Credo by Kim Henrichon

Spring 2009

YRUU – For those of you not familiar with the anacronym, it stands for Young Religious Unitarian Universalists – the name of our local and continental youth group. Of course, the name itself asks why are you you. Today I would add another ‘U’, as I have been asked in part to share in my answer to the question not only why are you you, but also why are you UU?

I am of course the person I am today in large part because of the experiences of my childhood and youth.  My mother was raised a Congregationalist, my father a Methodist, but they both found their way to the Church of the Unity in Springfield.  They were married in what was then the new building of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Springfield in 1963, shortly after the merger between the Unitarians and the Universalists. I was raised in this church, and although as a young child I didn’t really look forward to attending RE, I certainly grew to appreciate it later on.  Some of my fondest adolescent memories are those of UU youth group events. I developed leadership skills, made wonderful friends, and learned about everything from gender inequities to Robert’s Rules of Order through my involvement in both the local and district youth groups.  And in 1982 at the age of 15, I was part of a national group of UU youth and adults who convened to establish the Young Religious Unitarian Universalists.  It was at this conference that I ran into one of my first experiences of trying to educate others about Unitarian Universalism.  You see, we were sharing the college campus with a hockey camp; this was during the time that the Rev. Sun Myung Moon and his Unification Church were prominent in the media.  It was very hard trying to convince those teenage boys that we were not all there for a mass wedding ceremony.

Only looking back now, as an adult, can I truly appreciate being brought up in a religion that wished to educate and guide me to form my own opinions, while also grounding me with a sense of values, as opposed to the more dictatorial styles of many other religions.  I also have an appreciation for the sense of community fostered within UU congregations.  When I was in the eighth grade, I recall two girls within my group of friends at school discovering that their families had attended the same Catholic Church for many years, and they never knew it.   I remember thinking how strange – didn’t they ever run into each other at coffee hour or a potluck, never mind Sunday school?

So given my upbringing, how have I chosen to practice spirituality as an adult? Well, obviously I am still an active Unitarian Universalist.  I strongly believe in the right of each person to have their own religious beliefs and practices, as long as they do not impinge upon the rights of others.  When it comes to my own personal beliefs, I have always considered myself to be agnostic.  I am quite willing to consider the possibility that there is some type of higher being or god, just as much as I am willing to consider that there may not be. Perhaps there is something more to life than this one that we are living here on earth, and maybe this is all there is.  Although some may see agnosticism as an easy way of avoiding a more definitive declaration of belief, I do not view it as such.  It is something I have pondered seriously throughout my life. Although it is certainly nice to think that there is something more beyond the current life we know and are now living, maybe this is all just the accidental result of some big bang that has evolved over millions of years.  The sticking point for me is:  can we ever really know for sure?

I can distinctly recall the very first sentence of the first chapter of my tenth grade biology text.  It read like this:  “In science, every time we ask a question and conduct research, we discover an answer that leads us to ten more questions”.  So, if this is true, humankind will never have all the answers.    Such is my philosophy when it comes to religious beliefs.  We can discover ancient artifacts and meticulously study scriptures, but every time we discover answers, we will have more questions, and so the process is forever ongoing.

We often turn to our spiritual and religious practices during times of grief and sadness in our lives.  It is during emotionally challenging times in my life, such as the passing of a loved one or a health crisis, that I devote more time and attention to pondering the larger issues of the meaning of life.  When my grandmother passed away, she had been in and out of consciousness in the critical care unit of her local hospital for over a month.  One morning I awoke very early from a vivid dream:  I was walking down the hall of the hospital to visit her.  In my dream the hall was empty and very long, with just my grandmother’s room at the very end.  When I finally arrived at her bed side, all of the machines and tubes connected to her simply vanished before my eyes.  My grandmother sat up on the edge of the bed, quite vibrant and alert, and looked right at me, something she had not been capable of for weeks.  I awoke from the dream.  Hours later, I received the phone call that she had passed.   Was the dream just a coincidence, or did it signify something more?  Was I receiving some kind of message from beyond, relating what her spirit was experiencing that day? We’ve all heard the stories of people who cheat death and report seeing the infamous brilliant white light: Is the light really an entrance to the world beyond, or is it simply a neurological event that occurs as the biological body begins to shut down? It could very well be one or the other – a case can be made for either side. Perhaps someday I’ll know the answer to these questions, but for now, I can only wonder.  

When my husband and I were trying to start a family, the joy of our first pregnancy quickly turned to sadness after I suffered a miscarriage.  This was one of the most emotionally trying times for me in my life.  I sought solace from friends and staff here at the Unitarian Society, as well as a pregnancy loss support group.    I learned a lot about grief.    Previous to this experience I knew about grief, I had learned all about Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages in college for example,   but that is not the same as experiencing grief.  It was quite intriguing how others responded to me during this time.  Some people were simply silent in my presence, while others outright avoided me.  Some said things to me that I know they thought would be comforting, and with only the best of intentions, but in reality, were quite hurtful.  And thankfully, there were those whose actions and words were just what I needed, providing me with the guidance and true comfort that helped me find my way through the healing process.  To this day, I guide my words and actions towards others experiencing grief  based upon the conduct of those whom I found to be most helpful during this difficult period of my life.  Through this and other trying experiences, I have come to learn that, while certainly not easy, the most challenging and devastating situations often provide us with the most opportunities for personal growth.  Harvesting something positive from a negative situation leads us to a deeper wisdom and greater understanding of ourselves, of others, and the world around us, if we choose to look for it.

The Rabbi Harold Kushner, in his highly acclaimed book “When Bad Things Happen to Good People”, makes a very strong case for the randomness in our lives.  In his exhaustive search for why bad things happen, instigated by the loss of his son, he is left to conclude that “residual chaos, chance, and mischance, things happening for no reason, will continue to be with us.  We will simply have to learn to live with it, sustained and comforted by the knowledge that the earthquake and the accident, like the murder and the robbery, are not the will of God, but represent that aspect of reality which stands independent of His will, and which angers and saddens God even as it angers and saddens us.” (p 55) 

He asks us, “Can you accept the idea that some things happen for no reason, that there is randomness in the universe?” (p. 46).  My answer to that question is yes.  Whether or not there is a higher being, I do not believe that he or she is controlling every little last detail of everyone’s lives here on earth.  I believe this simply because I cannot accept that if this higher being could utilize such power, that they would allow the gross unfairness and injustice that goes on in our world on a daily basis.  Given the randomness and subsequent heartache that we all sooner or later experience in our lifetimes, some much more unfairly than others, I believe that we all need to help one another simply because it is the right thing to do.  The human race did not come this far by each one of us acting alone throughout our time here on this earth.  Not one of us can make it through this life without the collective good work of the others who walk along with us.

Rabbi Kushner goes on to state, “One of the most important things that any religion can teach us is what it means to be human,” (p. 72).  I can best sum up the result of my UU heritage with a short quote I came across years ago in an advertisement for t-shirts in the UU World magazine – it is simply this: “The meaning of life is to give life meaning.