There’s plenty going on in the world, in our country, in our state, and in most cases, in our individual lives – that would justify feelings of overwhelm, of denial, of heightened anxiety and reactivity. And yet lately, I’ve been feeling the opposite. I’ve been feeling a heightened sense of awareness – joyously alive, blessed, and grateful. I was trying to put into words what this feeling was about, when I came across Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ blog post, We Were Made For These Times.…
As a religious movement, as a faith community and congregation, as individuals – everything we have done up until now has been preparing us for this moment. For years, centuries even, “we have been learning, practicing, been in training for and just waiting to meet on this exact plain of engagement.” It seems to me such an incredible thing to be alive at this moment where our voices and our presence is so needed?
I know fear is tempting, worry is everywhere, and yet – isn’t it amazing that after nearly 500 years of practicing this grand idea that “we need not think alike to love alike,” the cultural moment hungers for this precise possibility? We’ve been struggling in our congregations for all these years striving to build unified community in the midst of diversity. What if all this has simply been preparing us to the people the world needs us to be today?
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to imply we’ve got it all figured out. Practicing in this sort of work, does not make perfect. (Perfect isn’t even what we’re going for;our mistakes mean we’re learning, and also practicing giving and receiving forgiveness, which is just as important.) But it does mean – as an institution and a religious tradition, we have some muscle memory, we have some tools, and we have some resilience where we might otherwise falter. And most of all, we have the vision, and the language, and in our covenantal way, the container.
Just as importantly, we’ve practicing for years now the vocabulary of standing on the side of love. We’ve been learning about immigration, about economic injustice, about patriarchy and homophobia, about racism, and sexism and how all of this, and all of us are all inextricably connected – or in the words of Universalist Gordon “Bucky” McKeeman, “since all of us are going to end up together in heaven, we might as well learn how to get along with each other now.”
Whatever happens in November, the national election so far has shone a light on the bigotry and fear that has been alive yet underground for many years. That it has been revealed so terribly should embolden us to seek out those who are most vulnerable, and show up as partners, witnesses, and allies; for most of all, these moments remind us how much we still need to learn, to hear, to transform. We are well prepared to respond to hate as a witness for love – wherever that may lead us. We know how to do this. It’s what we’ve been training for.
Most of all, it’s what we need to keep training in. Now’s the time to keep building up our listening skills, keep growing our intercultural competency, to deepen our understanding of covenant, our understanding of conflict management, to grow our language, to grow our faith. Now’s the time to realize even more fully what James Luther Adams meant when he spoke about the congregation as that place where we “practice what it means to be human.” Everything we do together in church is practice at these vital skills and tools the world so desperately needs- every meeting, every worship, every event, every interaction. Now’s the time to practice being the people we know the world needs. And finally, now’s the time to reach out to our community and invite them to learn these skills with us. Now’s the time for listening circles, and training in dialogue, for the art of learning to understand, even when we disagree, and for interfaith partnerships.
Living with joy and gratitude during these times does not mean failure to acknowledge the real risks that we face. Instead it means realizing that transforming our world towards greater love and justice still includes transformation – starting with ourselves. That things feel uncertain and unstable is a sign that transformation is possible – not guaranteed. We have this incredible opportunity to show up in the everyday and do our part to help the world transform – starting with ourselves. I know I referenced Olympia Brown just a few weeks ago, but once again, she calls to me, reminding us:
“Do not demand immediate results but rejoice that we are worthy to be entrusted with this great message, that you are strong enough to work for a great true principle without counting the cost.”
The world still does not need more threats of hell – any more than it did when our Universalist ancestors called people instead to a God of love and the light of hope. As we head towards November, and far beyond, let us keep alive this light, bearing witness to stories of resilience, courage, and faithfulness – and joy, that we are worthy to be entrusted with this great message, together. Let’s keep practicing.