What Does It Mean To Be A People of Possibility?
Of all our topics this year, possibility is arguably most central to our faith. It has distinguished Unitarian Universalists from the start. Historically, when others saw depravity and sin at the core of human identity, we saw potential–sometimes with hardly any boundaries. When many were preaching that this world was fallen, and we should look instead to the hope of an afterlife, we found ourselves falling in love with the possibility of heaven on earth. Theologically, you might say that we were the people that believed that God hadn’t given up on any of us and so we shouldn’t give up on each other or this world. Psychologically, it’s led to us being a people of “why not?” Why not give people another chance? Why not fight what seems a losing battle? Why not risk a little failure? After all, to us the possible has always seemed more likely than not!
So that’s our religion. But what about us personally? How open have you been recently to “Why not?” How’s your faith in possibility doing? As we honor our religion’s trust in what’s possible, we need to allow space for the reality that trusting possibility isn’t so easy for many of us. Here’s how one Soul Matters member puts the challenge:
“When I think of possibility, I think of all the people and opportunities we close the door on. Such as: ‘I will never see eye to eye with my sister.’ ‘I couldn’t possibly leave this job to start my own business’ ‘I will never have close friends like I had where I used to live.’ ‘I will never really make a difference, so why bother?’ ‘UU’s will always be a small faith.’ “
We tell ourselves so many small things about who we and others are. And we know that’s not really because we’re pessimistic. More often than not, it’s about protecting ourselves. There’s comfort in convincing yourself that the work is hopeless; that way you don’t have to try and risk failure, hurt or disappointment yet again.
All of which is to say that maybe being a people of possibility has more to do with being a people of vulnerability and courage than we’ve thought. The work isn’t just about believing in possibility. It’s about being willing to endure a few wounds along the way. It can hurt to be hopeful. Especially with all that is going on in our world and society right now, we need to make room for that.
So maybe the question this month isn’t “Are you ready to lean into possibility?” but “Who’s beside you and who are you bringing along?” “Who have you gathered to patch and pick you up when the path gets bumpy?” After all, no one makes it down the road of possibility alone.
And perhaps that’s the real secret: remembering that “Why not?” is something we all have to say together.
Our Spiritual Exercise
The Possibilities in a Word:
An Alternative New Year’s Practice
In his early days, Abba Euprepius went to see an old man and said to him, “Abba, give me a word so that I may be saved.”
— from the “Apophthegmata Patrum, The Sayings of the Fathers”
Catholics talk of a time in the third and fourth centuries when people would go to the desert and seek out monk-like hermits for guidance and wisdom. This tradition is referred to as “seeking a word.” These wise “desert mothers and fathers” would offer people a word or a phrase to ponder for weeks, years and even a lifetime.
The idea behind this practice was that a simple word – when reflected upon with discipline – has the power to create possibilities in us and in the world. These words weren’t instructions as much as invitations to open oneself in new ways. As one writer puts it, they are about deepening and unfolding, rather than fixing and improving.
So this New Year’s lets lean into that work of unfolding, rather than fixing. Forget about making a list of resolutions to improve yourself. Instead try out this ancient practice of picking a word that will help keep you open to new possibilities throughout the year.
There are tons of words to choose from. Online you can find many examples of potent words that people have selected: embrace, listen, home, wholeheartedness, patience, presence, blossom, soar, overcome, treasure, nourish, expect, release, finish, delight, follow, lead. It’s not hard to imagine how holding any one of these in front of you on a daily basis can open possibilities and expand the way you walk in the world.
But how do you find yours? Well, it’s more of a matter of it finding you. For many, it will be easy. It may simply come up immediately. If not, take some time to make a list and then read it over until one pops out to you in neon lights. It often helps to ask yourself questions like: What do I need? What do I want? What do I need to focus on? What is in the way?
You will also want to find a way to hold on to your word. Some people put their word on their computer’s screen saver or cellphone’s home screen. Others have drawn their word on rock or made/bought jewelry with the word on it. Creative folks and families have done vision boards or paintings that hung on a wall in their house all year. Some small groups have written their word on a piece of paper and then given it to the group facilitator who kept them in envelopes for a few months and then returned them to the group members as reminders. Whatever your method of choice, this holding on part is key to making the exercise work.
So come to your group ready to share not only the word you chose (or that chose you) and why, but also the method you’ve selected to hold on to it. And maybe even give some thought to how you as a group can help each other hold on to it.
Enjoy the possibilities that this alternative new year’s practice unfolds for you!
Here are a few links to inspire and guide you along the way:
- https://abbeyofthearts.com/blog/2016/12/06/give-me-a-word-2017-8th-annual-giveaway/ (scroll down to read words people have chosen and why)
As always, don’t treat these questions like “homework” or a list that needs to be covered in its entirety. Instead, simply pick the one question that speaks to you most and let it lead you where you need to go. The goal is to figure out which question is “yours.” Which question captures the call of your inner voice? Which one contains “your work”? And where is it trying to lead you?
- Who taught you the most about “living and leaning into possibility”? How does their memory call you to today?
- What did your childhood and family of origin teach you about possibility? Are those lessons ones you need to remember or reject?
- What are others learning about living and leaning into possibility by watching you?
- We all have dreams of what’s possible. We live with a voice that says “One day I will…” What “possible life” has been with you the longest? Why has it remained a dream for so long?
- What “possible new you” did you pledge yourself to last new year’s? Is it time to pledge yourself to it again? Or is time to finally let it go?
- Is it possible that the thing you want is not the thing you need?
- Is it possible that the thing you’re sure you’re right about is wrong?
- Is “That was unfair!” or “I was wronged” keeping you from the possibility of moving on?
- Is avoiding rejection keeping you safe but also keeping you from what’s possible?
- Are you sure you’re too old to do it?
- Are you sure it’s too late to try it?
- is there more to see in your “enemy” than what you’ve been staring at?
- Is it possible that your loved one is doing the best they can? And finally need forgiven for not living up to who you want them to be?
What’s your question? Your question may not be listed above. As always, if the above questions don’t include what life is asking from you, spend the month listening to your days to hear it. Or maybe the question or call you need to hear is waiting in one of the quotes listed below. Consider looking there!