This I Believe: Teal Bassett (2023)

Good morning! What an honor it is to be in front of my congregation – I have so much respect for this space and all of you, so thank you for this opportunity to tell you a little about who I am
and my spirituality.

My childhood was very normal. My mom’s main role was caretaker of the household while my fathers was working outside the home. I have two siblings – I’m in the middle – we grew up in Stillwater, where I still reside today. My parents didn’t take us to church and were not interested in raising their children in a religious environment. However, my maternal and paternal grandparents were very religious, one Lutheran and the other Catholic. and when I visited my grandparents during holidays or for a long weekend, I attended church with them. I remember being in awe of the ritual and prayers – even though I didn’t understand what any of it really meant – church felt special and pious. As I got older, into my teens, most of my friends attended church and I was invited to a lot of social events involving a youth group or something similar. My best friend was Baptist, and she spent a lot of time trying to get me to accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior. She didn’t want me to go to hell. But I had too many questions that she couldn’t answer, and she eventually let go of “trying to save me”. And when I went to these youth group social events, I felt out of place and uncomfortable. Even though I was fascinated in the beliefs systems of these organizations, I did not believe them myself. I decided church wasn’t for me.

My father was diagnosed with Lymphoma when I was 12 and he was sick for two years, ultimately dying from complications of a bone marrow transplant. While I was still forming my understanding of what “religion” was, I was thrust into the chaotic world of heartbreak and grief. Where many, too many, well-meaning people told me things like “god needed him in heaven” or “Trust in God’s plan” – Those sentiments were not comforting at all and further distanced me from God. Thankfully, Dad was able to share with me some of his beliefs before he passed – which helped me understand that spirituality isn’t always found in Church and a God. Dad didn’t believe in heaven or hell, but he did believe that he would become a part of the earth again, and his spirit would move on. There is comfort in knowing that Dad is still all around me, in nature.

My mother’s spirituality influenced me as well, her career is in energy and body mechanics work through reiki and craniosacral massage. She is a healer and has changed many lives as a therapeutic body worker. She taught me that our ancestor’s energy is within me, their strength and love – which I can call upon to encourage me in times of crisis and for healing. After my dad died, life went on, as it does, no matter how heartbroken I was – and I went onto college: Gustavus Adolphus College, a small liberal arts school, in the Lutheran tradition. I mainly studied world religions and sociology. My own personal ideas of spirituality were not represented in what I was studying – I was left with the understanding that I could study and admire, but not belong.

However, I was developing my own personal spirituality. During my senior year of college, I had the privilege of singing in the Gustavus concert choir. And, well, that felt like a religious experience. I was singing with 80 of my peers, making beautiful music, just for the sake of making beautiful music – we had different backgrounds, different stories, different beliefs – but we were working together to create some incredible music, that many, many people appreciated. I was experiencing a phenomenon called collective effervescence (originally devised by sociologist Emilie Durkheim) – which is the feeling of energy and harmony when people are engaged in a shared purpose. Wow, I liked being a part of a shared purpose, full of energy and harmony. I was in the presence of the beauty of what humanity could create. We weren’t fighting about who was right or wrong, or who might be saved or condemned – we were just a crew of awkward twenty-year-olds, making something special together. And that is where I look for Spirit – in music, and art, and parades, and even the Women’s March. People coming together with a shared purpose, to improve our existence in this chaotic world. I believe in that.

After graduation, I stopped singing in choirs, but I did find something else that helped me find “spirit”. I practice yoga to find that feeling of effervescence, individually. During the end of a particularly sweaty yoga class the instructor asked us to lie quietly on our mats and she guided us through a meditation. The class was asked to notice our heart beating and to fill it with loving, tender energy. The she asked us to send that energy out into the room – to watch it swirl around, and to let it land on our fellow classmates. Suddenly, I could see everyone’s beautiful love energy floating around me. I allowed it in, while sharing my own love. It was human love, swirling around. That feels like Spirit – I don’t believe in the traditional Christian God, but I do believe that we are all God. Full of love, strength, and wisdom which we can share with one another.

In concluding my beliefs, I love being a Unitarian Universalist. I am lifted up through our rituals, I am reminded of my Dad when we worship and care for the earth, I feel that “collective effervescence” when we sing, and I swirl you all with my love energy – including from my ancestors. So, indeed I am a spiritual person with religious beliefs. My young, heartbroken self would never believe it – but here I am – belonging. Life goes on, as it does, and I am here with you and for you.

My gal Taylor Swift sings it best: “Best believe I’m still bejeweled and when I walk in the room I can still make the whole place shimmer”