Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Universalism: Hope, Courage and the Everlasting Love of God

“You may possess only a small light, but uncover it, let it shine, use it in order to bring more light and understanding to the hearts and minds of men and women. Give them not Hell, but hope and courage.  Do not push them deeper into their theological despair, but preach the kindness and everlasting love of God.”

John Murray

Whenever I feel despair both with myself or with the rest of humanity I try to remember these words by the Universalist preacher John Murray.

I have been in full time Unitarian ministry for two and a half years now. I have experienced a lot as I have attempted to put into practical application what I learn at Unitarian College Manchester and of course what life, in all its rich tapestry has taught me.

I turned forty a little over a year ago and many friends and contemporaries have reach that milestone in recent months; this has led to a lot of personal reflection. I have changed immeasurably these last ten years. This has not always been easy, in fact at times it has been deeply painful, but I can honestly say that I regret very little of it. Do not get me wrong there are certain things that I wish had never happened, not so much to me, more to the people I have loved. The phrase “We do not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it” from the book “Alcoholics Anonymous”, keeps on returning to my thoughts and emotions. I am a fortunate man indeed and I do count my many blessings, even on the difficult days.

 It seems that I am being increasingly influenced by Universalism, in both the old meaning of the word and it’s more modern incarnations. I remember at a minister’s conference at Great Hucklow a couple of years ago, my friend and colleague Rev Jane Barraclough described me as a Universalist. I was not sure what she meant by this at first, but I think I do today. I both believe in and experience a God of love who accepts all and rejects none; is present in all life and yet is greater than the entirety of it all. I also believe that there are many ways to understand and experience this universal love; it makes no sense to me to think that there can be only one way. This has given me a code of hopefulness that I can live by. It sustains me through the vicissitudes of life.

I have read a lot of Forrest Church’s work these past two years as well as other Universalist too. I like what I have read it as spoken to my head, my heart and above all my soul. It has helped me greatly as I have observed the world these last few months and witnessed the many horrors that we seem to inflict on one another. It has also helped me come to terms with my past and the people I have shared my life with. It has enabled me come to terms with both the hope and despair that I experience from time to time.

I recently read Tom Owen-Towle’s “The Gospel of Universalism: Hope Courage and the Love of God” recently, it spoke powerfully to me. Particularly when he spoke of Hope and Despair and explained how they are joined together, at the hip, like Siamese twins. He describes that in the French language hope (espair) and despair (desespair) share the same root. He concluded from this that the opposite of hope is not actually despair but indifference. Indifference is to live without feeling or passion or care, to fail to respond to the pain and or suffering around, to deny our link to one another, to fail to feel another’s pain, to care less. Yes people in the midst of despair struggle and may even want to give up, but they keep on, hope is never too far away. Hope and despair are two branches formed from the same root of the one tree.

Universalism is a hope filled faith, but that does not make it an easy path. It is not about sitting back and waiting to be rescued by the God of love it promotes. Instead it declares that salvation, in this life, can only be achieved by facing up to the suffering present in all our lives and dealing directly with the despair that accompanies it.

Like everyone I feel deep sadness at times when I look at the horrors that we seem to inflict on one another. That said I also live with deep that I know can fill the void that we all feel at one time or another.

I am very aware how truly blessed I am.

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