We Are All About Saving Souls
(EXCERPT) BY REV. SUZANNE MEYER, (1953-2010)
What are we doing here? What is our business? The answer is simple: we are in the business of saving souls. You heard me right: what we are about is saving souls.
Those of us who have had any brush with evangelical religion in our lives are apt to have an instantaneous negative reaction to that assertion. Soul-saving? Our business? Not us!
But make no mistake about it, I make no claim that we are in the business of rescuing men and women from some afterlife spent in a literal place of torment called hell. I don’t believe in such a literal place of torment, populated for all eternity by devils, demons, and the tortured souls of the dead. In fact, I don’t make any claim to know what happens to us after the death of the body, or whether there is or is not something beyond this life.
But I do know that there are many kinds of private hells in which living men and women dwell every day. These are small personal hells of meaninglessness, banality, and loneliness. Hells of shame, hells of guilt, hells of loss, hells of failure. There are as many kinds of these small hells as there are people who live in them. And from some of those hells, we, as a church, can and do provide a kind of salvation, a release, or, at the very least, a respite. We are in the business of saving souls from those kinds of small, individual hells of despair and disappointment that drive people into exile and isolation, separated from community as well as from their own essential goodness.
There are many people who come to us every day who are not here because they are looking for Unitarian Universalism, who are not here because they are looking for another place to give their time or their money, who are not here because they are rejecting any other brand of religion. They are here because they feel lost, lonely and hurting inside, even though they might appear to all the world to be just fine. They have no particular interest in God or religion—our brand or any other brand of religion, for that matter. They just know that they’ve already tried everything else: alcoholism, workaholism, drugs, therapy, self-help books, self-help groups. There’s nothing left for them to try and besides that, we don’t charge admission.
People come here not even knowing what it is that they are seeking. You don’t even have to know what it is you are looking for to feel the need to set off in search of something, something more to life. It is not the fear of dying that compels people to go looking for something more in their lives: it is the fear that they may not really be fully alive. You can have everything you want and need, and yet find little meaning in life. You need salvation.
Oh, that word “salvation.” If that word makes us flinch, it is because we’ve allowed other people to steal the original meaning away from us. We have forgotten what salvation originally meant. “Salvation is really a state of wholeness, of health. It occurs in this lifetime when we are at peace with ourselves, united with one another, and in harmony with nature.” (F. Forrester Church)
I believe two things passionately. First, the soul is not a spirit or ghost or ephemeral thing. Whatever it is, pulse or psyche, it is what makes us fully alive, fully animated, and fully human. And, second, salvation is not about life after death, but about life itself, full throttle, in all of its joy and agony. There is much in the world that has the potential to deaden us, to anesthetize our spirits; so many things can make us feel emotionally and spiritually dead, dull, and brittle. Too many things can create for each one of us a private, personal hell.
And the thing about those personal hells is that they are very small—tiny, really—only big enough for one person. And when we dwell all by ourselves in our own private little hells, our concerns, our sympathies, our awareness of the needs of others are squeezed out, until all that matters is the self. There is no room in these small hells for anyone else, or for any concerns other than selfish ones. The Hebrew word for salvation means to make wide or make sufficient—it is our role as a church to help widen and deepen the lives of those who live for themselves alone.
It is easy for me to forget that in this business of soul-saving, it is you, the congregation, that makes all the difference, not the minister. What saves us in the end might be called the extraordinary power and grace of ordinary people. That is love from heaven to earth come down. The holy incarnate, made flesh in the form of men and women, old and young, caring and cantankerous, imperfect, easily wounded, full of all the faults and gifts that this poor flesh is heir to. There’s a miracle for you. We are saved, at last, by the fellowship of people no better or worse off than we are. What liberates us from those tiny hells in which we dwell all alone is as common as a handshake, as ordinary as hearing your name spoken by another, as simple as being asked to share your thoughts.
We are one another’s salvation.
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