This lesson explores the sources from which we draw wisdom as Unitarian Universalists. First, we’ll look at the Six Sources of Unitarian Universalism as defined in the Unitarian Universalist Association’s bylaws. Then we’ll ask you to examine the sources from which you draw wisdom in your own life and gather together your own wisdom library (or wall… or refrigerator door). We’ll also provide some ideas for parents and grandparents about how you can explore the Six Sources with your children and reflect on the wisdom you are sharing with them.
Share your work! In this lesson we’ll ask you to gather together some of the sources from which you draw wisdom in your life. This might look like a collection of books on a shelf (a wisdom library) or it might be a collection of favorite quotations and poetry on your refrigerator door. Whatever you gather together for this lesson, please take a photo and send it with a brief explanation to firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to see a gallery of some of the Wisdom Library images and descriptions shared by the GUUF community.
The Six Sources of Unitarian Universalism
While Unitarian Universalism has deep historical roots in the long evolving Judeo-Christian tradition, our movement draws wisdom from more than just these Judeo-Christian roots. The broad diversity of the sources of our tradition was made explicit in 1985, when UUA members voted to amend Article II of the UUA bylaws (the statement of “Principles and Purposes”) to include a list of five “living traditions we share.” (Click here to read more about the process of revising the Principles and Purposes in 1985.)
In 1995, the UUA added a sixth tradition, earth-centered religions. A more recent revision of the Sources was made at the UUA General Assembly in 2018, when members voted to change the wording of the second source to be more gender inclusive. (Click here to watch video footage of the moment during the 2018 General Assembly when the latest revision passed.)
Below is the current version of the Six Sources.
“The living tradition which we share draws from many sources:
Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
Words and deeds of prophetic people which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit;
Spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.”
A Doorway to the Sacred — Rev. Makanah Elizabeth Morriss describes our Six Sources as offering “a doorway to the sacred.” She writes:
“These Sources invite us into dialogue with the past, with the writers and teachers through the ages who have pursued each path. They invite us into an experience of the present as we engage in the different spiritual disciplines each has to offer. They open us to visions of the future as we look for ways to create a world of justice, equity, and compassion. These Sources speak to the multiple intelligences we know are important to tap in a religious education. They open doors of understanding to the varied perceiving and judging functions of our human psyches: sensing, intuiting, thinking, feeling.”“Doorway to the Sacred” by Rev. Makanah Elizabeth Morriss, from Essex Conversations: Visions for Lifespan Religious Education, Unitarian Universalist Association, 2001
As you look through the six sources, ask yourself — from which sources you seek wisdom in your life? Do you favor some of the sources over others? Why? What do your preferred sources of wisdom say about you and the way you relate to the world? Are there sources you know little about and would like to explore more?
Exploring the Sources as a Unitarian Universalist — In the Fall of 2019, GUUF’s Rev. Lisa Bovee-Kemper delivered a series of seven sermons on the Six Sources (including an introductory sermon and a sermon for each of the Sources). If you are interested in learning more about any one of the sources and how it informs Unitarian Universalism, these sermons are an excellent place to start. Below you will find links to both audio recordings of the sermons and text transcripts.
“Sources I: Our Living Tradition” (August 11, 2019) — Introduction to the Six Sources
“Sources II: Transcending Mystery and Wonder” (September 8, 2019) — On the 1st Source
“Sources III: Challenging Prophets” (September 22, 2019) — On the 2nd Source
“Sources IV: Many Facets, One Gem” (October 20, 2019) — On the 3rd Source
“Sources V: Loving Our Neighbors” (October 27, 2019) — On the 4th Source
“Sources VI: Guidance of Reason” (November 10, 2019) — On the 5th Source
Note: There were two other reflections that went along with this homily. One from Don Youngblood and the other from Ron Hilderbrand.
“Sources VII: Sacred Circle of Life” (December 8, 2019) — On the 6th Source
Building a Wisdom Library (or wall… or refrigerator door)
Are there certain books, stories, poems, quotations, experiences, or other bits of wisdom that have stayed with you through the years? Do you have books in your home that have helped to define how you relate to the world? Do you have some cherished children’s books that you hold onto because of their immense wisdom? Perhaps you have some favorite bits of poetry or inspiration posted on your refrigerator or a bulletin board? Or perhaps the wisest thing you’ve ever heard was a story your grandmother told you, and you remember it by displaying a photo or another bit of memorabilia?
Whatever might be the case for you, make an attempt to gather the wisdom in your home together and reflect on what it tells you about yourself. Collect some books on a shelf. Include photos, memorabilia, or personal journals, if appropriate. You might have a shelf of wisdom like this in your house already, or it might be a wall (or refrigerator door) of wisdom, covered in your favorite poetry and quotations.
Once you have gathered together your sources of wisdom, look at what you have and ask yourself how it might relate to the Six Sources:
- Are different religious, spiritual, or philosophical traditions reflected in your personal sources?
- Do your personal sources reflect your own experiences of mystery and wonder?
- How do your personal sources tell your story or the story of your family or community?
- Is anything missing? (This is a personal question, not a value judgement.) If something is missing, would you like to seek it out? How would you do that?
Whatever you have gathered together, please take a photo and send it with a brief explanation to email@example.com. We’ll include all of the wisdom shared by the GUUF community in a gallery next week.
For Parents and Grandparents: Sharing Wisdom with Your Child
For parents, the six sources provide an excellent framework for beginning to expose your children to the world’s many wisdom traditions. If you read (or tell) stories with your child or grandchild, ask yourself if those stories come from any of these sources.
- How do the stories you share reflect the wisdom you want to pass on to your child?
- Are there any of the Six Sources you are favoring over others?
- What stories are you passing on from previous generations?
- What stories are you discovering for the first time with your child?
- What stories of mystery and wonder from your own experience are you sharing with your child?
- What stories of mystery and wonder is your child sharing with you from their experience?
Try talking to your child about the Six Sources and ask them if they know any stories that relate to any of them. Here is a list of the Sources in simpler language that you could share with kids:
- Experiences of mystery and wonder
- Words and deeds of people that remind us to speak up to power
- Spiritual wisdom from the world’s religions
- Jewish and Christian teachings to love others
- Humanist teachings of science and reason
- Earth based traditions that celebrate the circle of life
Find out what wisdom your child already knows. Where did they learn it? What are their favorite books and stories?
Try putting together a “wisdom library” with your child using some of your favorite books, stories, and memories. In addition to books, this might also include photographs, artwork, favorite song lyrics, or movies. You don’t have to have the books or physical media at home — this could be a drawing or collage recalling you and your child’s favorite stories.
Whatever you create, please take a photo and send it with a brief explanation to firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to see a gallery of some of the Wisdom Library images and descriptions shared by the GUUF community.