Seemingly, the two main functions of a religion are 1) to declare someone or something meaningful and 2) to reconnect people to something greater than themselves.
The concept of holiness in the Hebrew Bible is about something being “set apart.” This means that that which is holy is no longer ordinary or normal; it’s different, and it’s different because it means something.
We could dive into a conversation about the Fall of Mankind and the repairing of the world; “holy” could then be understood to be the true condition in which something is whole or complete, and to render something holy is not to endow upon something that is normal a new condition; rather, it’s the repairing of something that’s broken, mending it and returning it to its original state.
That is to say, what we imagine to be a new or changed condition is the original condition; what appears “normal” or “ordinary” to us is, in fact, not truly normal or ordinary.
Not all Unitarian Universalist churches light a chalice during their service. I think I read somewhere that it’s only really been popular since the 1980s. However, at the UUFBC, the chalice is lit near the beginning of the service, and this can be seen as making the service holy- in the sense of the time we spend together as being “set apart.”
Many people at the UU would feel uncomfortable with this sort of terminology; truly, a number of attendees are refugees from other religious traditions that are lackluster and unsupportive at best and abusive and evil at worst, so that makes sense. The connotation and denotation of words often vary; words only mean to us what they can given their context and intention.
So to most local UUs, “holy” might be a turn-off. But to suggest that the time together is definitely “set apart,” and that the lighting of the chalice while reading the covenant aloud is what begins this demarcation, well, I think almost everyone would agree with that.
This brings us to the second point, that religion is about connection. The four points of connection I’ve named for the UU and which probably apply to religion as a whole are
- Connection to one’s self (inwardly and on a deeper level)
- Connection to each other (as a community)
- Connection to the world (the community working together to better the world)
- Connection to Life Itself (as the placeholder or reference to the Absolute, God, or any such term that represents a higher or deeper reality)
Taking any given religion in the world, I think this four points could be found with varying degrees of emphasis.
In fact, I would argue that points 2 and 3 are where the UUFBC excel. Points 1 and 4 are a little shakier; they take us into the uncomfortable realm of having to address the deeper psychological realities and potentially the metaphysical, and many people at the UUFBC aren’t comfortable discussing those things.
Who could blame them? I mean, there are so many people running about, making metaphysical claims that can never be substantiated, and the people who scream the loudest at the rest of us are the ones who are secretly terrified by their own doubts.
At this point, I’ve learned to allow doubt and faith to walk hand-in-hand, to buy them cotton candy and tickets to the amusement park. Doubt and faith have to be friendly until I can substantiate things. True, my proof is anecdotal, but I’m okay with that. I’m okay with placing “experience” at the apex of my religious life. That’s a much better starting point than simply swallowing what I’m told uncritically.