"I Know, I’m Confident, I don’t Know" service with Wade Miller-Knight 28.2.2021

Opening Music

Opening Words

Come into the circle of this Unitarian community.

Wherever we are, we come together in mind and in spirit;

We connect in our hearts and with our ears,

with our eyes and in our beings.

For us here gathered, this Service is our sacred space.

We fill our hearts with kindness and acceptance.

Come into your wholeness, into the wholeness of us all, and the wholeness of all that is;

And may our spiritual selves be well nourished.

Chalice Lighting

The chalice candle is a symbol that links Unitarians worldwide.

If you have brought a candle you are invited to light it now.

May we feel our shared fellowship in the light of our candles.

A time for prayer and reflection

Let us open ourselves to Spirit, to that which is deeper than our daily existence, and larger than our finite minds can conceive.

Let’s centre ourselves in that deep place inside us, where there is always peace

and feel the Presence of Spirit in us,

and all around us.

Spirit in the eternal Light of Goodness,

when we are happy,

and when we are sorrowful,

may we feel Divine love and wisdom flowing to us and through us.

May your Divine energy sustain and renew our strength in every situation we face;

Help us to soften our hearts, and to bring comfort and loveliness into the hearts of others.

We send your healing energy to all who are suffering in body, in mind, or in soul – especially those whom we know;

and in particular at this time to the friends and family of Mary Cowley.

May we be able, and glad, to give kindness, gratitude, and helpful service to those of this community who are in need,

And may we live our lives in harmony with your ever-flowing blessings.


1st Hymn (210 in the Purple Book)

When the song of life is ringing

through the green fields and the wood

and the love of God is singing

in your mind and in your blood,

holy angels come to give you

wondrous gifts of joy and peace;

and the soul will leap with rapture

in a dance of glad release.

But when life’s harsh road has brought us

only hurt and grief and pain

and the darkness hides the promise

we feel now was made in vain, sad the song we sing amidst tears

from the well of human woe,

for no angels’ song the soul hears,

where the heat is stricken low.

Yet in life, if we stay faithful

to the trust we cannot shake,

if we honour our creator

with this life we did not make,

we shall find ho God supports us –

God who’s true in everything –

brings us through the dark and lean times

to that place where angels sing.

Candles for Joys, Hopes, and Concerns

2nd Hymn #48 in Green Book "From all the fret and fever of the day"

Prayerful Reflection


Peace within us

Peace and light



Free the mind

Free the heart

In the stillness


Soul within us

Spirit in us



Light within us

Love within us

We are with You



In the stillness

In the silence

In the silence


Love is in us

Spirit in us

In the stillness

Silence in us


Peace and love

Spirit in us

Peace within us

Silence, stillness



Silence for meditation or private reflection

1st Reading "What It Means To Have A Spiritual Experience" by Brianna Wiest (i)

Let me begin with this: I don’t believe that there is one “right” way to approach a deeper understanding of ourselves. There are different practices, theories, and teachings because different interpretations and methods are needed for different people and at different parts of the journey. I believe our journeys are ultimately the same, but that there are different paths along it, so to say.

A spiritual experience, much like any other, serves you in some way. It makes you more aware. It expands your consciousness. It connects you, at least for a moment, with the part of you that doesn’t require physical means to validate it. On a human level, it is uniquely important, regardless of what religion you practice.

To be spiritual is to be human.

At its core, spirituality is the essence of that which religions are built on, except with a focus on turning inward rather than personifying the higher being and turning outward.

It brings awareness that the sensations of lightness, freedom, goodness, love, and beauty can only be registered in practice of them, as simply as they come daily and as elusively as they reside mystically.

I am a spiritual person. When I was young, I would have what I would later call “spiritual experiences”. The things I was told, heard and saw could not easily be explained. But those things have remained with me.

But spiritual experiences do not exist at such a complexity that they remain inaccessible to us mere mortals. They can be as simple as an intuitive hunch that you follow to a positive end. As simple as sitting and being aware of your breathing; as deep as an hours-long guided meditation. As common as attending a concert; as mysterious as glaring at a photo of a certain time period and having the feeling that you were there. As ordinary as reflecting, listening to music, watching the sky, wondering what influenced your thoughts and actions. On the other end of one of these mindful acts, it connects you. Many people find a sense of health, lightness, growth, freedom, understanding, faith.

Musical Interlude

2nd Reading 

Our second reading is in two parts, two examples of particularly intense spiritual experiences, gathered by a Mystical Research organisation (ii)

The first one is very short. It was sent in to the researchers by a Canadian man; his experience is titled: “Immersed in White Light – There Was No Separation”.

I was seated, meditating – eyes closed – and all of a sudden, a tunnel appeared – and it was like I was being drawn into it, faster and faster. Then it happened – I was immersed in white light all around. In me, outside me – there was no separation. Just brilliant white light.

And, at the same time, I ‘saw’ all things happening at once. I saw, like on the sharp end of a needle, all things there, and I felt that the only thing that was separating, causing all suffering, was not knowing what I was now seeing. It was like I knew all answers, all striving. Also, there was a tremendous joyful physical feeling.

And now the second experience. It is from Jane Goodall, the well-known expert on chimpanzees. It’s from her book “Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey” (iii).

Lost in awe at the beauty around me, I must have slipped into a state of heightened awareness. It is impossible really to put into words the moment of truth that suddenly came upon me then. Even the mystics are unable to describe their brief flashes of spiritual ecstasy.

It seemed to me, as I struggled afterwards to recall the experience, the self was utterly absent: I and the chimpanzees, the earth and trees and air, seemed to merge, to become one with the spirit power of life itself.

The air was filled with a feathered symphony, the evensong of birds. I heard new frequencies in their music and also in singing insects’ voices – notes so high and sweet I was amazed.

Never had I been so intensely aware of the shape and the colour of the individual leaves, the varied patterns of the veins that made each one unique.

Scents were clear as well, easily identifiable: fermenting, over-ripe fruit; waterlogged earth; cold, wet bark; the damp odour of chimpanzee hair, and yes, my own too. And the aromatic scent of young, crushed leaves was almost overpowering.

That afternoon, it had been as though an unseen hand had drawn back a curtain and, for the briefest moment, I had seen through such a window. In a flash of “outsight” I had known timelessness and quiet ecstasy, sensed a truth of which mainstream science is merely a small fraction.

And I knew that the revelation would be with me for the rest of my life, imperfectly remembered yet always within. A source of strength, on which I could draw when life seemed harsh or cruel or desperate.

3rd Hymn # 16 (Purple Book) "Captive voices cry for freedom"


How do you know the world is round? Have you been round it? Have you been up in a spaceship and looked down on it?


And yet, you’d say you “know” the world is round. How?

Perhaps from some teacher at school? Perhaps from seeing pictures of the world taken from space? Either way, you think “I know” because you trust a source of information.

Do you reckon the same is true of most things you would say you “know”? That whether it’s the time the train you’re waiting for will arrive, or the name of the Prime Minister, you “know” by trusting somebody else knows what they say they know.

But if Andrea is here, she could say, from actual personal experience: she knows the world is round with absolute certainty, because she has physically gone round it.

Notice the difference. Knowing from trusting some source outside oneself; knowing from direct experience.

Now........ is there someone whom you love? How do you know you love them? From something you were taught in school? From reading or seeing or thinking? Or is it, rather, from something inside yourself – some inner feeling, some “knowing” that does not require information or evidence to be sure that it is so. You could say “I know from inside me that I love”.

This is a different kind of knowing. Intuitive knowing. Like the spiritual experiences we heard about in our second reading. You know from deep within. It’s a purer kind of knowing than book-learning. It’s a knowing that is independent of evidence from outside.

This is knowing by direct experience. Greek has a special verb for it – yinosko. It’s interesting that St. Paul uses that verb quite often in his letters, but English-language translations don’t notice it. Yinosko means knowing by experience – be it spiritual experiences, like the two that we heard about in our second reading; or mental experiences, like what I said just now about when you know you love someone; or outer experiences like Andrea’s flying round the world. The key word is experience.

Here’s another question. You’re here, so I presume religion or spirituality means something to you.

What do you believe?

That’s the question people traditionally ask about where someone stands spiritually, isn’t it? Not “what do you know?” Not “how well do you know God?” Not “who is your spiritual guide?” Out there in the culture at large, people regard any religion as consisting of a package of beliefs.

But what does ‘believe’ mean?

You may remember I said just now “You’re here, so I presume religion or spirituality means something to you”. I presume. In other words, I don’t know for certain.

But I do think it’s probable. So I believe it.

Let’s imagine a couple more “I believe” scenes from everyday life. You’re with a friend at a bus-stop. You see a bus in the distance, you can see the number-plate, but you can’t see the numbers on it clearly. Making out vaguely that there are two numbers, and some sort of shape in them, you could say to your friend “I believe it’s a 59”.

Or: you take a bottle of milk out of the fridge. The due date was yesterday. It smells OK. You might think to yourself “I believe this’ll be fine in my tea”. You add it to your black tea, and drink some. Then, from your own experience – and only then – you say “It IS fine”.

“I know from experience” feels sure.

But “I believe” is a statement of uncertainty.

And it covers a big range of uncertainty. From the nearly certain example of yesterday’s milk that smells ok, to the pretty probable of my saying of you all in this gathering “religion or spirituality means something to you”, to the ‘only slightly better than toss-a-coin’ guess of the number 59 you can not see on the bus. On spiritual matters, “I believe” can span the whole distance from “I’m almost sure” to a thin, wishful, “I hope”.

So I’m questioning the usefulness of “I believe” statements about spiritual matters. For two reasons. One, that “I believe” covers too broad a range of meaning. And secondly, because when people ask ‘what do you believe?’ they may well be expecting your answer will be a statement of some religion or sect’s unproven dogma.

“I believe Jesus Christ is the son of God.”

“I believe everything the Bible says. It is the word of God.”

“I believe that the last thought we have before we die determines the nature of our next incarnation” – that’s a dogma some Buddhists teach.

As a result, to answer directly a question about “beliefs” is to try to respond in a territory that, as Unitarians, we don’t naturally live in.

I think that many of us Unitarians would prefer an evidence-based attitude to spiritual questions rather than any set of dogma-based answers.

And on this basis, I offer the suggestion that it’s more helpful to separate where you are, on spiritual questions, into three groups. These are the groups that I named in my theme for this Service on Mark’s email:

“I know”;

“I’m confident that”; and

“I don’t know”.

We can usually say “I know” with complete certainty when we have directly experienced something. Some of you may have had spiritual experiences - not necessarily ones like Jane Goodall’s, but intuitive and personal and memorable nonetheless. You know what I mean. You may have had some special moments that are very precious for you. A moment of insight. A transcendent gift. An inexplicable feeling or thought. A “YES!” that is, for you, unquestionable. A pure and certain intuition. An inner experience that is as sure within you as your “I love you” to the person you feel most love for. Maybe, even more sure than that.

Some people have never had any such experience, but researchers say a fair number of us have done.

As a rule, people don’t freely talk about them much, because they feel too personal. It’s as if each one should be just between oneself and God. But we heard a couple of examples in our second reading – and that organisation has collected a hundred or so others.

You may have had these experiences in a holy place. You are in Jerusalem or Varanasi, Iona or Glastonbury. Some of mine have been in these kinds of places. Always unexpected.

Equally, you may have had them in a very ordinary place. Some of mine have come in a bedroom, or in a cafe, as, on the shore while looking out to sea.

You might also have been with someone else when they were having such an experience.

These experiences are often unconnected to anything you consciously want to feel or to know. And they don’t develop gradually, by thinking about something. They come uninvited and unexpectedly. And typically, they come with a sense of recognition and contentment. They may be lively or tranquil, but one somehow knows they are not from one’s own limited conscious or subconscious mind. What you know through these experiences you know from the inside. Not from books, not by reasoning. You know intuitively. And your inner self vouches their truth to you.

I had better put in a caveat here. Our brains can fool us. A person can have a hallucination, or a powerful imagination. Either can create an experience which mimics a genuine spiritual insight but is entirely fake. I read an anecdote once, about two people who separately told the same other person they had been Mary Queen of Scots in a past life. That person brought them together and asked: ‘Now, which of you is the real Mary?’

Of course, the truth was ‘neither’.

But typically, when a spiritual experience is genuine, the assurance it brings is total. You heard some examples of that in our readings. And that assurance is as strong twenty years later as it was in the moment of the happening. We have far more than confidence: we know. We cannot prove what we know inwardly to anyone else, because that’s the nature of personal experience – it’s personal! But the person who’s had the experience knows beyond any possibility of doubt.

So my first category, the level of greatest certainty, the “I know” category, includes our deepest personal spiritual experiences. It also includes the less-dramatic knowings we’ve gained through our inner spiritual life, during our spiritual practices, or afterwards and because of them.

My second category is “I’m confident”. Confidence can come from reading. It can come from listening. It can come from reasoning.

After reading and thinking, you might, for example, be as confident that there is life after death as you are that the world is round.

Or you might come to feel, after listening to the teachings of Buddha, say, or Christ, or Gandhi, that you can trust that person’s spiritual answers.

Or maybe you are influenced by someone you have been personally in the presence of. You feel they know, and they are trustworthy, where other people make assertions without really knowing reliably, or just flounder. You have confidence in what this person says about spiritual questions you yourself feel unsure about, because of what you feel is their character, their experience, their spiritual depth, their inner radar for truth.

In all of these situations, you can honestly say you are confident of the answers you hold to be true. By confident, I mean something pretty strong, but not quite as strong as “I definitely know”. By “confident”, I mean: positive enough to live one’s life as if it’s true.

Yes, I’m confident that my daily meditation brings me both hidden and open benefits.

Yes, I’m confident that Spirit helps me through the challenges in my life, both small challenges and great ones. Therefore I invest time in my connective relationship with Spirit.

Confidence is less definite than certainty, because it is based on trust rather than direct experience; but confidence is much closer to certainty than it is to doubt. I put ‘confidence’ below ‘certain’ and above ‘probable’.

If you still want to use the language of ‘I believe this’ and ‘I don’t believe that’, “I’m confident” is at the strong end of “I believe”.

The understandings you are confident of, are answers that fit with your understanding of how the world is, and how the realm of Spirit engages with the world. They are answers which, when you stop to think, you recognise that you rely on.

“I’m confident” is just that one small step below “I’m certain” which retains a corner of uncertainty. It holds the possibility of “but I might be wrong”. In some corner of your mind, you hold that something might change you. Perhaps a new discovery. Or new personal gifts of insight.

But your uncertainty is only a corner. For all practical purposes, you are comfortable with holding your answers as true. You live as if you were sure. Yes, you’re fully confident.

Feel how different “I’m confident” is from “I think that....” or “I believe”.

Finally, there’s my third category, “I don’t know”.

I’m proposing that to be honest, everything you’re less than confident of is a “don’t know”. Count as certain what you know by experience, or from the bubbling up within you of intuition. These certainties are in your “I know” basket. Put all that you are convinced of from a source you rely on - such as someone who inspires you - or reason and evidence, in your “I’m confident” basket. Now - what remains?

Perhaps something that seems to make sense but you couldn’t say why?

Perhaps something you learned in Sunday School 30-50-70 years ago?

Perhaps something your partner, or a minister, or your mum, is very sure of, but you, in the privacy of your own head, are not so sure about?

Perhaps something that you’ve been known to say “I believe” to, but actually you don’t live as if it were true. For example, someone might say they “believe God is love”, but they don’t pay any attention to God, and they live as if actually the only reliable source of love is their dog.

Could you accept that you are not truly confident of your answer if it’s like any of these examples? Can you let yourself put them all in your “I don’t know” basket? Among Unitarians, I hope we don’t run into any difficulties when we respond to a spiritual question: “I don’t know”.

I do know that at least some of us are OK with this. “I don’t know” expresses an open mind. If we have open minds about everything we’re not either certain or confident of, we have space to discover. One’s “I don’t know” doesn’t have to last a lifetime.

And hopefully then, you can see and feel and acknowledge, on the one hand the strength of your awarenesses to which you honestly say “I’m confident”, and you are sure in the security of your firmly grounded “I know”s. And on the other hand you accept the honest uncertainty of your “I don’t know’s”. For with this clarity of self-understanding, we are well placed to recognise what we are at ease with in our spirituality, and on the other hand to explore openly the questions we want to discover more about.

Perhaps this is a recipe for minds that are both peaceful and curious.


Closing Hymn (209 in the Green Book)"Wonders still the world shall witness"


As we leave, may we be

a little more peaceful in our hearts and in our minds,

a little more gentle in our thoughts and in our actions,

a little more in harmony with the people we mix with.

And may we all know ourselves as blessed.