“Keep your own hold upon God and you will be all the help anyone could want.”
I found this little saying on a card, when I was visiting the Mount Angel Abbey in St. Benedict, Oregon, with my son and daughter-in-law. It was illustrated with a picture of a dad talking to children, in the style of a 1950s early reader. After looking at it for a minute, it caught me.
Now, I’m thinking that my Gentle Readers may be responding with thoughts like, “Well, yes. It sounds like a 1950s reading primer. Simplistic.” And I get it — I had a similar first response.
But wait! If you take the time to reflect on it, change the language a bit if that suits you, you’ll find that it’s pretty good advice.
I take it to mean that if each of us gets and stays connected with our source(s) of spiritual nourishment, we will have what it takes to be of service in this world: centered, compassionate, nonjudgmental. I take it to mean that our connection to our own bright light, calling us to reverence and right action, will light our way to “help” this hurting world, to be of use in good and appropriate ways.
Examples come to mind.
Thirty-nine years ago, I stopped drinking alcohol. I most emphatically could not have done it without my Higher Power, without opening myself to the mysterious wisdom of that which is greater than I am. At that point, I did not use the word “God,” still finding that name caught up in narrow and exclusionary religion. But it didn’t matter. I had to step away from my own self will — which was not delivering me from the nightmare of alcohol abuse — and find the spiritual inspiration that wrought the miracle of ongoing recovery. After two years of sobriety, I went to seminary and became a Unitarian Universalist minister.
I think of my Dream Group, four of us “women of a certain age,” who have been meeting, regularly and intimately, for more than 30 years. (The “certain age” has crept up over the years!) We are intensely mundane, sharing the joy, sorrow, confusion, grief and triumph of day-to-day life. At the same time, we are deeply spiritual, connected by Spirit. We open our meetings by holding hands, feeling ourselves in the presence of love and community and unconditional acceptance. We maintain our “hold on God” and are consequently of lifesaving help to each other.
Finally, I think about my son, who became a Catholic as an adult. I remember when he was going through the extensive process of learning about that faith, how discussion and reflection on the Bible, Jesus’ teachings, the Commandments, and the ups and downs of church doctrine opened his already spiritually inclined heart. He has always been inclined toward faith, and I saw him take this opportunity to deepen. He has let his faith journey, his hold on God, have an influence on his life, on his family and on his job as supervisor of a hospice program.
Anyone can “keep their hold on God.” Any of us, using whatever terms or absence of terms we like, can connect more deeply and broadly with our sources of inspiration, comfort and depth. By connecting ourselves with that which calls us to our best selves, we can serve, become the help that is needed.
May it be so.
The Rev. Elizabeth Greene is minister emerita of the Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. Contact her at email@example.com. The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.