Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: What Moves Us: A Unitarian Universalist Theology Program for Adults

Activity 1: Four Human Capacities

Part of What Moves Us

Activity time: 20 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • Newsprint, markers, and tape
  • Timepiece (minutes)
  • Participant journals
  • Variety of writing and drawing implements

Preparation for Activity

  • If participants may need journals, obtain notebooks with unlined pages. Gather a variety of writing and drawing implements.
  • Write on newsprint, and post, the four human capacities affected by a spiritually transforming experience: Sensations, Emotional Feelings, Thoughts (ideas and concepts), and Physical Action.

Description of Activity

Introduce Charles Chauncy as the "historical progenitor" of American Unitarianism, using these or similar words:

Chauncy was pastor from 1727 to 1787 at the First Church of Boston, the city's oldest and most prestigious Congregational church. He set out to shore up the religious traditions, practices, doctrines, and beliefs of the Boston's elite merchant class against the rising tide of evangelical preachers of the Great Awakening. These preachers not only condemned Congregational ministers like Chauncy, but also urged the members of these ministers' churches to abandon ship and join the rising tide of revivalism . Chauncy rejected the evangelical preachers' claims that public, highly charged emotional conversion experiences were a reliable foundation for faith. Instead, he put forth his own studied analysis of the four elements in human experience he deemed necessary for a true spiritual transformation: physical sensations, emotional feelings, thoughts (ideas and concepts), and modified behavior toward self and others.

Invite participants into an exercise to help them understand Charles Chauncy's concept of the four human capacities affected by a spiritually transforming experience. Ask them to pay attention to the four different ways in which they experience the sound of your voice as you speak. Explain:

  • They hear your voice: thus sensation (sound waves affect the ear drum, etc.).
  • They find the tone and timbre of your voice pleasant or unpleasant: thus the emotional feelings.
  • They think about what the sounds you are making mean: thus the ideas and concepts.
  • Finally, they physically alter their behavior (take notes, for example) in response to the sounds you have made with your voice: thus the physical action.

Point out the four human capacities you have listed on newsprint. Explain that Chauncy's Theology of Spiritual Renewal is based, in part, on his analysis of how these four human capacities combine to create a spiritual experience. Invite participants to break down their own experience of listening to your voice into these four categories and to write four sentences in their journal, one for each respective aspect (sensations, emotions, thoughts, physical action) of their experience of your voice. Allow four minutes.

Ask participants to move into groups of three and use the following process to share with the other members of their group:

  • Each person reads their first sentence aloud to the other members of the group. After all have read their first sentence, proceed to the second. After all have read aloud their second sentence, proceed to the third. Follow the same process for the fourth.
  • After all group members have read all four of their sentences aloud, each member of the triad is invited to reflect aloud on thoughts, insights, and feelings that have come to the fore as a result of this exercise.
  • After all have shared their sentences and their reflections, triads may begin a second round of sharing to offer further thoughts, feelings, insights, and reflections.