Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, our poet writes,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Many of you know that we Unitarian Universalist ministers must jump through a myriad of fiery hoops to reach ordination in our faith. One of these hoops requires sitting before the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, or the MFC, which is an amalgam of seasoned UU ministers and leaders, who are appointed by the UU Association’s board of trustees. One of their great charges is to discern if candidates for ministry are indeed ready for ministry.
When you get your appointment with the MFC, you sit before them and answer a lot of questions. Most of them have to do with all the personal materials you have put in their hands beforehand, but many of the questions are broader. Questions that could be asked of any minister in formation. And most of us form study groups to prepare for this big conversation–ruminating on what our responses to some of these questions might be. And across the board, in all the study groups and private Facebook groups and workshops I participated in, the question most dread seemed to be: what is your theology of suffering? In other words, how do you explain suffering/how do you find meaning in it?
And the tricky part about Unitarian Universalism is that we don’t look to one sacred text for guidance in this. It would be a lot easier for us ministers to simply point you to some gospel that summed it up well. Jesus says…period, end stop. So sayeth the Lord. Done.
We, however, are a people who have a range of thoughts on this: some of us find suffering and great sorrow to all to be random and meaningless, others feel that God meets us in our moments of need–maybe even has a plan for us, most of us want to hide under the covers when it comes to questions like this. No thanks. Pass. You can take your conversations on the theology of suffering and sorrow elsewhere please.
This I know for sure: I will never be a pastor that stands up here and prescribes a theology that will help you make sense of the completely incomprehensible. The honest answer is how can any of us really know how to make sense of tragic loss and the atrocities of injustice and evil?
My honest response to this, is simply: I don’t know. And I can’t make sense it, nor do I have a snappy platitude that makes Human suffering or the state of the world, palatable. Or easy. This was my answer when I sat before the MFC by the way.
What I DO KNOW, however, is that across millennia, we wondrous, seeking humans have been wrestling with this question of suffering. There is not one religion that has gripped the hearts of people, spoken to the needs of its time, and spread like wildfire across time, when all was well. They have ALL been forged up and out of a desperation for meaning in the face of not-wellness. How, how, they have asked and sung and prayed and painted, how might we make sense of this suffering we all feel and know? How might we make sense of this injustice? So, we have a universal truth here: we humans all know suffering. We always have, and we always will.
The great singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen is one of my favorites. He sings the songs of lament, and he sings them beautifully. He sings of cracks in everything, and broken hallelujahs, and in the same breath: sings of a light that pierces through the cracks and holy, broken hallelujahs. “Ring the bells that still can ring, he sings, …there is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
And I’ve thought a lot about this in my life: the cracks that let light in. The broken places in our lives and world. And while I have never been able to make much sense of this stuff, I know that beauty, and light, hope and resilience is all about the sanctity and healing power of human connection in the muck and mire.
Worldwide, we humans have cultivated grief groups, addiction recovery meetings, trauma survivor groups, affinity groups for those holding marginalized identities, #metoo consortiums, and on and on…and all of them center and support the utterly unbearable. We are in this together is at the heart of these gatherings. And this saves lives! And this saving, this solidarity, this proximity to one another’s raw struggle, it’s a thing of indescribable beauty.
The beauty of together-ness, in the face of broken-ness.
I know this to be true. I have experienced this. Have you? You feel this at memorial services too. The beauty of together-ness in the face of broken-ness.
And I sense our poet today, the great Naomi Shihab-Nye, knows this well too. That in the depths of our sorrow:
…it is only kindness that makes sense anymore…
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere…
Honestly, I don’t know if everything is going to be okay. I don’t know how to make sense of the brokenness that abounds every day from those wretched news headlines or in our complicated lives and families. But I do know that in times of trouble, when all seems lost, we best get with kind people who know how to say ‘me too,’ or ‘I am so sorry,’ or ‘we got this…we got you,’ even know how to make us laugh or dance or sing. We best make our way to places where caring people wake up at the crack of dawn on Mother’s Day to walk for peace, who light candles for you, who end the endless text or email threads with, “I Love you and I appreciate you” with lots and lots of heart emojis.
And with all the ‘I don’t knows’ that I throw out from this pulpit at you. I do know that We are these people. We are. You are. My prayer is that you know this, and that, especially, you know that you can ask for this kindness here. You do not need to be unbroken, uncracked or highly polished to be loved here. To be worthy of kindness here. We got this. We got you.
I love you and I appreciate you!
Open the window! Open the window now! Let the Dove fly in…This is the title of our closing hymn today. Amen! Let’s join our blessed voices in singing it.
Reverend Sophia Lyons
Rev. Sophia is committed to radical welcome and spreading the good news that is our bold Unitarian Universalist faith. Some of her areas of interest include interfaith partnerships, addictions ministry, spiritual direction, and working towards collective liberation for all. Rev. Sophia aspires to live her life and fulfill her ministry guided by spiritual seeking, big love, and the seven principles of Unitarian Universalism.