Unity arose in a time when mental healing was commonplace. Whether by remote or in person, those sought for their abilities to somehow facilitate change in body or circumstance through matters of mind were respected and in high demand. And while this matters of mind might be called prayer in spiritual circles, let us understand that some of these mental healing practitioners expressly avoided any language of religion in their work because they perceived that some of the core problems (some of the damaging beliefs, some of the fearful limitations, some of the misguided paradigms) were installed by religion itself.
And I wouldn’t disagree. For its many beauties, religion has a long shadow.
And so it was that when Myrtle Paige Fillmore successfully navigated her diagnosis of tuberculosis through a courageous wrestling with matters of belief and limitation and paradigm (in her case using meditation and affirmation and forgiveness and the like) and when others asked her to help them do the same (which occurred with widely documented success, by the way), Unity was born.
And so, I think it can be suggested that you are experiencing a tradition with deep roots in the idea that you have available greater potential than you realize and that this greater potential can be enlivened through various universal practices (practices which we tend to call spiritual practices).
And I think it can be suggested that you are experiencing an idea which, even though it would come to be expressed in the language of the Judeo-Christian tradition, it isn’t considered exclusive to Judeo-Christian peoples.
As I’ve asked so many times before, in the early 1900’s in Midwest farm country, what other language would Myrtle and Charles Fillmore have used to express their teachings? While they were deeply influenced by various traditions and were certainly inclusive of their wisdom, I tend to think the Unity Cofounders had to speak in a language which their people were able to hear; and that was the language of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Early 1900’s Midwest farmers may or may not have been able to hear the language of Swami Vivekananda, even though the Fillmores certainly could (and did). I believe if Charles and Myrtle Fillmore were teaching today, their language would be much broader.
So, I might say that you are experiencing a tradition which is considered Christian in terms of its early language of articulation, and yet Unity is a tradition which does not position itself or its people above or apart from those of other faith traditions, so much as it positions itself and its peoples alongside those of all faith traditions.
Unity’s ranks include our Catholic brothers and sisters, our Zen Buddhists, our Buddhist monks, our wiccans and pagans, our agnostics and atheists alike. I consider it a profound beauty of the Unity tradition that we will not seek to convert you from any one path (if you will) to any other path because we recognize, even accept and honor, the appropriateness of your path for you. I consider it a profound beauty of the Unity tradition that not only do we recognize, accept and honor your path, we are likely to ask you about it. Tell us what you bring to our collective table. Tell us about the wisdom of your tradition, the practices of your tradition, the beliefs of your tradition.
I like to say Unity is known as the church of the holy curiosity!
Unity is wildly inclusive because Unity believes that all traditions (at their very core) are in the waking up business and that all traditions have value to bring to that goal. And yes, there are those in every tradition who would leverage that tradition as a tool for awakening. And there are those in every tradition who would leverage that tradition as a weapon for separation.
So, the real tension doesn’t exist between traditions. The real tension exists within them. Said simply: all traditions are in the waking up business and all traditions have those who forget.
And so it is that while many communities would demonstrate a brand of love resembling homogeneity and conformity, Unity would demonstrate a brand of love resembling acceptance and curiosity.
I read a compelling minister’s article this past week stating that, and I quote, “We don’t hate them, in fact, we love the LGBTQ people so much, we’re willing to help them change from their evil ways.” We don’t hate them. We love them so much we’re willing to help them change.
That’s not Unity, you see. We hold change as a product of our love, not as a condition to our love.
I think it’s quite a model for how the world can be: a model no longer perpetuating the misguided fantasies of homogeneity, a model no longer celebrating the unworthy bar of tolerance, but a model courageously declaring the messy delight of acceptance.
Diversity, you see, is a high value for us. So come with your Zoroastrian self. Come with your nonbinary self. Come with your uniquely-abled self. We believe you are quite divine just as you are and we are most eager to love each other better for your company.
It was several decades past when a Fillmore descendant sought to define Unity’s core teachings. It’s important that we grasp that Unity has no central text, unlike so many of our contemporary traditions. Centers for Spiritual Living has The Science of Mind, for example. Christian Science has Science of Health, as another. Unity has a bunch of books which were writings of the Fillmores or compilations of the Fillmores or transcriptions of the Fillmores, even scribbles and doodles of the Fillmores.
So, when a Fillmore descendant defined Unity’s core teaching in five basic tenets or principles, it was, I imagine, quite welcomed and it’s at the beginning of each year that I like to present those five basic tenets or principles which are not new or unique in human history or in religious thought, although they can seem so to many.
The first tenet or principle is often languaged as, “There is one Presence and one Power in the universe and in my life, God the good omnipotent.” And let me start by suggesting that even the word God is problematic for it tends to conjure (do a reality check for yourself here) it tends to conjure a human first, and a male human second, and a male human who exists somewhere ‘out there,’ third, and so on. The word God is problematic because it defies the very experience of God right here which so many traditions would encourage us to seek.
So even the word God is problematic because we’ve done what humanity has always done: we’ve projected self onto the without, and the powerful suggestion of a humanity created in God’s likeness has become the twisted dysfunction of a God created in humanity’s likeness, complete with bad moods, favorite peoples and notable anger control issues. I might suggest that it’s a universal problem, really, these words of ours. It’s a universal problem because words are, at their very best, crude representations of matters of thought, crude representations subject to all manner of limitation and distortion, both by the giver and the receiver.
It’s a problem to think you’re really communicating just because you have some words, you see. It’s not that easy. We’re called to higher standards than that.
Nonetheless, this tenet suggests at its core that there is one Source behind all expressed form. There is one Source behind rocks and hills and plants and things (as the song says), one Source behind giraffes and geraniums and jungles; germs and geniuses and jack-o-lanterns alike; one Source behind bees and brunettes and blow-fish; bankers and yes, Buddhists and Baptists alike.
As our words of invocation remind, there is a singular ground of being from which all life emerges and into which all life retreats.
And so, while human beings have fashioned gods in their images since stumbling into the sunlight from those early caves on the African continent, and while human beings have fashioned all manner of antagonists and antagonistic forces that would oppose the ground of all being, in the end, Unity would suggest that the nature of God is unified, eternal and comprehensive. Yes, to be clear, Unity would suggest that the devil didn’t really make you do anything. The devil didn’t really make me blame my neighbor for throwing rocks at cars and the devil didn’t really make her tell on me.
There is God, to quote the apostle Paul, in which we live, move and have our being. In this sense, I like to describe Unity as something of a panentheistic tradition. Some colleagues would disagree and that’s okay. I like to describe Unity as something of a panentheistic tradition in the sense that there is one Source behind everything and behind everyone. We’re all made of the same stuff and it’s the stuff of eternal beingness itself, it’s the stuff of endless is-ness itself.
I want to suggest that the same stuff of eternal beingness, this same stuff of endless is-ness knows what it’s doing. Yes, the first tenet suggests that we’re all part of what I like to call a natural order of things and that this natural order of things knows how to support the fullness of its creation (of which you are a part). So, the fundamental conversations among so-called spiritual human beings must shift from begging and getting to listening and aligning.
There is a natural order of things that knows how to do you. Are you cooperating or are you arguing? There’s your question for today. It’s a core question. It’s a universal question. Are you arguing or are you cooperating?
It’s been said (it could have been me, I don’t really remember) but it’s been said that the most important teaching is that God is one and that life is eternal. Imagine how many of our petty concerns and nagging fears might be addressed by a deep awareness that God is one and that life is eternal? Imagine how many of our tribal discords and partisan skirmishes might be resolved by a deep awareness that God is one and that life is eternal? Imagine how many of our selfish behaviors and destructive tendencies might be addressed by a deep awareness that God is one and that life is eternal?
I might suggest the awareness of God as one is the bedrock for compassion – compassion, no longer a luxury, but a necessity for collective survival.
Said a different way, Unity would encourage each of us to seek an awareness of that God that existed before humanity stumbled forth from those caves and began to mess everything up with human projections, limitations, tendencies and systems. Unity would encourage each of us to seek an awareness of that God that existed before humanity began to mess everything up with religion.
Unity would encourage each of us to seek an awareness of that God of One, that God of all, that God of everything, that God that can be found in every religious tradition and yet can be limited to no religion; that God that exists in rocks and hills and plants and things (as the song says) that God of giraffes and geraniums alike, that God of Buddhists and Baptists alike.
The first tenet says that there is One. And Unity says that when we really get that, when we really grasp that at the level of consciousness and begin to live lives from that awareness, we will at long last begin to heal this family of life.