With every breath, I plant the seeds of devotion, I am a farmer of the heart.
So begins Rumi, in a little mini poem that ends: I am the carpenter of my soul.
When I was in seminary, in Washington, DC, I had to go to a few different kinds of worship services, a Quaker service, a Reconstructionist Jewish service, a service designed for gay and lesbian Christians. It was fascinating to see how different folks approach worship. The Jewish congregation had a young woman cantor that had a guitar, and there were kids everywhere. The gay and lesbian Christians could have been Pentecostal, except they emphasized in all aspects of their worship — the readings, the sermon, the words of the music — that everyone belonged. The Quakers sat, silent, as you might imagine. The beauty of their silence, the grace of it, the peacefulness, evident even to me, even though I had spent the weekend on call at the hospital, the University of Maryland Medical System where I was a per diem chaplain. A busy night, I think I may have fallen asleep when one of the Quakers said: “There is a protest over on such and such road, to protest the war in Iraq. I’ll be there. Maybe you’d like to join me.”
It’s all devotion. The lesbian with her hands held high, prayerfully, in a posture of reception of the spirit of love, the holy spirit, that says she is beloved and that she belongs. And the Jewish mother, whose little toddler is learning Hebrew through sing along songs in the congregation, holding her child with pride and letting her run around the place when she got bored. And the Quaker, sitting silently, listening to the inner light, the spirit, speaking only when prompted.
I remember hearing the story of how Robert Hardies, our minister at All Souls Church Unitarian in DC, was introduced to Unitarian Universalism.
He says he had just graduated from a small school in upstate New York, and that he was coming to terms about coming out as a gay man. Had become comfortable with the idea and was ready to fly and to be in a big city and to be free and all of that. And he left upstate New York for the big city creative life in Portland. And as soon as he got there he was confronted with a statewide initiative, 8 or 9 or 13, I don’t even know, that targeted gay folks, that made discrimination against gay folks perfectly legitimate. And all around, there were hateful messages and he thought: I left New York for this?
How does that work?
And he said one day he was walking in downtown Portland and there was a big brick building and all over it were these pride rainbow ribbons. Tons of them, bunches of them. He saw on the sign that it was First Unitarian Church, a flagship church in our movement.
He went in, introduced himself to the minister, and found himself soon enough a part of the church and a part of Unitarian Universalism. “Here was a safe place. Here was some place I could be myself, and discover my calling.”
That putting up those rainbow ribbons to signal that the Unitarian Church in Portland was a place committed to diversity and human dignity, that too was an act of devotion.
Devotion is simply: Love, loyalty or enthusiasm.
With every breath, I plant the seeds of devotion.
How do you understand God, the divine, the holy? How do you understand humanity and nature? What is the relational nature of those things, if any?
What establishments and communal organizations do we need in order to flourish?
What does liberation mean? Salvation? What is dangerous and how do we keep ourselves and others safe?
How do we encounter those who are different, spiritually, personally, politically? And how do we engage in self-awareness and humility?
What is the end of this thing called a life? Where do we go at the end, if anywhere?
How does the Spirit work in all of this?