First Unitarian Universalist Church of Berks County

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Come, Come, Whoever You Are

February 10, 2013
Rev. Sandra Fees

READINGS

Come, Come by Rumi

Come, come, whoever you are,

Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving,

Ours is not a caravan of despair.

Even if you have broken your vows a thousand times

It doesn't matter

Come, come yet again, come

 

Great Acceptances, Great Humilities by David Grayson

Joy of life seems to me to arise from a sense of being where one belongs, of being foursquare with the life we have chosen. All the disconnected people I know are trying to sedulously to be something they are not, to do something they cannot do. Contentment, and indeed usefulness, comes as the infallible result of great acceptances, great humilities – of not trying to make ourselves this or that (to conform to some dramatized version of ourselves), but of surrendering ourselves to the fullness of life – of letting life flow through us.

 

SERMON

Last week, I participated in a continuing education program for Unitarian Universalist clergy. I signed on for a series of bhakti yoga workshops with Jai Uttal. He’s been a teacher and student of kirtan for over 40 years. It’s a Hindu practice, in which the Sanskrit names of the divine are chanted. Those of you who are familiar with Hinduism know that in the Hindu religion there are many names for God – Ram, Sita, Hanuman, Krishna, Shiva, Ganesha, Lakshmi, among others. Despite all these names for God, Hinduism essentially says everything is God, everything is sacred, everything belongs.

I have been incorporating bhakti into my personal meditation and prayer practice for several years, and it was amazing to do this call-and-response meditative singing with my UU colleagues. My attraction to it was sparked by my trip to India a few years ago and more so by a period of difficulty in my personal life in which I struggled to know what to do with my intensely unpleasant and unwanted feelings. Bhakti uses every emotion to connect with the divine, not just the happy emotions. It brings everything into the relationship with the sacred – anger, broken-heartedness, and feelings of unworthiness, as well as joy (Institute News, Wed. Jan. 30). There aren’t too many places where that’s encouraged.

Having said that, I also have to admit that as much as I am committed to a daily spiritual practice that includes but isn’t limited to bhakti, and as freeing as it ultimately is for me, it is not always easy. Anyone who meditates, prays, or regularly engages in a centering practice or quiet time finds very quickly that it’s terribly difficult to sit with the uncomfortable stuff. There are days when it seems impossible. The truth is that most of us would rather do almost anything than get quiet, then sit and meditate for 30 minutes or even 5 minutes. We’d rather watch reality TV, get on Facebook, even do the laundry. Well, maybe not the laundry! Even in our congregations a minute of silence during worship can seem like an eternity some Sundays. It’s hard to come face to face with the silence and be confronted with the way things are and who we are. It’s hard to look at the things we don’t like or don’t want in our lives.

Often we just keep fighting and trying to mold things to our own plan, longing for things to be other than what they are, or denying, or ignoring. I happen to love the saying “It is what it is.” I know it’s become one of those contemporary clichés. But I grew up with it. I’ve read it comes from a Zen master, but I attribute it to my parents. And trust me, they were not trendsetters. They had a remarkable capacity to look at life head on. To acknowledge that “it is what it is” is to accept reality and see things honestly as they are.

When the great Persian Sufi mystic Rumi says come, come, whoever you are, he is extending a profound invitation. Whoever you are. It is a declaration of welcome to the full range of experience, to the whole of the self, and the other, to the “all of it,” to things, to us, to each other, as we are. Rumi doesn’t say, just those of you who have your lives sorted out, come on in. Only you happy people, come along. Only the wealthy or the smartest or the most successful. Only sunny blue-sky days. Rumi doesn’t say, you’re too greedy, too slow, too fast, too little, not enough, too much – go away. He doesn’t sort people and experience into the worthy and the unworthy, saved and unsaved, into sheep and goats, to use the biblical metaphor, though of course the Bible also teaches us to love our neighbor. I like to think of Rumi as a universalist.

The version of Rumi’s words which was adapted into a song in our hymnal is actually missing something that’s an incredibly essential part of Rumi’s original piece. It is the line you heard in the opening words: “Even if you have broken your vows a thousand times, it doesn’t matter. Come, come yet again, come.” Those who have broken their vows, who have fallen short in some way, are welcome. The unpleasant stuff is welcome too – the anger, fear, doubt.

This declaration to come whoever you are even if you’ve broken your vows a thousand times is a call to accept ourselves and also to accept others for who they are. It is a call into a community of acceptance and love. To be able to accept and be accepted by others in religious community is a powerful life-altering experience. All of us want that. Some of us have been wounded by communities that shut us out or rejected us for who we are or what we believe. To accept each other with our differences, our quirks, and our humanity is a remarkable thing.

Imagine that you arrive in this community and we say to you, not come come, but hold on, wait a minute. Imagine we tell you that before we can accept you here you are going to have to believe a certain way. You are going to have to think a certain way. You will need to adopt certain truths. You must always be happy. You will only be able to love certain people. You must never say the word God, or you must use the word God, or you must only use the word God when speaking of what’s most ultimate to you. Not only is that not what we do, it’s contrary to our understanding of being a religiously open and diverse community. We say, come, come whoever you are. You are loved for who you are. Come into this sacred space and let its power heal your heart.

Norman Naylor says: “Do not leave your cares at the door. Do not leave there your pain, your sorrow or your joys. Bring them with you into this place of acceptance and forgiveness. Place them on the common altar of life and offer them to the possibility of your worship.” When we gather in community, we gather all of who we are, bringing the whole of who we are into the possibility of our worship. What a relief. What a blessing. What a challenging task. What a sacred opportunity.

This idea of acceptance is integral to who we are as a religious community. Traditional religion says that the basic human problem is sin, that there is something inherently wrong with us, and that we need to do something or believe something specific in order to be saved from our evil or sinful nature. Our liberal UU religion disagrees, thankfully, and encourages us to understand human nature in a new light. We affirm that we humans are inherently worthy and have dignity.

As UUs we do not believe that the broken-heartedness in the world and the unpleasantness we experience is the result of the inherently corrupt and evil nature of humanity, of ourselves. I feel a need for a qualifier at this point. Some of you may be wondering about the bad stuff. I’m not suggesting people don’t do terrible things or that abuse, murder, hatred, oppression, racism, addiction and so on are acceptable. There is bad stuff and all of us suffer from it – from lies, gossip, anger, hurting each other. But when I talk about our inherent worth I’m talking about who we are at a soul level, at the core of our being.

Our UU understanding of basic human nature tends to focus on the ways that culture and institutions tear us apart. We live in a culture that does everything it can to create so much noise, so much busyness, such franticness, shallowness, division, greed, and rancor among people. Our institutions perpetuate these divisions, when what our spirits long for is acceptance, connection, depth, union, beauty, harmony, inspiration, invitation, welcome, love, and a safe place to be. These experiences come from listening to our deepest selves, to discovering our deepest nature, and practicing what Tara Brach calls “radical acceptance.” We move beyond self-loathing, self-hatred, self-denigration, the sense of inadequacy, the feeling that we at some cellular level are deeply flawed and unlovable to opening to the invitation to come, come, whoever you are. To be who we are. To accept who we are.

All too often, we are in the position of having to demonstrate that we are worthy and that we matter. We have to earn our place and prove ourselves. We seem to be on a grand human self-improvement caravan. We are judged by others as either valuable productive citizens, or slackers and takers. What a different world it would be if we saw in ourselves and each other a divine light, the spark of the eternal, basic human worth. Oh, I know. It’s really hard to see that in some people. Well, it’s often hard enough to see it in ourselves.

So what do we do about the need we have to improve things. How do we grow spiritually if we are accepting ourselves as we are? Life’s just not that clear cut, of course. It isn’t one or the other. Isn’t it possible to accept each other AND also work on spiritual growth? That’s certainly what our third Unitarian Universalist principle asks us to do. It affirms and promotes acceptance of one another and encouragement toward spiritual growth. I particularly like the order of these two-parts of this principle. First we accept one another, and then we encourage growth. Often we are going at life the exact opposite way. We try to develop ourselves in order to be accepted and acceptable. We think that if we can just keep working on ourselves and refining who we are then finally we’ll be loved, we’ll be lovable. If we can get good enough grades, be successful enough, pretty enough, nice enough, then our parents, our spouses, our friends, co-workers, fellow congregants, will like us or like us more. Maybe we’ll even like ourselves. Sadly, people sometimes think they need to be a better person before they can come to church. I’ve actually had people tell me they can’t go to church when their lives are a mess. As your minister, this breaks my heart and tells me we have work to do as religious people.

We need personal practices like mindfulness, prayer, and bhakti to help us learn to accept and love ourselves. And we also need communities in which we can experience that love and acceptance. To be in community where our ideas, opinions, our very being, is honored and valued, where we learn that we are already worthy, and where we are treated with dignity, is one of the most radical experiences we can have. It’s one of the most healing and life-changing experiences we can have. It’s not the only reason I’ve remained a Unitarian Universalist, but it is a primary reason I became one in the first place. Coming to a UU community is like coming home to myself, to the all of me, to a wide embrace that holds me through the rhythms and permutations of my life.

Jean Rowe says, “We are people of a wide path. Let us be wide in affection.” May we learn to be people of the wide path. May we ever strive to widen our invitation, to broaden our affection. May we say: come whoever you are to ourselves and to others. May we say: come, even if you’ve broken your vows a thousand times. Come and know that you are loved.

Amen. Blessed Be.