My hope this morning is that those beautiful words of Rumi’s–thank you Ben for bringing them to life–my hope is that you were able to welcome them in, in some small way. For they are blessing words–for each and every one of us. An invitation to know ourselves as rubies embedded in granite. Let us stop pretending, stop insisting this to not be true! I would add, for this is my struggle–forgetting this to be true. And we need the great prophets, the Rumis–Divine messengers–to remind us of this. And I also hope you can translate that word God for yourself–it is a big, big word–one that I am committed to expanding, wrestling with and reconciling in my life. I know I am in good company here. For this is the great joy that is being a seeking Unitarian Universalist. We get to wrestle with theology. It’s wonderful.
Come, return to the root of the root of your Self, Rumi writes. These past weeks we’ve been working with this, right?–the deep well within, the quiet-still place inside that we might touch fingers with when we rest–I’ve been holding to these themes because I believe them to not only be foundational to the spiritual life–no matter how one expresses this–but also foundational to everything we do here in church, and everything, everything we do out in the world. Justice work. And what do I mean by justice work? It’s a word we Unitarian Universalists use a lot. We are a people of justice. Our faith is a faith of justice. What does this mean?
Civil Rights Activist Ruby Sales, if you don’t know her, I hope you will take some time to look her up and get to know her–she is another one of those great prophets in our midst. Ruby Sales centers a key question in her understanding of justice work, one that she claims is rarely asked in our culture: Where does it hurt? This question came about at a time in her public life of activism where she had pointedly separated out her religious upbringing from her justice work. In an interview she did back in 2016 she said that this distinction between faith and justice work was working just fine, until she encountered a woman named Shelley. Shelley was lost in the trenches of addiction and living a life of crime. Sales recalls in that moment of meeting the only question that she could think of to ask was where does it hurt? Where does it hurt Shelley? By asking that question that day, Sales said, she cracked something open in this person and in herself–a well of pain that needed only asking after.
And it was this blessed, unexpected encounter that helped Ruby Sales to see that she needed a larger way to do the work of justice–a way that might seek to get to the heart of the matter. She writes: “those human moments, the where does it hurt moments, made me…want to develop, in a very intentional way, an inner life that had to do with how I lived in the world.”
What Sales knows, and lives well, is that justice work, right relationship, dismantling systems of oppression, reckoning with the atrocities of the past and present, finding our way to one another, that this IS spiritual work. For to be able to ask another human being in earnest: Where does it hurt? and to listen–let it permeate into those deep places within, so that we might find ourselves bound up in one another–this is spiritual work. And I’ll tell you why. Because it requires grace and compassion. It requires open heartedness. Stretched, inconvenient love. It requires a willingness to be transformed by the answer. Faith. And it’s scary. It’s painful. Because a willingness to be transformed means a willingness to let go of and maybe even grieve parts of our stories, identities, our fixed understandings of this world and people, and wade out into the unknown. And it’s also WONDERFUL!!! As deep connection with our fellows is always wonderful.
And for my part, I have not been able to ask this question authentically, where does it hurt? And be able to deeply listen to what comes when I don’t dedicate myself to the practice of asking it of myself. It is very difficult to sit with another’s pain, I would say near impossible, when we do not know how to sit with our own. And most of us are unpracticed at this kind of self-reflective vulnerability. Some of you might grimace at the thought.
Not unlike last week when I talked about the balance needed between work in the world and rest, so too do we need balance when we consider the work of liberation in our world and in the deepest parts of ourselves.
And honestly, right now, our Unitarian Universalist faith is calling us towards this balance. So many of our prophetic UU leaders are worried that if we, and they are mainly talking to us white folk, if we as UU’s do not engage in deep spiritual work and grounding, an interior reckoning, we are risking the very thing that all of us long for–and I have no doubt that we all long for this–which is the capacity to listen to and hold with care the pains and stories of those who hold historically marginalized identities.
The latest Commission on Institutional Change that has been offered to us by our larger UU Association, it is called Widening the Circle of Concern, tells us that “Justice seeking practices of UU’s are often not grounded on spiritual or ritual principles, instead justice-seeking takes the place of ritual and religious life.” They go on to say that “we need faith tenets that can hold us” so that we might see our interior healing as irrevocably linked to communal healing. You can access Widening the Circle of Concern on the UUA’s website for free or order it in book form. Many of you are already doing this, and I hope we as a congregation can find more intentional ways of moving through this incredible call to faith–for it is a call to faith.
And this call to faith, this brave new vision of spiritually hefty justice work gets us to the heart of the matter. Makes possible an intentional living in the world where we can ask: How might my heart open to your pain? Tell me your story. Where does it hurt? It’s not just about me, it’s about us. Learning how to face one another.
And let me tell you my friends I do this kind of deeply relational spiritually grounded justice work imperfectly. I get it wrong. I’ve unintentionally left people out. I have been defensive. Made it all about me. Sure. Yep. And I have found such beauty and grace in learning how to ask how did I hurt you? I am sorry. The contemplative life–which is how I intentionally practice prayer, meditation and seeking a relationship with what I call God or Goddess–has taught me how to do this, it teaches me how to do this, and has revealed again and again that with all my imperfections and mistakes and utterly human fallibilities, that at the root of the root of my Self I am, as Rumi writes, born from a ray of Divine majesty and have the blessings of a good star. And so are you. I believe that when we find our way home to this knowing in ourselves. We find our way home to this knowing in one another. Even those who it is hard to love. For our faith calls us to this kind of big love. Don’t worry. We are in this together. No one among need feel that you are traversing the complexities of this alone.
And as for Ruby Sales beautiful heart of the matter question. The first stop might be to ask it of yourself. Where does it hurt? Practice listening with yourself. You will get better at this with practice. For it is a practice. And It’s a good place to start. For it is just a beginning. For those of you who pride yourself on being radically counter-cultural here’s your chance to tear down all kinds of oppressive systems that tell us to toughen up and get over it. Stuff it down and hide it away. Oh yes, our thriving, and deep concern for our fellows’ thriving is, indeed, the most radical of acts of resistance. It’s not just about me, it’s about us.
So let us get to it.
Let’s listen to some of Rumi’s words again:
Don’t go away, come near.
Don’t be faithless, be faithful.
Find the antidote in the venom.
Come to the root of the root of yourself.
You are a ruby embedded in granite.
How long will you pretend it’s not true?
We can see it in your eyes.
Come to the root of the root of your Self.
Amen and blessed be.
And now won’t you join your voices with those of our choir and sing this hopeful and lamenting hymn that reminds us of seeking and thriving, faith and justice, #95 There is More Love Somewhere.