In the 1820s a new religious movement arose in the United States. This new movement was, in part, a reaction to the emphasis of rationalism within Unitarianism (then a stronghold in the Northeastern U.S.) as well as the hierarchy of intellectualism in Boston. The names of this movement we read in history books or have heard on Sundays: Thoreau, Fuller, Emerson, and Longfellow.
The movement became known as transcendentalism, albeit a strange name for a philosophy, which emphasized the immanence of truth, goodness and divinity. Transcendentalists were, however, trying to transcend the things they believed had corrupted the inherent goodness of the souls: systems, societal expectations, and power structures. If one could transcend these, they believed that a pure soul would be capable of creating real community with other pure souls. This led some Transcendentalists to create Utopian communities. Thoreau wrote civil disobedience, a guidebook to attempting to break down corrupting systems. And Emerson left the system and structure of the church to preach to the congregation universal about a soul awakening.
While it is unlikely any one of us will ever be fully free from the created world and the structures of that world, it is true that the Transcendentalists gifted us insights we still claim as Unitarian Universalists.
Many UUs affirm the idea that there is an “Over-soul,” something that resides in each of us and connects us. Even more would lift up the Transcendentalist view that people are born good with great potential within them. We also still hold that wisdom and truth reside within us; that we may use our minds above and beyond external documents or structures to discern truth. Finally, we value time and space to take leave from the structures and schedule of the created world to be in touch with the wisdom within.
The Transcendentalists remind us of the importance to quiet ourselves and listen to the still small voice within. They remind us to explore the caverns of our heart and mind, to mine for the wisdom kept within us. Like untapped resources, we can find ourselves burning out, never tending to the light within.
This is why we’ve brought back our weekly meditation time on Tuesdays. Each week on Tuesday from 6:30-7:30 we open the doors of our sanctuary for a time of meditation. We sit, stand, or lay down quietly before the windows overlooking the trees. This time of year a flood of green fills the eyes and the soft sound of the birds settling down for the night is a fitting chorus. Just this past week, I sat in our sanctuary. The peace was palpable. I saw a bird dart before the windows and the flame of a single candle flicker as the rains fell on the roof.
What do we discover in these meditative times?
As Wendell Berry writes in The Peace of Wild Things, “I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”
In a brief twenty minutes I remembered who I was.
As the refulgence of summer brims before us across North Carolina, I wish you the peace of wild things. As schools release and children run into the unfettered days of no schedule or structure, in the chaos I hope you will hear the wisdom of our Transcendentalist ancestors calling.
May you find a place of peace friends, until we meet again.
With a faith in one another and the future before us,