Not a Unitarian Universalist by Choice
BETHby Beth Cortez-Neavel ecortez [dot] neavel [at] gmail [dot] com @ecortez_neavel
I did not become a UU by choice. But, after being reluctantly dragged into Religious Education classes most of my young Sunday mornings, I have grown up choosing to live it. I recently, within the past six months, returned from half a decade of spiritual hiatus. The part of me that I thought of as “religious” got somehow disconnected between those years. I had a complicated falling out with myself on the heels of a grad school transition, cyclical dives into depression and congregational drama at my home church. But here I am: healing, reconnecting, moving forward. And here I am, choosing to be Unitarian Universalist again.
If our roles were reversed, and you were to ask me what #LivingUU means to me, how the faith has transformed me, what it does to me, how it sits in me and how I sit in it, why I continue to choose this spiritual path -- even at those times when I’m feeling quite disconnected from my spirituality -- my first answer is I don’t even effin know. How hypocritical. I’m about to spend the next few days asking y’all the same questions.So, here’s my second answer:
My career path. My faith. My mental and physical health. My spirituality. My sexuality. In me, all these facets of self stem from our seven principles again and again. Maybe, when I was young, I just fell into it without thought. It felt natural, like breathing to me, like my love for journalism. Without trying most days -- without ever remembering them all off the top of my head -- I live my UU upbringing in my actions and thoughts.
My first memories of outrage, sadness and awe came from those Sundays (somewhere in my youth I became less reluctant to attend). In those mornings I found my passion for storytelling. Our faith thoroughly reinforced the empathy that my family instilled in me. My first timid exploration of sexuality came (thankfully) after my middle school Our Whole Lives class and before my high school relationship. My first deep post-puberty crush was in the YRUU youth group. In fact, my most recent love is a Unitarian Universalist.
So many landmarks and milestones in my life happened through UUism. When I ran away from myself, closed off my “dark and prickly parts” and shut down for a few years, I shut out my connection to my faith as well. I was disconnected, untethered from my being and incredibly depressed. When I was first like this, secretly hurting myself in my bedroom closet with the doors shut in high school, it was a UU peer who told me to seek help. It was my YRUU advisor and my UU minister that sat down with me and let me know I had a community to fall back on. Even If I didn’t recognize it, or acknowledge what it was, my spiritual upbringing has always been hanging around influencing me, coaxing me, encouraging me, comforting me and waiting for me to speak to it.
I can’t go to a worship service now without nostalgia and joyful emotion consuming me. This usually manifest in the forms of tears or laughter. Or both at the same time. The small and large rituals of our faith tend to wash over me so strongly I can barely sit with myself. Singing songs out of the Living Tradition hymnbook chokes my throat and fills me with a sweet longing to grasp again at what I once had. Treating each person with dignity reminds me to do so with myself in all my iterations. When I sit or stand and embrace -- when I acknowledge it -- I am that 5-year-old little girl asking why God doesn’t love me because someone in pre-school told me so. I am that incredulous 6th-grader learning in RE class from a primary witness that the U.S. imprisoned thousands of Japanese-American citizens and immigrants during WWII. I am that high schooler learning to step outside of my bookworm tendencies and take up leadership roles. I am that youth at SWUUSI lost in thought, enjoying the view and the company of my friends sitting in the ice cooler. I am the fresh-out-of-college 21-year-old religious education assistant suddenly thrust into church politics and learning for the first time to say “no” firmly. I am the young adult that I am now, grasping on a whim at something to save me from myself and trying to reconnect with my being in any way possible. I am six-months-ago me going to a Young Adult winter gathering and realizing, for the first time in a long while, that I am home, I am safe. I can be all of myself in this space our faith has created, instead of having to compartmentalize and hide the less desirable parts away from public view. Maybe I had to go away for years to appreciate it, but the interconnected web of all existence is pulled me back in this direction and I can’t part from it, even if I wanted to.
I’m still slowly learning to sit with myself again and sit consciously in my own faith. But I am incredibly, increasingly aware that the love of this religion never left me. It is so incredibly intertwined with who I am.What’s your story?
The authors of #Living UU are Beth Neavel-Cortez and Kristen Psaki. Beth is a free-lance journalist based in Austin, Texas. She is a life long Unitarian Universalist who knows that story-telling is what saves us. Kristen is a member of First Unitarian Society of Denver. She is pursuing ministerial ordination with Unitarian Universalist Association. Kristen loves chocolate and coffee, together or separately.