A Stairway to Heaven

Sufis twirl, Hindus chant, Born Agains praise the Lord… and the rest of us? Well, we just thank f**k for Prada and the pub. However, this season, as autumn greets us with its golden leaf glory, and Seasonal Affective Disorder sufferers get ready to get pasty, you could be mostly relieving yourself of the urge to hibernate by joining in with some of London’s loveliest communities that will reach places that your pint can’t. No religion required.

Shocking as it is, I’ve been considering the possibility of it not being that new Topshop dress that will make me truly happy this winter, but rather, something a little more ‘connected’. We’re not talking Catholic mass, or jumping on Oprah’s sofa as an excitable Scientologist, but something of a gentle, inquisitive exploration of community and friendship.

Many of us might not consider ourselves the traditional spiritual type, but then again most of us do have our devotions. Fundamental materialism can in its own way be as devout as any belief in God or a deity, right?

Take the Apple store opening for example – I queued, with a mass of excited others, undulating through Covent Garden, to the ultimate, ecstatic wave that was the final welcome into the bosom of the store and its applauding staff to buy my beloved iPad. At that point, I might easily have been persuaded that Steve Jobs was the son of God. So what happens in those moments of indulgence?

Karen Armstrong writes in her book The Case for God that humans are built to seek out ecstasy, and that we continue to do so in modern times through music, dance, drugs, alcohol, even sporting events and not forgetting shopping. In other words, situations that bypass or inhibit our rational mind while producing or enhancing a larger sense of purpose and connectedness.

So, if it’s escaping our tiny rational minds, and purpose and connectedness that can help us to reach some lovely ecstasy, perhaps spiritual groups and regular meet communities have something to offer?

It was to this end I found myself searching along leafy Hampstead High Street, and slipping into the hidden Platform 9¾-type alley that leads to the beautiful Rosslyn Hill Chapel. Inside I was warmly welcomed by two community members, and despite my first-day-at-school nerves, was soon absorbing the inclusive and uplifting sentiments of the sermon, while feeling calmed and blissful under the reassuring glow of the chalice candle.

This was no regular church service though; in attending this church I was stepping into the world of Unitarianism – a radically inclusive non-dogma form of spirituality. According to www.new-unity.org/unitarianism, ‘Unitarians are different. We define our religion by the kind of people we want to be, by the work we do for others, and by the communities we create and sustain.’

This certainly didn’t feel like any other church I had experienced, and by the end of the service, as I left clutching the now warm stone I had emotionally received from the minister to ‘energise’, and having met some lovely new friends in the after-service social hour, I considered the possibility that this could become my most connected, ecstatic winter in the city yet.

Prepare to be happier.

Sunday service 11am. Poetry group Monday 7pm. Tai Chi Wednesday 5.45pm.

Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel
Pilgrim’s Place

Tel: 020 7433 3267

Image by chuckccampbell courtesy of Panoramio

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3 Responses

  1. Ian

    Great article Sam. Nice to see someone pointing out the different paths of spirituality and how they don’t have to necessarily be a part of the organised and restrictive conventional religions. There are other options.

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