It’s All in How You Look At It
I have been part of the Unity Spiritual Center congregation since 2005. In the past 15 years, I have had conversations with many people who are curious about Unity as a movement, and what their core teachings are. “Unity, is that like Unitarian?,” is a very common question. This is not surprising, nor should it be taken as an indication of someone not knowing something they should.
Raised in the Lutheran tradition, I received twelve years of Christian education – catechism twice a week, chapel services on Wednesdays, and Church on Sundays. Although after leaving high school I did not continue to follow the Lutheran Church, or any church, I always remained interested in comparative religion and spirituality. The twenty-five years between my high school graduation and the beginning of my spiritual journey with Unity were filled with self study, meditation, and a conscious effort to learn about how the peoples of the world approach the question of religion and spirituality.
For the first twenty years of that time, I never once read about or heard the term “Unity.” In the many dozens of books read, I never encountered Unity. Not once. Then I began reading Wayne Dyer. In a number of his books he made more than a few passing references such as “when I was at a speaking engagement at a Unity Church in Florida . . .” It took about three or four times encountering the term “Unity” before I realized that that Christian “denomination” was something I had actually never heard of.
It is now 2005 and the internet was beginning to ramp up with more and more information. Search engines were getting good, and a simple query for “Unity Churches, Cleveland, Ohio” produced the website for Unity Spiritual Center Westlake. I had not been in a church of any kind since 1980, but decided that I would investigate what Unity was. I immediately felt at home. The people were welcoming and kind. The Sunday lesson I heard that day resonated with me, and I have been a part of the Unity Spiritual Center of Westlake community ever since.
I am relating this personal story simply to illustrate that even among people who are “spiritual but not religious,” whatever that means, Unity is often not on their radar. Another common question people have about Unity is what are our basic teachings about God, Jesus and the Bible? When I explain that Unity uses the Old Testament and the New Testament as its primary scriptures (if the conversation gets that far), I am asked if Unity teaches a literal interpretation of the Bible.
In her Sunday lesson this week, Rev. Joanne addresses just this question. Rev. Joanne actively participates within a Facebook discussion group among Unity ministers, and the question was asked “Is Unity a Bible-based ministry?” There was a wide variety of answers, including the all-encompassing, “yes,” “no,” and “sometimes.” That is not very helpful, but it is an indication of the personal nature of how people within Unity interpret our teachings.
While it is true that there is no consensus within Unity about the approach to teaching the Bible, that does not mean that there are no core teachings. If there were not, then the movement would have no parameters, and then it ceases to be a movement. Most Unity practitioners would agree that we teach that the Bible is: 1) A collection of stories about the Jewish people; 2) that all of the stories within the Bible apply to every person, and; 3) Unity does not interpret the Bible as a literal account of verifiable historical accuracy.
A common criticism of some Christian doctrine is the letter-true literal interpretation of scriptures. The earth is 6,000 years old; Noah built an ark and collected animals “two by two”; people in the Old Testament before the flood lived to be more than 900 years old, etc. Most modern Christian theologians will not hold those things to be literally true. But when you ask them, “Well then, if the Old Testament stories are allegory, then did Jesus die for our sins?” they will provide sharp resistance. That is the crux (pun intended) of what “Christian” means.
This question is precisely why The Church insisted upon an undeviating literal interpretation of the Bible for more than 1,500 years. Question one thing, you can question anything. Pull one loose thread on the sweater and it all unravels. Unity does not have that issue because it interprets everything in the Bible metaphysically.
For Unity students, (and we are all students, gaining new insights all of the time) it may be difficult to know where to start in making a metaphysical interpretation of scriptures. Unity co-founder Charles Fillmore has provided us with two wonderful resources that help us along on our journey:
The Revealing Word, is a glossary of terms associated with The Bible, spiritual concepts and ideas unique to Unity. In her talk this week, Rev. Joanne used the well-known biblical story of The Prodigal Son as an example of a way to metaphysically interpret the Bible. Jesus was famous for using parables, so it was already understood by those hearing it from him directly that it was an allegory for how we can better conduct our thoughts, actions and lives. In The Revealing Word, Fillmore offers the following descriptions of some of the terms used in the story. For example:
Prodigal Son - The "two sons" of Luke 15:11 are the two departments of the soul, or consciousness. The son who stayed at home is the religious or moral nature; the son who went into the far country is the human phase of the soul, in which are the appetites and passions. Going into a "far country" is separating the consciousness from the parent Source.
Father's House, the - The Christ consciousness. It is the center of man's consciousness and is made manifest to him by mind processes alone.
And Fillmore offers this in The Metaphysical Bible Dictionary:
Prodigal Son - When we make unity between the outer sense and the inner Spirit (the return of the younger son to his father's house), there is great rejoicing; the outer is flooded with vitality (robe), unending power is put into his hand (ring), and his understanding (feet) is strengthened. The "fatted calf" is the richness of strength always awaiting the needy soul. When all these relations have been established between the within and the without there is rejoicing. The dead man of sense is made alive in the consciousness of Spirit - the lost is found.
Rev. Joanne explains that one key element to how Unity uses metaphysical interpretation of scriptures is that all of the characters in every story represent every person in some way and/or at some time in their life. So that when we read and re-read these ancient Truth teachings we are bringing to them our current understanding of ourselves, the world, and our place in it.
Engaging in “Bible Study” metaphysical style is not an activity for light reading. My approach to do so it to take one story, or even one portion of a story, and use The Revealing Word and The Metaphysical Bible Dictionary to help me see the story with new eyes.
Rev. Joanne emphasized in her talk that there is no “right way” or “wrong way” to metaphysically interpret scriptures. Every person has a completely different set of experiences that they bring to the process, and are seeking their own unique insights. The Fillmore books are in no way a “Bible” unto themselves. They are not to be taken as the only way, or even the best way, to read scripture. What these books are valuable for are to get one thinking in new ways and to make the reading of scriptures not a rote activity, but something that will provide guidance for how we conduct our lives.
Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures. Luke 24:45
Take a single line from scripture: God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble Psalm 46:1 (or one of your own choosing). Meditate upon its words. How is it speaking to you? What insight can you gain from the words? How can you apply the words through the activity of your life this week?
Everyone is different, but my preference is to dig a few deep holes rather than many shallow ones. The Bible is a very large book. There is more than enough wisdom there to last anyone their entire life. My approach is to chose a story to study, make my own metaphysical interpretation of what I am reading (with the assistance of The Revealing Word and The Metaphysical Bible Dictionary) then to look for ways that I can apply what I have learned in my daily life.
Both The Revealing Word and The Metaphysical Bible Dictionary are public domain books available online free of charge at www.truthunity.net.