In my experience, when people are asked why they became Unitarian Universalists, or why they remain Unitarian Universalists, one of the reasons most often cited is community. We seek groups of people who are like-minded, or who have similar values, with whom we can connect and to which we might belong. It’s a perfectly human desire, and Unitarian Universalist congregations provide that home that many of us need, especially when we feel that we would not be comfortable or would not be wholly accepted in any other of the spheres we inhabit in our lives.
When I first became a UU, now half my life ago, I, too, sought community. I sought a place where I could be me – a black, gay, young man, raised a Christian but seeking…something. I sought a place where I could pose questions about God, where I could ask “why?” without fear of reprisal, where I could confidently assert “I don’t believe that!” without fear of rejection. And I believe I found that place.
But community is noisy. Community is different people coming together with all their joys and all their hurts, their assuredness and their confusion. Community of the people by the people and for the people is an exercise in controlled chaos at times. Community means serving on committees, task forces, councils and boards in the interest of perpetuating said community. Community is busy, and loud, and satisfying, and depleting, and beautiful, and replenishing, and rough. Community is competing wants and needs seeking resolution. Community is strength and community is effacement. Community is multivalent – as many different things as the people within it, and much more.
And although community is very important to me, it has never been my primary reason for joining or remaining a member of a church. My answers to that question about becoming a UU usually sound like “exploring my spirituality” or “cultivating my theology”. My answers about remaining a UU usually sound similar, with the added component of a deep love for this faith I found all those years ago. Having benefitted from community for so long, I have come to a place in my life where what I need more even than the community I found is sanctuary.
|Seder table set on the chancel in the sanctuary of the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore (Universalist & Unitarian), April 2010|
Sanctuary is stillness. Sanctuary is safe vulnerability; sanctuary is comfort. Sanctuary is holiness, set apart from the mundane. Sanctuary is oneness of breath, oneness of purpose, oneness of intention. Sanctuary is showing up, sitting in a pew, and being nourished. Sanctuary is allowing others to do the hard raucous work of community, for a time. Sanctuary is self-care. Sanctuary is Sabbath rest - the opportunity just to be and not to do. Sanctuary is the quiet harmony of everything which is nothing which is within everything and nothing. Sanctuary is wholeness. Sanctuary is peace.
Community and sanctuary are not of necessity at odds with one another; they can both exist in the same space and at the same time. Somehow. One of the things I’ve discovered while exploring my spirituality and cultivating my theology, all within the framework of my UU community, is that God more often than not resides in the mystery of paradox. Sanctuary means being able to find an answer to “why?” and being able to say “I do believe this” without fear of reprisal or rejection.
Sanctuary is quiet silence. Today I seek the quiet.
#UULent reflection for Day 3: Quiet
#UULent reflection for Day 3: Quiet