For all that is our life! by Rev. Andrew Clive Millard
A voice that’s real, though it may shake,
that calls each sleeping soul to wake;
a voice that speaks the truth in love
and claims a vision worthy of
our highest aspirations, then
asks us to rise and sing “Amen!”
— addition fourth verse to hymn 300, “With Heart and Mind”
There are a number of words in the English language that come from the same Latin root that means “breath”. Sometimes those words refer to breath more literally, such as when it comes to biology, while at other times the connection with physical breathing is hidden. For example, “inspiration” means both the act of taking air into the lungs as well as something that conveys new ideas or truths or creativity. To “conspire” has come to mean plotting something (usually nefarious) in secret, but, given the way that the people doing the plotting would be huddled close to one another, it literally means to “breathe together”. And in many religions, “spirit” suggests some non-physical essence of life, whereas it literally refers to the breath, the air that moves in and out of human and other land-based animals’ lungs in order to sustain their living. From Greek mythology to the Hebrew book of Genesis, humans are created from clay or earth, but it is up to a god to literally breathe life into them.
Another such word is “aspiration”. In phonetics, it refers to the burst of breath that accompanies some sounds in speech; the “p” in “pin” is aspirated, for instance, whereas the “b” in “bin” is not. In medicine, it refers to some material getting into the breathing passages and lungs. But in many settings, an aspiration is an ardent desire or a thoughtful wish or a long-term hope. The Seven Principles affirmed and promoted by the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, for example, are aspirations; they may not be realities today, but we can envision them being realized as part of some larger process, such as that which, even if fitfully, bends the arc of the moral universe toward justice.
Spring lends itself, perhaps better than any other season, to reflecting on our aspirations. When the days grow longer and green buds start to appear and birds return from warmer lands, it’s natural for us to think about our personal hopes for the coming year. (In the fables by Aesop and others, the swallow was a symbol of hope, because it was amongst the first birds to appear at the end of Winter.) And it’s a good time to think about our aspirations as a congregation, too.
As we do at the Fellowship every Spring, we have begun our annual Canvass. This is when we ask every member (as well as the non-members known as “friends”) to make a pledge of financial support to our congregation for the coming church year. This allows us to develop a budget (which is presented and voted on at the annual membership meeting in May) so that we know we’ll be able to pay for the programs, the staffing, the facilities and everything else that it takes for the UUFP to thrive.
What each member and friend pledges, of course, is their own decision. We hope that every person who pledges will be generous, but it is up to each of us to decide for ourselves what it means to be generous, given our own circumstances in life. Included in each of our decisions, however, are the aspirations that we share for our congregation, for this special place that so many of us think of as our spiritual home, for this microcosm of the Beloved Community that we hope and trust will one day become a reality for all people.
So when it comes time for you to decide on your pledge, whether that’s at the “Big Canvass Event” on March 8th, with dinner and entertainment starting at 6pm, or in individual conversation with your Steward, I would encourage you to first think about and talk about your (and our) aspirations for our Fellowship. For instance, if you were given one wish that you could use to ask for anything for the UUFP, what would it be?
- Would you wish for solar panels on the roof, so that we can generate our own electricity?
- Would you wish for more classrooms, so that we can offer more opportunities for religious exploration?
- Would you wish for a bigger Sanctuary with space for the ChorUUs and other musicians, or for a full kitchen and a social hall with enough room for all of us to sit down for a meal together?
- Would you wish for dedicated campus ministry at Christopher Newport University, and, reconnecting with our roots, at Hampton University, too?
- Would you wish for a passenger van — with “Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Peninsula” writ large on all sides! — that could be used to take our youth to lock-ins, to take our delegates to denominational meetings, to take our volunteers to food pantries and homeless shelters?
- Would you wish for more participation in LINK and with our Share-the-Basket partners, for more involvement in public witnesses and demonstrations, for more support of women’s rights, for more engagement in the causes of peace and freedom and justice?
- Would you wish for special music at every Sunday service, for an array of programs with famous speakers, for concerts and other events that would bring in lots of people?
- Would you wish that we be known far and wide as a welcoming and loving community, as a place that teaches children what it means to be good people, as a congregation committed to social and environmental justice?
These are all worthy aspirations, and I’ve heard all of them from more than one person within our congregation. And all of them are possible! Perhaps not in the coming year, but it is what we do in the coming year that will make them possible in years to come. I ask you, then, to share your aspirations — your ardent desires, your thoughtful wishes, your long-term hopes — for our Fellowship, because when we believe in ourselves and in one another, we breathe them into life. So let us claim a vision worthy of our highest aspirations, let us rise to the task we have set before ourselves, and let us sing of the joy and the beauty and the truth of this beloved community!