Friday, November 19, 2010

Come, Whoever You Are

Come, come, whoever you are
Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving
Ours is no caravan of despair
Come yet again, come

I've loved that song since the first time I heard it. I love its wide embrace. I love that despair isn't allowed center stage. I love that a 20th-century American took the words of a 13th-century Persian Sufi and set them to music that speaks to me, a shamanic Unitarian Universalist. I love that a line of the poem that the composer left out – "Even if you have broken your vow a hundred times" – only makes it more radically welcoming.

There's something in particular about the phrase "lover of leaving" that I find heartbreaking and beautiful. Who are these people who feel the need to leave, not just once but over and over? And do they actually enjoy leaving, or are they driven to it?

I tend to be a lover of staying. I've only had about nine home addresses in my entire life, and that includes my year as an exchange student and a month-long sublet when I first moved to San Francisco. I'm a fiercely loyal friend, though more than once I've remained committed to a friendship long after it would have been healthier to let it go. I much prefer vacations where I can get to know one place for a solid amount of time rather than alighting briefly in one city before moving on to the next.

Wandering? I'm a big fan of meandering my way through neighborhoods.
Worshiping Well, I'm up on a chancel, so it must hold some attraction.
But leaving...time and again, by necessity or inclination...that holds sadness.

Many of us in this room have had to do a lot of leaving, by inclination or necessity. Jobs, relationships, schools, apartments, religions, our bodies, our families, our dignity. Even when leaving is the sane choice, even when it's done of our own free will, even when it's connected to a joyous occasion like a graduation, leaving marks us. We're riddled with exit wounds.

The question then becomes, What will fill the spaces thus created? One way to make sure that no caravan of despair rushes in is to fill the space with community.

A day or two after September 11, Emily and I came to a special service here. We weren't members then, but we instinctively wanted to gather with others as we tried to comprehend what had happened. I don't remember what was said, and even the emotions seem muted. But I remember a sense of relaxing, just a bit, because we didn't have to carry the burden alone.

I also know we came here, specifically, because we knew the people sitting nearby wouldn't limit their connectedness and compassion to the people in the twin towers and Pentagon, or the airline passengers, or emergency workers, or New York City, or the United States. The difficult truth of that day is that it reflected years of tragedies played out all over the world.

The awareness of how we're connected to those beyond our immediate circle is why I keep coming to this church – because no one's humanity is worth less than someone else's. Even those whose actions we condemn, whose policies we abhor, are fundamentally worthy of love. The way I see it, the people whose wounds make them strike out most viciously are the ones most in need of love, even if I can't always be the one to muster it for them.

On the way into the church this morning, I passed members of the Faithful Fools and others gathered to bear witness to the humanity of those living on the streets – the people who would be most directly affected by a law to limit their right to take up space in public. Their silent presence on our steps reminds us that when Unitarian Universalists gather and invite others to join us – whoever they are – we're also bearing witness to our own humanity. Even when we're imperfect, even when we've broken our vows a hundred times, still the invitation remains: Come yet again, come.

I wrote and delivered this piece as the Credo for the October 17, 2010, service at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco.

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