The Rev. Carl Scovel, minister emeritus of King’s Chapel in Boston, and recipient of the UUA’s highest honor, the Distinquished Service Award, gave an amazing speech delivered before the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly in Fort Worth, Texas, on June 23, 1994. This is known as the Berry Street Lecture of 1994.
I knew Carl back in the mid-1950’s when we both attended the Gannet Club, a club for singles, at the Arlington Street Church in Boston. He was a serious young man, very knowledgeable and headed for the ministry even then. He had grown up in China as his parents were missionaries there. I remember once riding in a car with him and another bright young intellectual by the name of Karl Nelson (not sure of that first name), going to some club function. They were discussing 19th century religious people, and referred to someone as “the last of the Transcendentalists”. I was very impressed with their knowledge, and that expression stuck in my craw. I wonder whatever happened to that Nelson fellow.
Here is a inspiring excerpt from Carl’s lecture:
We also know that spirituality is not simply the product of fear, frustration, or bad digestion. We know that our yearning for meaning and fulfillment is given in our very being. So! Follow that yearning, need, reaching to its source, to our creation, to our createdness and surmise with me, if you will, that this yearning, this reaching, this need, is no accident, no psychic atavism, but a reflection of that reality from which we come.
The Great Surmise says simply this: At the heart of all creation lies a good intent, a purposeful goodness, from which we come, by which we live our fullest, to which we shall at last return. And this is the supreme reality of our lives.
This goodness is ultimate—not fate nor freedom, not mystery, energy, order nor finitude, but this good intent in creation is our source, our center, and our destiny. And with everything else we know in life, the strategies and schedules, the technology and tasks, with all we must know of freedom, fate and finitude, of energy and order and mystery, we must know this, first of all, the love from which we were born, which bears us now, and which will receive us at the end. Our work on earth is to explore, enjoy, and share this goodness, to know it without reserve or hesitation. “Too much of a good thing,” said Mae West, “is wonderful.” Sound doctrine.
Do you see how the Great Surmise stands all our logic and morality on its ear? Neither duty nor suffering nor progress nor conflict—not even survival—is the aim of life, but joy. Deep, abiding, uncompromised joy.
I would like to thank the Rev. Richard Beal for providing this excerpt and telling us about Carl Scovel’s Berry Street lecture.