Linda Smith Koehler
I was raised by caring, loving parents who gave me the gift of a happy, carefree childhood. They tucked me in each night with read-aloud books and poems. A.A. Milne was a favorite (When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six). I could recite Sneezles from those books and Chicken Soup with Rice by Maurice Sendak. I attribute my ability to burst into rhyme to this early infusion of poetry. We also listened to a variety of music, from Burl Ives to the Frog Prince by Jim Henson’s Muppets. As we grew, my two older sisters introduced me to Simon and Garfunkel, Carly Simon, Joni Mitchell, and other treasures of that era. I fell in love with harmony. I received no formal musical training beyond what we learned in school, piano lessons as a kid, and playing the clarinet (not all that well) for years in the school orchestra.
I was curious about spiritual matters from an early age and explored them by visiting various friends’ churches. After trying out a number of different congregations over the years, I decided that this church thing wasn’t really for me; I couldn’t buy into the idea that a divine being could be as narrow-minded as some believers I had encountered made it out to be. Why would it send my parents, who are very good people but not religious, to burn for eternity in hell and let a serial killer into heaven because he “believes the right thing”? That just didn’t make any sense to me.
In 1988 I went for the first time to what was then the First Universalist Church of Bangor, Maine. The minister read from children’s poet Shel Silverstein and wove together a story that inspired reflection. As I learned about the Unitarian Universalist beliefs in the inherent worth and dignity of each person, and the respect and care for the web of life, I started to feel I belonged in this community of people. I was encouraged to explore what spirituality meant to me.
Early in my time at what is now the Unitarian Universalist Society of Bangor, (UUSB) I participated in the Cakes for the Queen of Heaven class. We explored the feminine faces of the divine throughout history and various cultures. More than that, it was an invitation to redefine the divine into something with which we could connect. Through this class I came to understand that all the images of the divine in mainstream religions were created by people, ordinary people like me. If they can create an image of god that serves them well and feeds their souls, why can’t I? This invitation was very inspiring and empowering, and for the first time, I envisioned the divine as a loving and nurturing mother. From this image, my concept of the divine has evolved, and I imagine it will continue to do so all of my life.