This is from Roller Skating as a Spiritual Discipline by Reverend Christopher Buice:
“I have a theme song for roller-skating. It is by the pop group Chumbawamba. The words to the chorus are, ‘I get knocked down, but I get up again. You’re never going to keep me down.’ If you have ever seen me skate, you can appreciate why the song is so appropriate.
When I put on a pair of roller skates, I sometimes feel vulnerable. I become aware that I might fall and hurt myself. If I give into fear, I will never be able to experience the fun of flying around the rink…
Roller-skating is not the only activity during which I get knocked down. I’ve been knocked down. I’ve been knocked down on many occasions: by the death of friends and members of my family; by disappointed hopes, broken promises, and shattered dreams. I think very few of us make it around the roller rink of life completely unscathed. Many of us learned a lesson or two from the Theology of Hard Knocks.
One of the most significant decisions anyone can ever make is how to respond when hurt or injured by life. When I am roller-skating, I realize that I have at least three choices. One temptation is simply to remain sprawled out on the roller rink floor, wallowing in my misery, hoping for some pity. Another choice is to crawl off the floor, get on the bench, nurse my wounds, and sit out the rest of the session. Or I can get up again and say, ‘You’re never going to keep me down.’ In my life it has been important to make the decision to get up once more, brush myself off, and try one more time to make it around the rink. This has not always been easy. And on more than one occasion I’ve needed a helping hand to get me back on my feet again. Yet I know I do not want to be a permanent spectator on the sidelines of existence. In the fullness of time I want to be back in the flow of things, to re-enter and move with the rhythm of the circle of life.”
I want to start by sharing a blog post by Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD. He is the founder of PsyBlog: “Researchers wanted to see how people cope with four different challenges that life throws at us: getting a job, finding a partner, doing well on an exam and undergoing surgery (hopefully not all at the same time).
Across four studies the researchers examined how people thought about each of these challenges. They measured how much they fantasized about a positive outcome and how much they expected a positive outcome.
The difference might sound relatively trivial, but it’s not. Expectations are based on past experiences. You expect to do well on an exam because you’ve done well on previous exams, you expect to meet another partner because you managed to meet your last partner, [you expect to throw a baseball better because you have gotten better at it] and so on.
Fantasies, though, involve imagining something you hope will happen in the future, [as if it is happening] right now. This turns out to be problematic. The researchers found that when trying to get a job, find a partner, pass an exam or get through surgery, those who spent more time entertaining positive fantasies did worse.
Take those looking for a job. Those who spent more time dreaming about getting a job, performed worse. Two years after leaving college the dreamers had applied for fewer jobs, unsurprisingly had been offered fewer jobs, and, if they were [working], had lower salaries…
Although positive fantasies were associated with failure, positive expectations were associated with success. People who had positive expectations about finding a partner, recovering quickly from surgery and passing an exam, did better than those whose expectations were negative.”
And what did you think about the wise person you talked to about improving something in your life in the meditation. What did they say to you? Was it helpful? Did they reveal some of the ways you might sabotage yourself, or did they point out obstacles you might face, or suggest how to manage whatever obstacles you do face? Perhaps the wise person suggested that you were capable of achieving your goal, or told you that what you hope to change was not really possible, and that you needed to accept it. Or perhaps nothing at all happened for you during the meditation. It’s like that sometimes, and that’s okay.
I have been to many workshops that included meditations not unlike the one I offered you today. I remember the first time I experienced a meditation like this. I was attending Strake Jesuit College Preparatory, a Catholic High School. Each year our class was expected to attend a retreat. I was a sophomore at the time and very involved in my home Catholic Church. At the retreat, the visualization they suggested focused on how we could improve our faith. I was young, so my attitude going in was that what I visualized was actually going happen, simply because I was able to see it in my mind. What did I see?I saw a flaming heart. I later was told this was the Flaming Heart of Jesus and that the image was very special.
I was on top of the world. I felt more connected to my faith than I ever had been. But still my Jesuit teachers trained me to look deeply into concepts and ideas even beliefs, and to not to accept ideas, concepts, or beliefs without comprehending them. So after my visualization, I dug deep into Catholicism and I tried to live that faith to the core of my being. As it turned out, digging in deep and trying to live that faith, well, it eventually led me away from Catholicism. And I realized that the flaming heart I imagined didn’t belong to Jesus, it belonged to me.
I continued to study Catholicism, and I began to explore how people around me lived their Catholic faith. I started with my parents. My mother used birth control pills, which the church taught were sinful. My mother never really talked about her beliefs, but she lived them in her life. My father was an alcoholic and a rager, yet talked about his beliefs frequently. I was confused. The deeper I went into the teachings of the church, the more confused I became. What I saw being practiced by some people was not what I understood as the Catholicism taught by the priests.
So I started attending to what my flaming heart and intellectual curiosity told me was right for me on my faith journey. The journey still held many aspects of Catholicism, but there were some significant exceptions.
Perhaps due to the influence of my mother, I decided that it was a woman’s right to choose whether to have a child or not. It shouldn’t be up to the church to guilt a woman into having children when they did not want to, regardless of the reason.
This particular issue, Women’s Reproductive Choice, came to a head for me when a priest at my high school asked me to march in a Pro-Life rally. I knew I was not anti-abortion, but felt pressured because many of my classmates and teachers were attending. I struggled with this for some time, and finally decided that I was no longer a Catholic because there were beliefs and ideas within that religion that I just didn’t believe, and I could no longer practice a faith that was inconsistent with what my heart and mind believed to be true.
I tell you this story because I had based my deepening connection with my religion on a fantasy, not on an expectation. The Jesuits had drilled into me to “heed the guidance of reason and the results of science” and follow the teachings of your heart. When I tried to do that with a fantasy that I had imagined as a grounding for the religion, a religion that I had loved, my connection to that religion dissolved and I was left depressed and disconnected, knocked to my knees. I had choices then. To just stay down, wallow in my pity and sorrow. To crawl to the side and just be a spectator of life, not being involved in any religion or spirituality. Or to get back up again. I decided I had to get back up; I wasn’t going to let this new revelation keep me down.
Building my own theology in terms of positive expectations and reconciling some to the aspects of my childhood faith would come later in my life when I found Unitarian Universalism. But for years, I tussled with how my faith would be expressed. What were its tenets? What would make it strong, yet tensile? I thought about it, visualized it, read about different religions. I held on to the idea, foundational to all the major religions, of treating others as I would like to be treated, and I held that love, the connection I felt for others and that they expressed to me, was what I expected in a religion, remembering what Jesus was reported to have said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is no other commandment greater”. But what about the concept of deity? At that time in my life, the concept of a god didn’t seem to connect with me, perhaps because of my disappointment in Catholicism.
A positive expectation has its grounding in being reality-based; in having been experienced in some way previously; in being possible to achieve; and in being something the person feels should be achieved—for whatever reason.
A positive expectation isn’t an instant fantasy. Positive expectations have infrastructures. They take effort, time, patience, resources, and often emotional resilience. I didn’t realize this until after I had struggled with my own faith and my own beliefs about how to live my life with meaning and purpose. Today, one of the foundational components of my positive expectation about my faith is that it is not static, that my faith will continue to change as I have experiences, as I learn, as I look within and reflect on my life and the lives of others who I connect with; and that’s very much in line with Unitarian Universalism. You see Unitarian Universalists believe that revelation is not sealed. In Unitarian Universalism “faith” is a verb.
Today I describe myself as a humanist, panentheist, Buddhist, Unitarian Universalist holding some affection for aspects of my past Catholicism. Let me define these terms. Please keep in mind these are my definitions and how I live these definitions. They are not common definitions and I am not sharing them as such. They’re personal, as I believe all faith definitions are especially personal for people who call themselves Unitarian Universalists. Humanism for me is a belief in living in loving connection with creation. Humanism also calls me to minster to and protect all creatures and this planet. Panentheism is a belief that there is a spark of the divine in all things and I must respect all of creation as expressions of the divine. Buddhism is a belief in non-attachment, neither grasping nor rejecting my experiences, instead being open to and exploring experiences to determine their meaning and purpose in my life. In addition, I affirm the value of meditation from a Zen Buddhist perspective. And I think of Unitarian Universalism as the container for me to safely explore who I am, what I believe, and how to live my life with meaning and purpose, within a loving community. Perhaps that is what Unitarian Universalism can be for you as well. A place to safely explore who you are, what you believe, and how to live your life with meaning and purpose.
I want to share something else Dr. Dean wrote in his blog: “…Expectations are built on solid foundations while positive fantasies are often built on thin air…The problem with positive fantasies is that they allow us to anticipate success in the here and now. However they don’t …[take into account] the problems we are likely to face …[as we seek to bring an expectation to life,] and can leave us with less motivation—after all it feels like we’ve already reached our goal.” He goes on to say, “It’s one way in which our mind’s own brilliance, lets us down. Because… [our minds are] so amazing at simulating our achievement of future events[, a fantasy]…they can actually undermine our attempts to achieve those goals in reality.”
What positive expectations do you have about your faith? What are the foundations you build your faith on? What are its cornerstones? Where do you hope your faith journey will take you? When you look deeply within and around you with your heart and soul, as you consider your beliefs with the guidance of reason and the results of science, as you reflect on your direct experiences and learn from the world religions and earth-centered teachings, what do you see? What takes shape in your mind’s eye? What will you discard? What will you take with you as you journey through this life? Will your experiences be positive or negative? “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.” Either way, there is still a journey waiting to be experienced, a life to be explored. May your expectations be positive, may the odds be ever in your favor, and may you journey well.