Promise, Covenant, and Intention, or, Why to Love People We Can’t Stand

  

The spiritual life of individuals has to be extended both vertically to God
and horizontally to other souls; and the more it grows in both directions, the less merely individual and therefore more truly personal it will become.

Scholar on mysticism Evelyn Underhill

One:

 

Everyone knows that I’m big on this covenant thing. We’ve been saying a covenant in unison for all of this church year,

 

Love is the spirit of this congregation

    And service its law.

This is our great covenant:

To dwell together in peace,

To seek the truth in love,

And to help one another.

 

 

The Puritans who came to North America took the covenant between God and the world that occurs in Genesis 9:9-15 very seriously:

 

And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you; And with every living creature that is with you, of the fowl, of the cattle, and of every beast of the earth with you; from all that go out of the ark, to every beast of the earth.

And I will establish my covenant with you; neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth.

And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.

And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud: And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh.

 

To the founders of what would become Unitarianism a covenant is sacred; enforced by divinity. 

And the reason Unitarian Universalists enjoy a non-creedal religion today is that they believed a covenant could replace creed.

This is the very basis for freedom of conscience. And that’s why I keep harping on the idea of covenant: in the absence of agreed beliefs, covenant acts as an agreement concerning how we will treat each other. Each Sunday we call attention to the fact that we agree together to

Dwell together in peace,

Seek the truth in love,

And  help one another.

Two

 

Here is the kicker:

 

Community requires authenticity;

 

And authenticity requires vulnerability;

 

And this is not what we are accustomed to here in boot-straps North America. It doesn’t feel “natural.” We hold tightly to our masks.

 

Yet, community requires authenticity; authenticity requires vulnerability. As the great Roman Catholic contemplative Thomas Merton put it,

 

The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.

 

Now, just think about our gathered congregation this morning—

 

We have theists and atheists;

We have people who passionately believe that God is a human construct used to manipulate people;

We have people who passionately believe that existence itself would make no sense without God;

 

We have people who, as the old Unitarian joke goes, say, “There is only ONE God and I don’t believe in him!”

There are people here who believe that God exists in the relationships between people;

We have people here who believe there are many gods.

 

We have people who think that the subject of religion is kinda fun but not all that relevant;

We have people who think that our spiritual lives are our most important concern;

We have people who have been badly damaged by religions that were used as a form of child abuse.

 

We have people who grew up with no religion;

We have people who had religion thrust upon them;

We have people who went off searching on their own.

 

We have Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Baha’is and Earth-Centered practitioners. We have Roman Catholics, Christian Scientists, Mormons, evangelicals, fundamentalists, Lutherans of all stripes, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Mennonites, Quakers, Methodists, Baptists . . .

 

Do we have any Muslims or Hindus?

 

What have I missed?

 

Forming a religious community out of a chaotic morass like that?  Clearly, it can’t be done.

 

Three

 

Or can it?

 

The Western mind, as reflected especially in the history of the Roman Catholic Church, has been peculiar in its insistence on not only right actions, but also right beliefs—we have insisted upon knowing exactly what people REALLY think.

 

Remember the Monty Python running gag—Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P1iBbBL1040&feature=youtube_gdata_player

 

Which reminds me of Eddie Izzard’s take on a Church of England Inquisition:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZVjKlBCvhg

The inquisitors had to torture their victims because they had to know what the person was thinking, way down in the deepest corners of his or her soul. Thought itself was everything.

Given this . . . shall we say “fanatical”. . . . insistence on personal belief in the Western world, it is indeed a wonder that we Unitarian Universalists manage to gather—after our fashion—every Sunday. We discuss; we share; we break bread together.  How can we do that? Why would we even want to?

Think about those words of Thomas Merton again:

The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.

“. . . to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image.” This is true in a committed relationship between two people; it is true of a congregation in covenantal relationship. We owe it, first of all, to ourselves, to see others as they are. Otherwise, we see only distortion of our own psyches.  Otherwise, we are incapable of realizing the “inherent worth and dignity of every person.”

So, if you would this morning, look to the person on your left and say, “You’re different.  I like that.”

And look to the person on your right and say, “You don’t think like me. I like that.”

And MEAN it . . .

 

Every Sunday in this congregation, we achieve the impossible:

 

We join together, despite or differences of belief; we join together in community without surrendering our brains at the door;

 

We join together as UN-like-minded individuals into community to

 

Dwell together in peace,

Seek the truth in love,

And help one another.

 

May we carry with us, into the social hall, out into the community, the words of Thomas Merton:

The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s