I was determined to start my Year of Church off by visiting two faith communities on the first Sunday of 2011. As I looked online to decide which services to attend this morning Rev. Sarah York’s message “Follow Your Bliss” caught my attention. Since the other church I planned to attend this morning, Unity of Asheville, only has one service on Sundays, I headed over to Charlotte St. to the 9:00am service at one of my favorite churches, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Asheville.
One of my favorite things about the UU is its sanctuary. The contemporary architecture of the building features windows up high through which one can see the sky and the tops of some of the property’s lovely old trees. Loads of natural light fills the sanctuary with a sense of expansion and a stone wall behind the pulpit provides a focal point that invokes a feeling of groundedness. Displayed on the wall is a gorgeous fabric art landscape that I don’t believe was there the last time I visited.
The UU boasts a fine adult choir led by Music Director, Lenora Thom. The choir performs most Sundays during the 11:15am service. This morning, however, guest musician, James Richards, performed solo with his guitar. The prelude song, One Good Year, by Slaid Cleaves brought to mind all the people who are struggling to keep body and soul together during the economic shift we’ve been experiencing since 2008.
I love the UU’s simple ritual of Chalice Lighting with which they start each service. The flaming chalice has become the main symbol for UU’s world wide. The symbol has no official meaning but “like our faith, stands open to receive new truths that pass the tests of reason, justice, and compassion.” The moving story of how the flaming chalice came to be used by Unitarians as part of the Nazi war resistance can be found here.
UU Asheville has a well-developed Religious Education program for children and youth. Taryn Strauss led the “Story for All Ages” segment of the service before leading the kids off to their classes.
After a few more songs, a wise and funny reading from Friedman’s Fables and a lovely silent meditation, Rev. York, who is the Assistant Minster for Pastoral Care, delivered her sermon, “Follow Your Bliss”. Many of you will remember this phrase from American mythologist, Joseph Campbell. It’s an inspired choice for a sermon on the first Sunday of the year.
Contrary to what dessert advertisements might have us believe, following our bliss is not the same as indulging our appetites. Nor is following our bliss the pursuit of self-centered actions. “Following your bliss” is a powerful spiritual practice for we must bring the mind back to the body in order to even discover our bliss and continually call ourselves back to the present if we are to follow that inner wisdom and delight. When we’re following our bliss we feel aligned with the values and principals of Universal Love. In these moments we feel ourselves living from “the hub of our life rather than the rim”. Following your bliss requires courage and humility but you can count on guidance and support from the Universe and your highest self. If you choose to pursue this practice you can experience the exhilaration of being fully present, part of a larger energy and purpose every day.
After the sermon and offertory, I joined several other people in lighting a candle for a silent “joy or concern” followed by more songs and the Benediction. I left the service feeling peaceful, uplifted and grateful for this thoughtful and sincere faith community.
UU Asheville celebrates the life of Martin Luther King on Jan 16 at both the 9:15am and 11:00am services.