This I Believe: Kathleen Keating (2012)

Right now, in an endeavor to “Grow my Soul” I’m in the midst of a chaplaincy internship at a large local hospital. Shortly after that internship began, I was telling my husband, Dick, about the qualms I had about being a UU and serving a huge population with diverse spiritual and theological backgrounds. Dick mildly observed that it would be interesting if I wrote a “This I Believe” and then looked at it when I complete the internship, to see if there would be any changes. Within a week of that conversation, I received the invitation to speak here today, and thought, “OK, I’ll do it.”

I came to UUism about 40 years ago, after being raised in an Irish Catholic family and attending Catholic schools through high school. Until my mid-twenties, I was a devout Catholic. But from my early 20’s to age 25, my acceptance of the tenets of the Church gradually unraveled, until I finally realized that I wasn’t being honest about being a Catholic if I really didn’t accept its teachings. I figured that if I didn’t believe anything in the Apostles Creed, I really didn’t belong in the Catholic Church.

At that time, I thought I was finished with organized religion until I learned about Unitarian Universalism. As a new UU, I spent many years in fiercely humanist UU Societies, AND they were called SOCIETIES, NOT Churches! There I formed lovely, lasting friendships, but for me, spiritual growth was pretty much NOT involved. My “theology” as a UU at that time was mostly what I didn’t believe. However, I did get a little inkling of spirituality from the Women’s Spirituality group that began there, but I still steadfastly avoided talk of GOD…even here at WBUUC, in a group studying An Altar in the World, I told Victoria that I thought the book’s language was too “Goddy.” And she, in her wise way, asked me to consider what language WOULD describe my belief in the holy. I still do avoid using the word “God,” because it seems to me that the dominant religious culture has images of that word that really don’t fit for me: Some old, usually white male puppeteer whose “will must be done.”

At WBUUC I’ve been encouraged to discern what I DO believe.

So this is my journey so far: devout Catholic, a-theist, humanist agnostic, to a believer in a spirit of life and love. This spirit of life and love is revealed to me in nature and through the spark of the divine in humans.

SO, right now, This I Believe:

I believe in love, the spirit of life and love, as Victoria begins prayers: “Spirit of life and love, moving through wind and over water, in sunlight and starlight, on wild grasses and in the voices of birds, the voices of children, great spirit moving in all things and in each of us…”  That Spirit sustains me. Spending time in the natural world gives me a sense of the Divine that is present to me in all my senses. A strong image of this concept is from an early morning walk in a beloved spot in Colorado. The contrast of the sun rising, at first seemingly under dark foothills, changing the shadows into trees and revealing the contours of the hills…There are good reasons that sunrise is such a well used metaphor…Things may not be what they appear to be, depending on the light…I’m still discerning as the light changes in my life. One night early in my internship, I must have been dreaming of the chaplaincy, and I woke to the thought, “ I can’t do this…” and immediately came the word, “alone.” And that is true for the internship, my life, and Goodness knows, standing here today, I am NOT alone. I know I am surrounded by love, and I don’t have to do any of this alone.

I believe I am making my eternal life today…Here…now. The effects of what I do now, how I treat people and the earth, will live and continue. I think, in maybe small ways, I am part of the elementary children I taught for more than 30 years, and of course, my family, our children and their children. The experiences and love we share are part of who they are and who they will become, and this will go on, long after I have left the planet. I believe the ripples go out farther than I can imagine.

I believe in the power of prayer, even if I don’t believe in a god that can be “lobbied” to grant wishes. I pray every day to focus on the presence of that spirit of life and love which surrounds me and the people for whom I pray. Praying calms me, and as I said, focuses my intentions, be it gratitude, forgiveness, compassion. This is WAY different than what I believed previously.

I believe in the importance of ritual to help make meaning of life and transitions…We’re rich in traditions here at WBUUC: Lighting the chalice, dedications of children, our call to worship and our opening and closing words…the list goes on… A couple of years ago, Dick and I were in a Sharing Circle here and were introduced to the idea of a ritual we now do before our evening meal: We light a little chalice that Dick made in his woodshop, and we read something chosen from a variety of sources, including poetry and essays…Mary Oliver, or of course, Wendell Berry, daily meditation books, or often something from Public Radio’s “Writer’s Almanac.” When our daughter, who was raised in that strongly Humanist tradition, commented, “It’s not a problem, mom, but you and Dick have gotten really religious…” and she said this because we light the chalice candle before our meal; I realized again how my spiritual practice has changed, and how rich that is for me.

Very recently I have begun to recognize the value of my Catholic upbringing, and believe me, that HAS been a surprise to me…and it has been particularly difficult to be considering my Catholic background at the same time that the Church was trying to pass a constitutional amendment to permanently discriminate against a whole group of beloved people. I spent 40 years rejecting Catholic beliefs, and just now have come to realize that the Catholic Church IS part of who I have become… the nuns who provided my education were strong influences in my life; some of them were strong women in many ways, and models of how to get things done. It seemed to me that because they were “married to God,” they could be outrageous in their leadership. Nuns I presently know are dedicated, strong leaders for social justice and building loving communities, and one particular beloved nun friend shares with me her self-declared “heretic” label. (Sounds like a UU to me.)

And both Catholics and Unitarian Universalists stress that service to others is essential. I believe you and I work on social action service to try to help make some positive difference in the world, because it is a GOOD thing to do. At each Sunday service we are reminded that “…the compassionate is expected…and service is our law.” Serving people as a pastoral care associate and helping to coordinate the Lay Pastoral Care Associate program here are part of my spiritual practice, and my experience in Clinical Pastoral education, my internship, are a spiritual journey and practice, as well.

I must say I have missed the rich language and rituals of the Catholic Church, (a Catholic friend calls that “the smells and bells). I miss those things even though I don’t share the theology underlying those rituals. And I miss the fluency I had with the prayers of my childhood…even though those prayers aren’t congruent with my beliefs. So that’s what I’m working on now, learning to pray with integrity, with words that reflect my beliefs. For example, before I begin my chaplaincy visits, I use the words from our beloved hymn, “Spirit of Life,” to help center me: Sing in my heart all the stirrings of compassion,” and after visits with grieving families, I have learned to use words from that hymn to center myself again. This began late one night after being with a young family whose 42 year old husband and father died in the Emergency Department. It was such a tragic situation, but it was a privilege for me to be present for that stunned young wife and her children. On leaving them, I was SO sad…I knew I needed to go deep within myself, honor that overwhelming sadness, and let go of it…and then those words came to me…simple words: “spirit of Life, come unto me.” And it works for me.

My spiritual journey has been hugely influenced by WBUUC. Dick and I sort of casually came here when we moved to Mahtomedi. We hadn’t regularly attended services at our former church, but we went to ALL the parties. Now we are here almost every week for worship and, or, activities… We continue to be amazed at the inspiration received from Victoria’s leadership, and we are SO delighted that Luke is here now to help and inspire us. And all of YOU, fellow journeyers…how much you add to my life!

Among the resources I use to ground me are a couple of books: My friend D’Ann gave me chaplain Kate Braestrup’s book, Beginner’s Grace, Bringing Prayer to Life, and that has helped me get my head around prayer, and I also use John O’Donahue’s book, To Bless This Space Between Us. I’ll close with my daily prayer from John O’Donahue:

May I live this day

Compassionate of Heart,

Clear in word,

Gracious in awareness,

Courageous in thought,

Generous in love.



Blessed be…