Not long ago I heard a radio commercial for “essence water.” The ad made the product seem like it offered the essence of water rather than the essential benefits plain water provides. I remember thinking how ridiculous it sounded to be offered the essence of water, as if it were something I could breathe in and almost get the sense that I was drinking actual water. Why have the real thing when one could have the “essence” of it without all the calories?
It led me down a road of existential thought wondering about the essence of things. If one definition of essence is “the most significant element, quality or aspect of a thing or person,” how can we be satisfied with the elements of the second and opposite definition being only a trace element of the whole? Have we drifted so far from the whole that we can be truly gratified with only the essence of it? Or, is getting a whiff of something better than nothing, something for which we should be grateful?
Luckily, I have colleagues in my Wellspring for Religious Professionals group to help me not fall too far down the rabbit hole of questions. We’ve discussed how Unitarian Universalism is on a precipice of re-discovering its own essence. We are transforming as a faith into a more spiritually guided community and we are working on centering voices that have been marginalized in the world and in our faith for far too long. One of my conclusions is that during this transition, it’s essential (pun intended) that we share our own stories and listen to each other as we redefine our own essences to grow in faith with each other.
Some of those stories will be shared when the High School youth lead the worship services on Mar. 1. Though they are still in the early stages of planning, I can already see the essence of who they are and what makes them uniquely suited to help lead the call to listen to and learn from each other. When I think about the time I get to spend with this group of kind, wonderful, funny, dedicated, talented people, I am grateful for even a whiff of their essence. I believe they can show us how to love with our whole hearts, even with just an essence of understanding, and there is nothing ridiculous about that.