Welcome!

Bell Tower

Greetings from UUEstrie, a liberal spiritual community that first gathered in the village of North Hatley back in 1886, as the First Universalist Church of North Hatley.

Join us Sundays at 10:30am for our weekly service led either by our minister Rev. Carole Martignacco or a guest lecturer.

Latest News

Harvey White – Negative Theology

On April 17, Dr. Harvey White, professor of religion at Bishop’s University, gave this talk, which we titled “All About God.” He has kindly provided this text of his talk.

He writes, “I enjoyed the occasion. You are a group of wonderful people there.”

In Book 9 of his Confessions, Augustine describes an experience that climaxed his search for God:

She [Monica, Augustine’s mother] and I stood alone, leaning in a window, which looked inwards towards the garden within the house where we were staying”

he continued:

while we were talking of God’s wisdom and panting for it, with all the effort of our heart we did for one instant touch it”.

There’s a well known Augustinian injunction: “Therefore do not seek to understand in order to believe, but believe that you may understand; since, unless you believe, you shall not understand. I believe in order to understand.” [Tractate 29 on the Gospel of John]. Augustine had no doubt about that he had touched that which had called him.

But now, reflecting on that pilgrimage, he sought to understand it: “How did I get here?”, “What am I now?” and most importantly, “What is it that I love when I love you?” [10.6]. In fact, for Augustine, all three questions are virtually asking the same thing/

A bit later in the text Augustine put it as: “What is it that I love when I love my God?” [10.11] It’s certainly not on a par with loving another person. It’s easier to understand what you love when you love another person. But loving God — loving this ultimate being that had so radically called him?

Augustine’s narrative in the final books of the Confessions concerns his attempts to answer that question. Through a whole series of twists and turns through space – especially the space of his own mind – and some intriguing questions and explorations concerning the appprehension of time, the best he can come up with is a vague sense that his – Augustine’s — knowledge of space and time only barely touches a glimpse of God’s infinity and eternity. It’s more like time and space themselves — and indeed he himself in a proximate way – were surrounded by and partook of the infinite and the eternal. But, as he said, there were no words to capture the moment, or capture that which he and Monica had “touched”.

Although the leading texts of Christianity, the Bible, seem to speak about God, Augustine is uncertain as to how one should understand those texts. Thus his own interpretation of the Genesis creation story is allegorical, and he was aware that there were many ways of interpreting that narrative. He enveighed against anyone who would say that their understanding of the Biblical text was the only correct one, even if including his own. He allowed that there can be any number of differing interpretations – and, he said, they can all legitimately be right! He actually says they can all be true. He illustrates this with an analogy of a number of streams which all emanate from a common source. But here – with the sacred text – the source is not susceptible to investigation. One can’t successfully ask God “What do you mean by ‘In the beginning’”. God is not a person who can be so interrogated.

Indeed, one can’t even ask the person who wrote the text – that person is long gone. But Augustine ups the ante even further – even if the writer was right before you, and you could quiz that person, there is no way you could – as it were – get inside that person’s head to find out the exact meaning he or she intended by the spoken or written words. And thus it is the height of arrogance to presume that one can claim to completely understand what the writer wrote in the way the writer intended. Much less find out what God might have intended.

Augustine wrote a commentary on Genesis – “De Genesi ad Litteram”. The title is commonly translated as “The Literal Meaning of Genesis” – a misleading translation if there ever was one. In the first place the word for “meaning” is simply not there! In the second place, the word “literal” today has the sense of “strictly factual” or “descriptively accurate of what is the case”, but the Latin word litteram is more accurately translated as “text” or “what is written”. A more accurate translation is “About Genesis, regarding what is written”.

And that is the point. All there is is a written text, and as such, it is open to a number of ways of understanding it. Had he entitled it “About Genesis, regarding exactly what God meant to say”…. Arrogance. That, I might add, is the arrogance of dogmatic Fundamentalism.

Of course the point is that there is – as the theologian Karl Barth put it – quoting Sören Kierkegaard – “an infinite qualitative distinction between time and eternity”. To put it in other words, God is not accessible to us in regard to what God is. Indeed, not only was this point a cornerstone of Medieval thought, but is basic to much modern religious thought (excluding fundamentalists) as well.

In the late 5th century CE a Christian writer known as Dionysius the Areopagite produced short works that became immensely influential in the middle ages – Thomas Aquinas, for example, refers to him and quotes him almost as extensively as he does Augustine and Aristotle. It was Dionysius who influentially – although controversially – formulated the notion of “negative theology” – the theological language of “God is not”.

For Aquinas, following Dionysius, the only proper way of speaking about God involves the use of affirmations and negations; thus:

God is good” – “God is not-good”. They are simultaneously expressed.

The first “God is good” attributes goodness to God in the common sense of goodness: Mary is good, the poem is good. Then the “not-good” denies that God’s goodness is like the human sense of goodness. What the right hand gives, the left hand takes away. In his Summa Theologica, Aquinas, thinking of Dionysius wrote “For what He is not is clearer to us than what He is”. (Pt1Q1A9 Rsp.ob3)

And we’re apparently left hanging onto very little, if anything. It would seem that we can really say nothing of God. And one wonders – is there any difference between a God of whom we can say nothing and no God at all? A kind of theistic atheism?

Bruce Gilbert, chair of the Department of Liberal Arts at Bishop’s, is giving a course this semester entitled “The Divine and Ultimate Concern”. There are 40 or 50 students registered. The lectures are given by a number of faculty members. I did one on Augustine, Jamie Crooks of the Philosophy Department spoke on the Book of Job, and Dale Stout, in Psychology, spoke about Moby Dick. Jack Eby, from the Music Department, will lecture on the Gregorian Chant. Dr. Gilbert will speak on a text from the East. And there are others. They all have to do with the encounter with a transcendent Voice. With being touched by – or as Augustine puts it – touching something ultimate, something radically other that transforms the mundane and prosaic. That “spiritual experience”.

Of course these are what Augustine and Dionysius and Aquinas and a multitude of others wrote about. In our own time perhaps the best known of such persons is Bishop John Shelby Spong, of whom you may have heard.

What is striking is the wide range of eras and cultures represented. That certainly must give pause to those who question the legitimacy of such experiences – or at least the legitimacy of the belief that these experiences are encounters with something beyond the mere empirical world we inhabit, or are simply no more than some mere psychological aberration. Even that well known opponent of Religion, Christopher Hitchens, at the end of his debate about religion with Tony Blair in Toronto recently, and in an interview in Vanity Fair magazine, admitted that he believes in some transcendence! To quote: “Everybody has had the experience at some point when they feel that there’s more to life than just matter.”

And so Augustine’s question “What is it that I love when I love my God?” seems to have a number of answers. Of course that’s no surprise. Given, at least, that any attempt to definitively circumscribe that God is doomed to failure. Given that the best one can do is speak of what it is not. Ironically, perhaps, Hitchens put his finger on it – more to life than just matter. Augustine and Aquinas would certainly agree! And they agree that because our lives and our words have their meanings from our experiences in this material world, by definition we cannot say what God is. As Aquinas put it – we know that God is, but not what God is.

And, writing about the Bible he said,

The Holy Writing puts before us spiritual and divine things under the comparison of corporeal things….. Dionysius also says (Div. Nom. i), speaking of God: “Neither is there sense, nor image, nor opinion, nor reason, nor knowledge of Him.” Pt.1,Q12.a.1, rsp obj.1)

Here’s the conundrum: People have experiences of the Divine that transcends – the touching and being touched. They can be dismissed as aberrations, or they can be deeply and undeniably felt as genuine encounters. And there is an undeniable quality about them of being touched by a kind of wisdom, and a kind of care and love. The world is not, as Richard Dawkins once described it, “indifferent to human preoccupations” (Unweaving the Rainbow), and “neither kind nor cruel, but indifferent”. (The Devil’s Chaplain).

Like something “out there” that is “right here” and that cares to touch me. A Voice that calls me and invokes a response that makes everything different, ultimately meaningful.

That’s the one side of the coin. The other is that we don’t – can’t – say what that “something” is. We give it a name: “God”, “Jahweh”, “Allah”, whatever.

But the strongly felt impression that that “something” cares and gives meaning to a life seems to demand that we say something about it. Or, to put it another way, we need some language for it — not merely for our subjectively felt experience, but for what it is that is experienced. We need a language to express our response, and,to get some sort of handel on it – to enable us to think about it, consider it, and to at least try and understand it and what it means to us. We cannot remain mute, so we need a language, and this is the language of worship, of prayer, of recognition and response. It’s not simply words, but music and art and liturgy and sacrament.

Indeed, even the awareness that it is not comprehensible, that there are no adequate words for it, seems to presuppose that we try to find words for it. In fact, that is just what Augustine did following the moment when he touched it at Ostia, when he tried to answer the question of what he loved when he loved God. So he tried to think about where God could be found, as though there was a place. The place he looked was inside his mind – his memory, the place where all he knew was stored. But his search was fruitless, concluding that there is no place where God can be found – or rather, that there is no place that could contain God. Beginning with the question “In what place” he concluded “In no place” – that is, in all places – and more. He began with “place” and ended up with “No place” – a negation.

Similarly with time. Does God have a “when”? Once again he tried to get a handle on divine time, and finally had to conclude “In no time” – that is, timeless, eternal. It’s as though we try to burst the bounds of our human understanding, of the meanings of our ordinary words and experience, knowing full well that we cannot succeed – or, perhaps, if we should succeed, nothing would make sense any more. Success becomes failure. Even success would negate itself.

So space and time are negated when one thinks or speaks or writes of God. Nonetheless, time and space are where we live – so we think time and space – and then negate them. The pairs of affirmation and negation.

The twentieth century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said that the language of religion has its own rules, different from those of the language of science and business and the rest of the mundane world. It was, in his phrases, a particular “language game” that was part of a particular “form of life”. I suggest that the peculiarity of religious language is that it ascribes to God what is inascribable. It says “God is love” and “God is not-love” – both at the same time. Or better, perhaps, that the statement “God is love” carries “God is not-love”with it. Or it should.

Aquinas sees this as a kind of spiritual growth. We first and earkliest take words with their ordinary prosaic meaning. We read religious texts as though they were histories or science books, with words in their literal sense — as we use “literal” today. But a spiritual pilgrimage will lead us to increasingly deeper readings of the texts, beyond and beneath the literal – as we use the word today – meanings – to allegorical readings and finally to what were called “spiritual” or “divine” reading. And this is where the significance of the affirmation-denial emerges and, in spite of its apparent strangeness, makes sense. It’s at that level that one seeks to touch God.

In the affirmation-negation pair, the negation serves as a kind of warning — indeed, as a number of warnings. God is not just a great big very old and wise person. It warns us against being too parochial and too arrogant – as though only our (fill in Anglican, Christian, Jewish, Muslim…) concept of God is right and accurate. It warns us of being too judgemental — Muslims, Hindus, Christians etc. – all others — are doomed and damned for not believing what we do. Basically it reminds us that we are, after all, human. And though we can only think and speak of God in our limited vocabulary, we must, nonetheless, negate it.

And it applies to the writers of the sacred texts as well. That no matter how inspired they were, they were also human, as were their inspired writings.

Of course the modern atheists are right when they accuse religious people of all too often trying to impose their religious laws and defined dogmas on everyone else, and of wreaking havoc on other people, on the world in the name of their God, of glorifying kinds of ignorance, of being intolerant. But the rightness of those accusations is because they are directed at religious people who do not take the extra step and say “God is not”.

Personal Wishes – Your own memorial

[lang_fr]Cet fichier est bien bilangue[/lang_fr]
You are immortal, right? You don’t ever visit earthquake-prone areas. But, just in case…
Personal Wishes

Here is the form Rev. Carole passed out at the “Planning your memorial” workshop in March 2010. In fact, anyone interested is welcome to fill it out for our files. This way, you will have your final say, probably within the next 100 years.

You may type right in this file, if you like, once you have downloaded it.

L’amour moteur d’évolution

(Texte préparatoire de l’homélie offert le 13 février 2011)

Bonjour à tous. Merci d’être présent à cette première célébration unitarienne-universaliste en français à North-Hatley. Nous sommes le 13 février, à la veille de la Saint-Valentin. Il est donc naturel de prendre comme sujet l’amour. Je me suis porter volontaire pour faire cette première homélie en français dans notre église. Bien que je ne me considère pas vraiment un spécialiste des relations amoureuses, j’aimerais vous partager quelques idées sur ce sujet.

L’amour tantôt force tranquille, tantôt nourrit du feu de la passion qui souvent nous saisi au moment ou nous l’avions abandonner. L’amour qui parfois s’empare de notre coeur, de notre esprit et de notre corps. L’amour qui met à l’épreuve notre discernement, et prend sa place dans nos choix de vie et dans nos engagements.

Mon expérience de vie comprend près d’une demi douzaines de relations amoureuses. Au début de ces relations, j’ai souvent eu l’impression que moi et ma partenaire formions le couple parfait. Il était facile d’identifier tout ce qui nous convenait chez l’autre. La compréhension et la complicité semblait la pluspart du temps ce qui avait de plus harmonieux. Toutefois, la situation changeait diamétralement lorsqu’arrivait des situations de stress.

Si dans les moments harmonieux, nos objectifs se coordonnent et nous avons l’impression de parler le même language. Dans les moments difficiles, tout peut aller de travers, les mots n’ont plus le même sens, les objectifs semblent divergent, les intérêts incompatibles, la tolérance est à fleur de peau. Tout comme si notre partenaire devenait tout d’un coup un être venu d’une autre planète. Comment une telle chose peut bien se produire?

D’une part, l’état de félicité initiale est probalement généré par une bonne dose d’hormones associées à l’état amoureux et que l’effet de ces hormones s’estompe à mesure que la relation passe dans une phase de maturation. D’autre part, il semble que la nature prend souvent plaisir à unir des partenaires qui utilisent des méthodes parfaitement contraire pour percevoir le réel. Ces différences de perceptions se démarqueraient de façons plus évidente justement en période de stress.

La programmation neurolinguistique nous aide à comprendre ce phénomène de différence de perception. L’explication de base serait que notre mécanisme principale de perception de la réalité est différent de notre partenaire et qu’en période de stress c’est le seul mécanisme qui opère. Les principaux modes de perceptions que nous aborderons ici sont : le visuel, l’auditif, le kinesthésique et le logique.

Chacun de ces modes de perception a un impact sur

  • comment nous precevons votre environnement
  • comment nous nous percevons l’un et l’autre
  • comment nous pensons
  • comment nous vivons nos sentiments
  • comment nous combattons
  • comment nous aimons et désirons être aimé

En temps normal, nous opérons dans la vie suivant un mélange de ces modes de perceptions. Ceci nous permet d’appréhender notre environnement de manière équilibré.  Par contre, sous période de stress, l’énergie est concentrée dans les tensions musculaires et les mouvements cardiaques par suite de notre réaction instinctive fondamentale de survit: « combattre ou fuir ». Le sang et l’énergie qui reste disponible au cerveau ne peut alors alimenter que notre mode de perception principale.

C’est alors sur ce mode de perception incomplet que nous baserons notre compréhension de la réalité et défierons notre partenaire. Dans le même temps, sous le stress, notre partenaire aura un biais similaire, mais, suivant son propre mode de perception principale. C’est ainsi qu’on se retrouve avec un dialogue de sourd et que les émotions peuvent littéralement faire de la haute voltige. Ce, jusqu’à parfois faire déclencher tous les boutons sensibles de l’un et de l’autre en quelques échanges seulement.

Voici quelques caractéristiques des quatre principaux modes de perceptions.

  • Le Visuel : Un visuel est flamboyant et visionnaire. Il est capable par son regard d’établir une communication intense et privilégiée. C’est un motivateur. Il a la capacité d’avoir une bonne vision en perspective. Toutefois, sous le stress, il peut  se prendre à vous regarder directement dans les yeux et de vous dire exactement ce que vous faites mal. Il reste droit, clair, et ne parle pas de lui.  Il ne parle que de vous.  Tout ce qu’il dit c’est à propos de vous. Vous pouvez vous sentir blamé, critiqué. Pour lui, il ne fait que vous fournir le résultat de ses observations. En fait, sous le stress, il est incapable d’y voir sa part, car il ne se rend pas compte qu’il a perdu sa vision en perspective. Sa position, c’est que vous faites erreurs, vous avez tord. Il est prêt à en débattre et par la force de ses arguments, il gagne habituellement le débat.
  • Le Logique: Le logique est quelqu’un de neutre, fiable et de stable. Capable de réfléchir dans la majorité des situations. Sous stress il n’est pas vraiment intéressé à débattre parce que sa position est très claire “j’ai raison”. Il sera facile pour lui de rejeter ce qui ne s’accorde pas avec ce qu’il dit. Il trouve que ça ne vaut pas la peine de débattre parce qu’avec le temps vous allez vous rendre compte à quel point vous étiez dans l’erreur. Il est très détaché. Il est difficile de le toucher au niveau émotif au point que ça vous exaspère. Plus ça vous rend hystérique, plus il devient rationnel, logique, et détaché. Rien alors ne semble l’atteindre. M. Spock dans « Star Trek » est la personification presque parfaite du type « logique ».  Le Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy, plus émotif, est lui son éternel victime.
  • L’auditif : Un auditif va vous écouter entre les lignes, il ne se fiera pas seulement sur les mots que vous allez utiliser mais aussi, il va interpréter les inflexions de votre voix. Souvent, il entend ce que vous n’avez jamais dit, par le simple son de votre voix. Il en a extrapolé le sens. Les auditifs font de bons thérapeutes car ils sont capable de comprendre ce que vous n’arrivez pas à expliquer. Ils ont des sonars. Par contre, sous le stress, non seulement il entend ce que vous n’avez jamais dit, mais aussi ce que vous n’avez jamais pensé. La dynamique relationnelle sous stress lui laisse souvent penser que vous le rejetez. Sous l’impact sonore de votre colère ou de votre exaspération, il n’écoute plus les mots que vous utilisez, mais plutôt il se met écouter son dialogue intérieur. La position d’un auditif dans un conflit est “je déteste que tu me fasse sentir à quel point tu trouves que je suis dans l’erreur”. Il a aussi une tendance marqué aux interprétations extrémistes.
  • Kinesthésique: Le kinesthésique a une très grande compassion. Lui aussi peu faire un excellent thérapeute ou un aidant car il est beaucoup plus orienté vers les autres que vers lui-même. Aussi, dans son cas, l’information doit traverser son corps pour être bien comprise. Sous le stress, il est incapable de reconnaitre sa propre vérité. Il ne souvient pas pourquoi il y a discussion, ne se souvient pas de ses arguments. Il finit par s’accrocher à ce que vous dites et par accepter vos arguments. Par contre, une fois seul, il va réaliser qu’il aurait du suivre son intuition.

Pris séparément, chacun de ces modes de perceptions donne une vision incomplète de la réalité. L’affrontement des opposés peut nourrir de grandes souffrances entre les partenaires. Il semble essentiel de comprendre ce phénomène pour la survit du couple. Par exemple, ma compagne et moi, nous avons fait l’exercice d’identifier notre mode de perception primaire et secondaire de chacun. Cela a conduit a une compréhension nouvelle et édifiante des mécanismes de discussions dans notre couple.

Après avoir identifié et étudié vos modes de perception respectifs, il reste encore à trouver des moyens pour faire baisser la tension lorsqu’elle arrive. Évacuer l’énergie qui est bloquée dans le stress, pour que tout circule normalement à travers le corps. Le but, c’est d’entrer dans un mode de perception plus équilibré, de reprendre la communication de façons pacifique, et de rendre compte avec franchise des biais respectifs.

Avec des outils appropriés, la relations amoureuse serait donc finalement un moyen pour apprendre à devenir plus complet en tant qu’individus et en tant que couple. D’abord, via la compréhension et l’intégration des différents modes de perceptions et utiliser cette intégration pour la résolution des moments de tensions. En rétroaction, le couple se développe et s’enrichit de la résolution des tensions. C’est ainsi que nous dirons que l’amour du couple devient un moteur important de notre évolution.

Laurent Hubert,

Notes résultant des discussions après la présentation :

  1. Il y a des praticiens en language neurolinguistique qui utilisent des subdivisions supplémentaires comme visuel interne, visuel externe, auditif interne, auditif externe.
  2. Les personnes qui se disent profondéments intuitives sont probablement du type kinestésique, mais cela reste à confirmer.
  3. Il est normal de se sentir dans un mode de perception dans certaines situations, et dans un autre mode dans d’autres. Les mécanismes d’adaptations cherchent à nous faire apprendre des modes différents pour différentes situations. Dans cette optique, un être optimale serait à l’aise dans les quatres modes de perceptions avec une prépondérance adéquate pour chaque circonstance.
  4. Dans le video de Dona Eden, donné en référence, on trouve différentes techniques pour éviter l’escalade et évacuer l’énergie associé au stress.
  5. La relation amoureuse  fait partie des relations fondamentales. D’autres relations peuvent faire vivre des contextes similaires: Parent-enfant, employé-patron, enfant-enfant, etc.

Références:

  • video « The Energies of Love, The Invisible Key to a Fulfilling Relationship » Dona Eden et David Feinstein.
  • Différents documents sur le language neurolinguistique trouvés sur internet.

Mariages et autres cérémonies

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Personnelles – significatives – mémorables

L’Église unitarienne universaliste de North Hatley offre:

  • Des cérémonies célébrant différentes étapes marquantes de la vie :
  • Mariages, bénédictions de domicile, naissances, renouvellements des vœux matrimoniaux, cérémonies commémoratives d’un défunt et divorces à l’amiable
  • Des cérémonies personnalisées et créées avec votre collaboration
  • Des mariages civils  
  • Des célébrants qualifiés et attentionnés
  • Des services en français et/ou en anglais
  • Une somptueuse église, construite en 1895, dotée d’un sanctuaire d’origine tout en bois avec d’excellentes acoustiques. Peut accommoder plus de 100 personnes. Équipée de deux cuisines et de salles de réception. Facile à trouver, espaces de stationnement disponibles, accessible aux fauteuils roulants
  • Possibilité de cérémonies en plein air, sur votre propriété ou au lieu de votre choix, dans le respect de l’environnement
  • Contact avec des traiteurs locaux, si nécessaire

Pour plus d’information :

Église unitarienne universaliste
201 rue Principale, North Hatley, (Qué.)
819-842-4146
ceremonies@uuestrie.ca

Voir plus d’information sur cérémonies

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[lang_en]This was the first item on the new website, from January 2011, in time for the Salon des Marriages. Switch to français at right to see the elegant text, or go to “Ceremonies”

… Somebody pleas translate this post![/lang_en]