Many churches of a certain age feature, at the back of the Sanctuary, a full-body baptistery — some sort of tank into which the believer may descend in order to be raised up into new life. I’ve seen such a baptistery used only once; almost always, the basin is dry. Not so, the Unity Center, a community with roots in Christianity and tendrils twining into the realms of Buddha, Confucius, and Gandhi. In the Sanctuary, water also flowed down the undulating faces of two glistening sheets of stone. The effect was soothing, much like the Tibetan chant for universal compassion offered by guest musicians Anton Mizerak and Kim Lorene (the former on keyboards, the latter working the singing bowls, both of them harmonizing on vocals). “Om Tare Tare Tut Tare Ture Soha...”
There was much that was soothing about the place and the service, including Pastor Wendy Craig-Purcell’s words during meditation: “Jesus talked about the invitation to come unto Him, all you who were weary and heavy-laden, and He would give you rest. Mystically and metaphysically, we take that to mean, come unto the awareness of the God within. In doing so, we will feel a sense of freedom and peace and relief...” (And the gathering concluded with the following prayer of protection: “The light of God surrounds us. The love of God enfolds us. The power of God protects us. The presence of God watches over us. Wherever we are, wherever we go, God is, and all is well.”)
But it wasn’t all comfort and light. Craig-Purcell continued, “Let our prayer of affirmation this morning be, ‘Spirit, let me know what is mine to do. Let me know what is mine to understand.’”
What to do, what to understand? Well, there was this, from the on-screen announcements before things got started: “Your version of reality is an illusion. It doesn’t exist outside your head. Enlightenment is just seeing things as they are. All that’s needed is a shift in perception. But beware, Adyashanti warns, there’s nothing in it for the ego. ‘A Shift of Perception: Adyashanti’ video discussion group with Pastor Will.” More challenging than comforting.
But the real theme of the service showed up in Pastor Will’s words of inspiration. First, from Gandhi: “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are all in harmony.” Then from Epictetus: “First say to yourself what you would be, and then do exactly what you have to do.” And then from Confucius: “To put the world in order...we must first cultivate our souls.” All this was illustrated and illuminated by Eknath Easwaran’s book The Compassionate Universe: The Power of the Individual to Heal the Environment.
The book was based on Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins, an examination of which, said Craig-Purcell, would give us “a pattern or blueprint for beginning to live our lives in greater spiritual authenticity across all aspects of our lives.... How we purchase, what we purchase, how we live, how we treat our planet, how we treat one another, what we stand for... We do not just celebrate our faith...on Sunday morning. It’s demonstrated in what we put into our bodies, what we watch on TV, what we support, conversations we have...”
First up: knowledge without character. “We have acted with knowledge without character,” said Craig-Purcell. “We’re not bad people, but we don’t fully understand sometimes all that we need to understand.... Our problems are simply the result of avoidable though deadly errors of judgment. All we have to do is judge rightly. All we have to do is get better informed and act upon that information.... We know right from wrong, and if we’re not sure, we can use that practice of prayer and meditation...
and we will get to what the absolute truth is. We will know the right action to take. Solutions are already present; we just have to make sure we know what they are and we have to make them important enough...that we are motivated to act upon them.”
She warned against rampant consumerism and challenged the congregation to attend church and think about what they heard, to join a “Sacred Circle” small group and grow spiritually, and to “pick one thing that you know is good for you and for our world — something wholesome and right that you’re not doing now — and commit to doing that through the next seven weeks.” She mentioned diligent recycling or eating lower on the food chain. “How many of you are willing to pick one thing?” she asked, and hands went up. “That’s a lot of us. That gives me hope.”
What happens when we die?
“The soul goes on,” said Craig-Purcell.
8999 Activity Road, San Diego
: UnityFounded locally
: 1983Senior pastor
: Wendy Craig-PurcellCongregation size
: 1400Staff size
: 14Sunday school enrollment
: about 120Annual budget
: about $1 millionWeekly giving
: n/aSingles program
: casual to formalDiversity
: majority Caucasian, also Pacific Islander and HispanicSunday worship
: 9 a.m., 11 a.m.Length of reviewed service
: 1 hour, 15 minutesWebsite