Faith Is Like A Walking Stick

Gary Kowalski

How many of you like to go hiking? I have a number of walks nearby that I like. Hunger Mountain, Snake Mountain and others. Or if we don’t want to drive, my wife and I just go down to our local park where in just a few steps you can forget you’re in the city. Sometimes we bring our dog Smokey along and Smokey isn’t as strong or fast as he used to be. But that’s okay because I’m not as young or fast as I used to be either. And Smokey reminds me to slow down.

A walk in the woods isn’t a race, after all. It’s not all about seeing how fast you can go, or how quickly you can get to the end of the trail. A walk can be like a meditation, a series of moments to be aware of all the sights and sounds along the way. If you’re in too big a hurry, you forget to hear the birds sing and might not see that little mushroom growing under the tree, the one with the yellow cap. 

But even when you take your time, a walk can sometimes be tough going. What if it starts to rain? And what if there’s a wet, soggy, boggy place where the stepping stones are few and far between? Well, in those cases, I’ve found a couple of things that help. First of all, it helps to have a friend or two along, because then even if it starts to pour and the raindrops are trickling down your nose, you can always sing a song together, and it’s hard to feel sorry for yourself when you’re singing an old Beatles song. And for those soggy, boggy places, if you can’t have a friend along, there’s nothing like a walking stick, which helps you keep your balance, and whether you’re walking up hill or down makes you a little steadier on your legs. 

Walking sticks make me think about our faith, Unitarian Universalism, which is a little different from other religions. Because for us, life is like a long walk, or a journey. It starts when we’re little children and just learning about our world, and then grows as we grow. With each step, we’re always gathering more information and gaining more experiences, finding out about ourselves and as we explore our beliefs change. The things we imagine might be true when we’re six years old are different from the dreams we have when we’re sixty. And none of us is just certain where or how the trail ends, or what we’ll find when we finally reach the mountain top. But we know that other people have walked this way before and that gives us the hope and courage to continue on the adventure.

Now just like on a long trail, life sometimes gets a little tough and can even be scary. And that’s why it helps to have friends, and a spiritual community like this one And at times we start to lose our balance and begin to fall down. And then it’s handy to have a walking stick along.

Unitarian Universalism, our religion, is like a walking stick. It’s not a religion that solves all our problems. It’s not a religion that can magically lift us over the muddy places. It’s not a religion that spares us the necessity to dig deep and struggle when there’s a big boulder we have to climb over or other challenges come along. But it is a religion that can help us keep our equilibrium, that helps us keep our feet on the ground, which reminds us when the going gets hard that each of us is strong, each of us is resilient, each of us is capable, however we identify our gender, our ethnicity, our race; whether we’re big or little. And Unitarian Universalism is a faith that encourages each one of us to find and make our own beliefs—not a one-size fits all religion—but one we constantly tool and re-tool as we go.

So this is my personal walking stick. (Show kids my stick.) It even has my initials on it, G.K. But each of you will have the opportunity to make your own stick, just the right size and weight, the right thickness so you can have a firm grip, to help you go wherever you need to go. And as Unitarian Universalists, you too can find and make a religion you can call your own.