Column: Reinterpreting salvation, have you been saved?

Soteriology, or the doctrine of salvation, is interpreted differently in various religious traditions, but always includes deliverance of humankind from suffering and evil. It can be a state here on earth or in another realm, such as after death. In religious communities, a lot of their focus is on the beliefs and practices related to salvation. When I asked people in casual conversation about what being saved means to them, several people shared that they have never tried to articulate this.

Universalist heritage proclaims universal salvation for all. We don’t have to do anything or believe anything. It is just a fact: you are saved. With that as their ultimate truth, Universalists made it their mission to make it so on earth. This is why Universalist heritage is also rooted in social justice action, advocacy for equality, and caring support for each other. As Unitarian Universalist minister Carl Gregg puts it, today the act of salvation has evolved to a universal call to “love the hell out of this world.”

When I was doing a ministry internship on Madeline Island in Lake Superior, one of the best parts was the conversations while waiting for the ferry. One such conversation was with Regina Laroche, owner of Diaspora Gardens and Seeds of Repair. It was 2018, and ‘generational trauma’ had just become a buzz word. Psychologists had published that trauma can leave a chemical mark on our genes that can be passed down to future generations. These don’t mutate our genes or change our genetics but impact gene expression, which is called epigenetics. It can be from individual or collective experiences, such as war. As we neared the ferry dock, Regina asked me, “If generational trauma can be passed on, can generational healing be passed on as well?” I’ve been thinking about that question ever since.

I was taught that salvation was about the individual. I could save my soul through belief and practice. Given the interdependent web of life of which we are all a part, and knowing that our beings are formed by experiences that happened before us, and we pass experiences on to those who come after, I’ve been wondering if salvation is only possible as a collective. This year is the fifth anniversary of the Collective Trauma Summit, hosted by Austrian Thomas Hubl. His tag line for the event is “Unresolved past is destiny; it repeats itself until we have the courage to work together to face it.” Unfortunately, the recent violence in Israel and Gaza confirms this cycle. The online trauma summit brings together poets, musicians, psychologists, activists and educators who work towards a global healing response system. The research on collective and individual trauma shows that past and present harms live in our bodies and cause chronic illness. It affects the way we relate to others and to ourselves. The events that caused trauma can’t be undone, but the wounds can heal. It’s incredibly hard work, but many are devoting their lives and careers to this vision of collective healing.

If collective healing is the locus for salvation, what would this look like in 50 generations? Deliverance from suffering can be passed down to future generations biologically, in the expression of genes, if we work towards collective healing today. I, for one, am ready to love the hell out of this world. Who’s with me?

Rev. Stacy Craig serves as a Unitarian Universalist (UU) minister with the Keweenaw Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Houghton, MI and the Chequamegon Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Ashland, WI. She can be reached at minister@keweenawuu.org


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