Unitarianism permits us to change – the way we see and understand the world, our philosophy, our theology. It recognises that identity is a flowing thing, that we are process, not product. As the great French philosopher, Michel Foucault said:
“Do not ask me who I am and do not ask me to remain the same.”
So it is that after entering the denomination fairly humanist in my outlook, feeling rather uncomfortable with the G-word (-O-D!), I have increasingly found myself choosing so see the universe as “Thou.” A sense of presence, spirit pulsing through all living things, even the lives of seas and mountains, not living in the strictly biological sense.
Jesus chose the Hebrew word “ruah” meaning both the breath of life and the wind to designate ‘spirit’, that which gives life and is life. In the Genesis creation story, God does not create out of nothing. Before the various acts of creation, “darkness covered the face of the deep, and the breath of God moved over the face of the waters.” God not outside creation but as life, the very life of life.
A Buddhist teacher of mine, many years ago, put it thus, “The universe has consciousness.” To live in it ethically, we must above all grant our world its own subjectivity. All life forms, human and otherwise, look back at us and also try to understand. And their interpretations of the world may be very different to our own.
“Man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much — the wheel, New York, wars and so on — whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man — for precisely the same reasons.” (Douglas Adams)
Perhaps it is easy to see the divine in the glory of the natural world – and perhaps, conversely, rather more difficult to see God in the degraded, industrialized world most of us live in. To see the divine in one another, in the person left almost empty by years of heroin addiction, sitting outside the tube station. Jesus told a parable of a king unrecognized in the world, who says:
“Come, inherit the kingdom, for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
The presence of this mysterious divine visitor is notably not located in the virtuous person, but in the lost and the excluded. To see and respond to God in the loneliest and most abandoned of places and people – that is the challenge of the religious life, the work that never ends.