Spiritually Speaking: Falling Back into Belonging

Spiritually Speaking: Falling Back into Belonging

Spiritually Speaking: Falling Back into Belonging

More often than that not today, people find themselves living at a distance from the place they once called home.  In part because of the economic stressors, fewer people spend their entire lifespan in one place.  On the one hand, this roaming dynamic helps create opportunities for cultural learning and new experiences.  It also means that there are more people reporting loneliness and isolation than any previous generation.  The late poet John O’Donohue described our locational shift as having the effect that people “have fallen out of belonging.”

I grew up in a small town.  It was the kind of place where children were raised by the community.  If you caused trouble in a neighbor’s home, it would reach your house before you did!  People watched out for each other.  When we had a flood in the early 1990s, everyone rallied.  We already knew who had a backup generator, who had a second or third floor, and who would need someone to place sandbags.  We belonged to one another.

The older I have gotten and the more communities I experience, I realize that belonging is rare.  Many in my generation did not grow up with the traditional sense of faith communities, towns or places where “everybody knew our name.”  We come into a community like Piedmont UU Church without much sense of what this belonging thing means.  And frankly, faith communities are not often very good at communicating how we could belong to one another.

My sense is that belonging is a commitment, a choice, not a feeling.  It means a willingness to agree to certain values and behaviors, to practice a curiosity with one another that allows us to learn, to exercise forgiveness and mercy, to be responsible for ourselves while being willing to support one another.  Belonging, honestly, does not always feel good.  Sometimes we show up even when we are not feeling it.   Belonging always includes navigating conflict, because belonging involves people.  At its best, belonging is a spiritual practice of cultivating the health of self and community.

In a Unitarian Universalist community, we belong to one another because of our covenant, the promises and principles we make.  Our belonging is demonstrated through relationship and ritual.  Belonging here means celebrating with one another, supporting one another, encouraging growth and sticking through the bumps along the way.  It is a fairly counter-cultural message.  Think about it.  Our world presents a whole lot of messages that you should be able to do it alone.  There are subtle (and not-so-subtle) reminders that conflict is the end of the relationship.  Consider the plot to major story lines. We are certainly not told to celebrate one another when it is a zero sum game.

Certainly, belonging in the Unitarian Universalist sense is not for everyone.  And yet, the other side of the struggle in belonging includes healing, restoration, growth, justice and, ultimately, peace.

As we sing each Sunday, “we light our flaming chalice to illuminate the world we seek.  In the search for truth, may we be just.  In the search for justice, may we be loving, and in loving, may we find peace.”  Our first minister, Reverend Liz McMaster, penned these words as Piedmont UU Church was just entering belonging to one another.  I can’t think of a better vision for belonging as our congregation readies for significant transition.

My deepest prayer as I ready to leave our community is that you will lean into belonging to one another.  As one of your ministers, I get to witness to the power of your belonging to each other.  I believe in what can come of this belonging.  Belonging can transform lives, and it is never about just one person (minister or not).  May you each belong well to one another, and when the time comes soon to let go of my hands, I trust you will take the hands of one another.

With truth, justice, love and peace,

Rev. Robin