In the Meantime,
“I wonder, wonder, who…. wrote the book of love.” That was a hit song when I was 5 years old, so I have no claim to remembering it when it was new. But some songs are timeless, aren’t they?
Why mention this? Well, in some ways the question is universal. For lots of people, there is a book that explains it all. Not for nothing did Thomas Aquinas say, “beware the man of one book.” What that means is more complicated than it sounds, but my point is that when we put our faith in one thing – be it a book or a philosophy or a religion or a nation – we cease to wonder. Having found the fabled ‘pearl of great price,’ we no longer need to look further.
For many, that is a comfort. I remember the man who grew up in the first church I served and had become an evangelical Christian. “I needed absolutes,” he said, and we UUs don’t do well with absolutes in case you haven’t noticed. That, too, is a complicated fact which I will address some other time. For folks like that former UU man, ambiguity and uncertainty are so discomfiting that they cannot stand it. They find comfort, but they lose wonder.
A book I have shared with the Board and the Transition Team, written by the church consultant Susan Beaumont, talks about the importance of wondering as a form of leadership. That’s at odds with the usual definition of a leader – someone who is clear, decisive, confident. Those are great traits, but not for all seasons.
The times we are in now are actually not suited to that kind of leadership. So much is in flux, both in VUU as an institution but also in organized religion to say nothing of the nation. What we need is the courage to wonder, to have faith (forgive the expression) that something will emerge from this liminal time, something that is not clear yet and cannot be decided yet.
Waiting is hard. Wondering is hard. They both demand faith, not blinkered faith in a book being right or a church or a nation, but trust that what we value is larger than what we fear. For us it comes down to two things – truth and love. The first is the promise of Unitarianism, that ‘whatever is true is God’s word no matter who said it,’ as Ulrich Zwingli wrote. The second is the promise of Universalism, that love is as universal as gravity and as strong.
Truly, these times test our faith in these things. Wondering and waiting are the spiritual practices we need most. So take the time. “Don’t just do something, sit there,” as the Quakers wryly say. And while sitting, “wonder, wonder, who…. wrote the book of love.”