different idea of what is or is not holy, or when I see these things as such I am not alone. As a Druid, the forest is church as much as a building with walls and a steeple. It is not superior or inferior, just different. And in the church of the forest, a sacrament can just as easily be crows removing carrion from the ground before it can spread rot and disease, or a fox killing a rabbit so that the fox’s infant will live, or a rabbit in turn keeping the vegetation balanced and distributed. But there’s a sacramental nature to pursuits outside church that other religious traditions can find—Orthodox and Hasidic Jews live a life with many daily reminders of sacred law and practice—keeping kosher, separating refrigerators to do so, mikvahs, clothing and activities specific to gender…I am not trying to paint these aspects of their religious practice as sacraments. However, the strict observation of religious law keeps the sacred space firmly in the every day world. It challenges the idea of a weekly prayer service in a sacred space as the main thrust of a religious practice. I can’t be a Jew, religiously speaking, but my grandmother’s ancestors and modern Jews today have contributed a great deal to the church I am part of and I try to look for every day sacred space because their example inspires me as much as my spiritual practice of a Druid.
I believe we have sacraments as Unitarian Universalists. First, I think I should say that the great deal of autonomy in our congregations seems to insure that there are different numbers of sacraments as well as definitions of the term from group to group. I think it is fantastic that we have a UU congregation in Boston that uses the Book of Common prayer and offers communion monthly. I think it is equally important and wonderful that we have congregations that never mention Jesus, or if they do, they do so quite rarely.
Is it acceptable to view a sacrament as a ritual or act that reinforces what I believe the Buddhists call right action, or right thinking? For instance; I see child dedication as a sacrament because the ceremony gives a child and their parents a source of comfort, religious mentoring and spiritual reinforcement from a specific community. And our only hope, as it would be in any species, is in our children. Supporting them, then is a holy enough act that a specific ritual of dedication has the feel of a sacrament to me. Although not a Christian I have no dispute whatsoever with communion as a sacrament, though I take the protestant (loosely speaking!) view of it as a celebration and remembrance of Christ and the last supper. –After all, as a pagan, I see the bread as already the body of the divine Goddess; blessing it to make it Christ is a bit fatuous. The ordination of a minister is a sacrament, to me because it is a form of oath taking and dedication by and for someone willing to live their life as a spiritual caretaker.
A UU candidate may draw their personal faith from different sources and make that promise within themselves to different faces of God—but we are also committing to a life of serving congregations within our larger belief system, congregations seeking to live by the seven principles. So while I truly hope it’s not dodging an answer to the question of whether we have sacraments. I have tried to address, in very small part, my thinking behind some of the things I do or participate in during UU worship. I am not fully convinced we have a cannon and I am also not fully convinced that is a bad thing. It’s only a suggestion, but let’s see where our congregations go and what they need.