A smaller segment today of Rev. Robert Hardies’ essay, “Love the Contradictions,” printed in the UUWorld’s summer 2007 issue, from The Seven Principles in Word and Worship, edited by Ellen Brandenburg (Skinner House Books, 2007). Part one can be found here, and part three here.
Here, Rev. Hardies brings in the concept of size in spirituality and faith, an idea in language that I find fascinating. What is big? What is big enough? What capacity do we really have as human beings?
Love the Contradictions, pt. 2
by Rev. Robert Hardies
Not long after divinity school, I stumbled upon the work of theologian Bernard Loomer, who began to point me in the right direction. Loomer is an important figure in process theology, a movement that contends that the universe is always growing in size and complexity, and that as the universe grows, so does God and so must we. Loomer saw the increasing complexity of creation as a glorious blossoming that God was delighted to behold. Late in life, Loomer was a member of the First Unitarian Church of Berkeley, California, where on Sundays after church he would lead thought-provoking theological conversations. After describing his vision of the complexity of creation, he often asked the group, “What is the size of your soul?” By which he meant, “What is your soul’s ability to grow and expand, to stretch when life throws more contradictions your way?”
Size was the defining concept in Loomer’s spirituality. He almost always wrote the word S-I-Z-E, with capital letters and dashes, to better convey the spaciousness that he intended by using the word. Loomer describes the concept this way:
By S-I-Z-E I mean the capacity of a person’s soul, the range and depth of his love, his capacity for relationships. I mean the volume of life you can take into your being and still maintain your integrity and individuality, the intensity and variety of outlook you can entertain in the unity of your being without feeling defensive or insecure. I mean the strength of your spirit to encourage others to become freer in the development of their diversity and uniqueness. I mean the power to sustain more complex and enriching tensions. I mean the magnanimity of concern to provide conditions that enable others to increase in stature.
Before Bernard Loomer, I used to think of spiritual growth as a process of growing closer to God in a vertical kind of way. I took the image from “Jack and the Beanstalk”: We’re here on the earth, God is up in heaven, and spiritual growth means growing like that beanstalk, higher and higher, ever closer to God. But in that model, we end up with our head in the clouds. Another recipe for retreat.
Loomer showed me that spiritual growth isn’t about a vertical ascent to heaven but about growth in every dimension at once. It’s spirituality in 3-D. Growth in spirit doesn’t measure one’s proximity to a God above, but rather the spaciousness of one’s own soul—its volume, its capacity, its size. We need to grow souls that can encounter the other as a unique subject, not an object—in the words of Martin Buber, a “Thou,” not an “it.” We need souls that can take in the world in all its complexity and diversity, yet still maintain our integrity. And we need souls that can love and be in relationship with all of this complexity. Instead of fight or flight, we need a spiritual posture of embrace.
I went from a Jack-and-the-Beanstalk spirituality to a How the Grinch Stole Christmas faith. Perhaps you remember the moment near the end of Dr. Seuss’s beloved Christmas tale when the Grinch rides his sleigh up Mt. Crumpit to dump the Christmas presents he has stolen from the Whos. Just before jettisoning the gifts, the Grinch pauses to listen for the weeping of the Whos down in Who-ville. He hears them singing instead. At first the singing doesn’t make sense to the Grinch; it doesn’t compute. But finally he understands, and Dr. Seuss tells us that “the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day.” This is a description of true spiritual growth: growing hearts and souls large and supple enough to embrace—to love—more and more of our complex world. This is the spirituality of the third Principle of Unitarian Universalism: “acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.”
Imagine what your own heart looks like. Is it “grinchy,” like a clenched fist, or is it supple and spacious? What is the size of your soul?
Source: “Love the Contradictions,” by Rev. Robert Hardies, who serves All Souls Church, Unitarian, in Washington, D.C. Reprinted with the permission of Skinner House Books and the author. The Seven Principles in Word and Worship by Ellen Brandenburg, from which this essay was taken, is available at (800) 215-9076 or www.uua.org/bookstore.Tags: contradiction, deepening, faith, love, process theology, Robert Hardies