Exploring Our Spiritual Journeys

Have you even been in a state of absolute awe? What stories are a part of your spiritual journey? What grounds your beliefs and values? At this service, we’ll hear reflections from several members, and with Rev. Sue Browning we’ll explore the value of articulating answers to these questions.


An excerpt from the book, “Kitchen Table Wisdom’ by Rachel Naomi Remen, MD (p169 – 170)

“All through my childhood, my parents kept a giant jigsaw puzzle set up on a puzzle table in the living room. My father, who had started all this, hid the box top. The idea was to put the pieces together without knowing the picture ahead of time. Different members of the family and visiting friends would work on it, until after several weeks hundreds of pieces would each find their place. …

The table was my father’s birthday present to my mother. I can see him setting it up and gleefully pouring the pieces of that first puzzle from the box onto the tabletop. I was three or four and I did not understand my mother’s delight. They hadn’t explained this game to me, doubtless thinking I was too young to participate. But I wanted to participate, even then.

Alone in the living room early one morning, I climbed on a chair and spread out the hundreds of loose pieces lying on the table. The pieces were fairly small; some were brightly colored and some dark and shadowy. The dark ones seemed like spiders or bugs, ugly and a little frightening. They made me feel uncomfortable. Gathering up a few of these, I climbed down and hid them under the sofa cushions. For several weeks, whenever I was alone in the living room, I would climb up on the chair, take a few more dark pieces, and add them to the cache under the cushion.

So, this first puzzle took the family a very long time to finish. Frustrated, my mother counted the pieces and realized more than a hundred were missing. I told her what I’d done with the pieces I didn’t like and she rescued them and completed the puzzle. As piece after dark piece was put in place and a picture emerged, I was astounded. I had not known there would be a picture. It was quite beautiful, a peaceful scene of a deserted beach. Without the pieces I had hidden, the game made no sense.


Exploring Our Spiritual Journeys

Does your life feel like a puzzle, with the box top hidden? Do you wonder if all the pieces are there? Do you have confidence in a complete picture or image emerging piece by piece that will make sense? At times do we wonder if some pieces needed to feel good about the picture have been stashed in some secret place?    

Our reading earlier was by Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen. She’s a physician who sees healing needs to address physical needs, and healing needs to address the longing of the soul. Both matter.

In her reflection on the puzzles of her childhood, she shares, “We are always putting the pieces together without knowing the picture ahead of time. I have been with many people in times of profound loss and grief when an unsuspected meaning begins to emerge from the fragments of their lives. Over time, the meaning has proven itself to be durable and trustworthy, even transformative. It is a kind of strength that never comes to those who deny their pain.”

With these words, Dr. Remen gets close to what I think of as ‘exploring our spiritual journeys.’

Over the last month several members and friends of the fellowship have been working with Amanda Schaller to get greater clarity on their beliefs and values. Several members of this class will be sharing their reflections on December 10. 

The phrase ‘spiritual journey’ is a bit odd – As a start, what’s a journey? By dictionary definition of ‘journey’ is travel from one place to another. It could be an excursion, and trek or a voyage. ‘Journey’ as compared to commute or routine trip, conveys an image of taking some time for the travel. On a journey, I picture scenes in changing along the way. On a journey as conditions change, often we change.

‘Journey’ conveys something dynamic. Maybe ‘spiritual journey’ carries a sense of progression as our patterns of our beliefs, and practices, and values shift.

What have we done in the past, and what do we do now to make sense of the big picture? What do we do to engage day by day (piece by piece) in the beauty and struggle of what it means to be alive?

Our life’s journeys are less about physical location, and more about experiences marked by time – milestones in our life.

There is power in examining our spiritual journeys. In part, it’s a look back – and often transitions and themes in spiritual journeys are clearest where there have been points of disruption. What was our response? What was our learning?

Exploring our spiritual journeys takes some pause. As our puzzle is still empty in spots there is value in standing back far enough to try and see the emerging picture. Whether we’re in a time of transition, or we’re feeling like we’re in the midst of the mundane – maybe a never-ending morass of forest leaves needed to be fitted together – it’s good to keep perspective. Where have you been? Where are edges that are clear – limitations? Where are there choices?

To take stock, in Scripture often the characters head to the wilderness. Wilderness, often barren desert, is a valued part of the journey.  

Wilderness can offer a sense of solitude – a time to hear yourself think without the rattling of competing voices. When has there been times of clear discernment in your life – times when you could think through a choice? To ask, when have I found joy this week?


Wilderness can be a testing ground. Have there been times when you intentionally, or out of necessity, faced an obstacle, or a limitation and at this time – maybe tired, and drained you had clarity on what needed to take priority, and what was previously a need no longer seemed important?

Or maybe it’s not literal wilderness, but intentionally taking a class and reflecting. Or attending Sunday services for intentional pause. Or time alone. Or time in travel.

Wilderness can offer a time when a stubborn part on the jigsaw puzzle is solved. Have you ever had one of those spots on the puzzle where you swear there is no piece that fits? Period. All possibilities have been tried. Nothing. And then, there’s that piece that was upside down, or in bad light, or the piece that captured a portion of the puzzle where there is an unexpected combination of colors, and it fits!

Is this work on our spiritual journeys something we all need to do? Maybe ‘need’ is a strong term, but I do think there is deep value taking time to name what you care about most – the principles for living your life. Your path to sensing – in trusting – the whole puzzle will come together.

In seminary, we were required to write a Credo paper which asked us to state our core values and beliefs. Our assertions needed to be supported by pages of ‘why.’ And the ‘why’ is often an odd mix of experience (past spiritual journey), and philosophy, and intuition, and ties to truths expressed in faith traditions.

My Credo statement was completed over 5 years ago. The individual provisions I wrote fit on a page – the back-up is long. The provisions are basic, and I should reread them more often. They named something best described as my spiritual identity – something there in me which was ready to be named. They’ve stood up well over time.

In looking at what I see underlies creation, and how I see human nature, and where I find value in turning for support there is my own wisdom – my sense of being a UU. At their heart, my Credo reminders to breathe deep and trust more. The provisions remind me to whittle down lofty goals and to tune out distracting messages.

I’m looking forward to December 10 and hearing the words on others sense of belief and value.     

I expect we’ll hear a mix of answers to questions like: What are the grounding ethical principles that guide my life decisions? What is my inspiration and support for living into my core values? What helps me respond compassionately help move creation toward the collective good? Are there universal truths worthy of being shared across all humanity?

For me these are questions which help get at the spiritual landscape.

What I’ve learned in the work is these are the spiritual questions that help me. I’ve found I don’t tend to ask, ‘Do I believe in God?’  or ‘Do I believe in confession or communion?’ and more I ask, ‘What is my inspiration and support for living into my core values?’ And from there I ask, is God or confession or communion helpful in my response?  

‘Spiritual’ for me is about having pieces feel like they are fitting together, or at least will eventually. ‘Spiritual’ for me about response to all that is around me.

Puzzles do have dark places and it is tempting to hide a few pieces under cushions – yet they are a part of the whole. Puzzles do have mundane sections – sky and forest that add perspective and stability – sturdy segments where we ground ourselves for the less predictable parts of the ride.

I recently officiated at a wedding where the bride and groom were both grandparents. The wedding party was entirely grandchildren – four flower girls, four ring bearers – ages 3-12. And the bride and groom’s adult children and spouses were there. We used these words, which honored the losses and disruptions that had brought this group together for a wedding: “As we gather together with grandparents marrying one another, we are aware that life can take unplanned and unexpected turns. Life is not predictable and we are strengthened when we find ways through loss and respond again and again to new possibilities – doors opened by love.”  

Spiritual journeys are about the path – the trek – the learning points through changes in time and place – opportunities for wholeness – puzzles being completed in a sequence not planned. There are beginnings which include the past –wholeness coming as we place more and more pieces to complete a puzzle with no box top available.  

This is the essence of spiritual journey – finding a thread going chapter to chapter. May we each take the time to explore, and to name that which grounds us – that which moves us toward a sense of wholeness – a puzzle, which we can hope emerges in love.

May It Be So


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