“Then the Buddha addressed all the monks once more, and these were the very last words he spoke:
“Behold, O monks, this is my last advice to you. All component things in the world are changeable. They are not lasting. Work hard to gain your own salvation.”
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Philipians 2:12
These final words, offered to communities of people practicing their faith bear striking resemblance, and yet they were delivered over 500 years apart in quite different settings. The first came from the Buddha whose own path became the foundation of Buddhism. Delivered as he lay dying, his Indian monks were gathered around him in quiet meditation to receive his final instructions. The second were words delivered by St. Paul, also known as Saul of Tarsus, in a letter to a group of Christians that he had helped begin their community in a town in Asia Minor known as Philippi. He was not dying (though he would soon be killed), but he knew that he would not see the Philippians again.
In both messages, there is some acknowledgment that things always change. In both settings, what is also implicit is that the growing community of faith has already received from the teacher important instructions on living and walking their spiritual path. At that point, their messages are identical: take what you have received and work out your lives, your paths, the meaning of things.
Wise teachers are a gift to have, and teachings are key to passing on the wisdom of the spiritual life. The really important part of the spiritual life, however, is the practice. Unitarian-Universalism has a reputation for being an intellectual, academic gathering of people. We like ideas. We like to read. We like to talk about what we read. We even like to argue about our ideas.
The meaning of our faith and of our spiritual path does not and cannot depend solely on what we think or read or how well we argue. The meaning of our faith and spiritual path really is about how we practice it.
A surprising thing happens when we turn our attention to working out our faith. In the working it out, we have experiences that we would never have had if we had just continued to live in our heads. Practicing our faith, each of us, alone and together, creates a new level of wisdom that is current and alive. Working out our spiritual practice gives us something personal that is connected to what we know and read, and that is worth handing on.
What are you working out today, on your path, in your life, from your faith?