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“Centering Love”

Image credit: Claire Pullen; Awkward Selkie Designs -

I want to call your attention to the image on the screens and on the back of the Order of Service. It is a rendition of the Article II graphic by Claire Pullen who was sitting at General Assembly last summer doodling something more appealing to her eye than the ‘rather sparce’ image that the Article II Study Commission had provided (adjective mine!). It caught on and before she knew it folks were requesting art cards and framed images! I am no exception – I ordered mine with a blue background as you can see. It has that sort of retro look I remember doodling myself as a teenager fitting words with bubbly letters into odd shapes, so of course I could not resist!

Love is at the center and in her color scheme is like a flame on a chalice, burning brightly, igniting the values that surround it. The botanical nature of it seems to say that these values are rooted in and grow out of that center of love. And they are flourishing, my guess is that their grounding is the reason. They fill the spaces that surround them, and in each case, there is an opening for them to expand beyond their walls. And the blossoms, too, unfurl themselves, shouting out their messages; values steeped in love.

A colleague of mine reflected on this image as well, noting the nod to our Universalist heritage, love, the force that drove them onward, the values that express that love gathered round. Not a sentimental love as Dr. King talked about in our reading this morning. It is an abiding love, she says, not based on what we accomplish or what we believe. It is the kind of love that holds us together as a community and has the power to hold our world together, too.

Just the other morning I was writing about grace, having been prompted to do so by one of my journal books. And I stopped for a minute to think about what grace actually is. Unmerited favor came to mind, the dictionary definition, I surmised. But it has the same flavor to it. At first, I thought about it in terms of my very humanness, that it is there no matter how flawed I might be. Then I took it a step further though because it didn’t seem quite right for flawed to be the baseline; grace the cure. Instead, I began to think about grace itself as the starting point. It is much like this love we are talking about, that which our Universalist forebears talked about, love inherent at the center of each being, love the source of actions, even when we don’t get it quite right the first time. It is the thing that connects us, heart to heart, affirming our interdependence.

What do we say about love each week in our affirmation? Go ahead – what is the first line?

That’s right! Love is the Spirit of this Meeting House! And just what do we mean by that? Have you ever asked? Thought about the choice of words? The Spirit, we say. We even capitalize it, like it is a real entity, this Spirit, worthy of some grander notice. Because it is actually, even if that sounds a little “spiritual” for our humanist ears. It refers to an essence, I think. If you whittled anything about this place down to its heartwood, you would encounter love. If you look around at all the endeavors we engage, in our faith community and in the wider community, you find the Spirit of love as a core principle. It is acted out in our values as Unitarian Universalists. And this acting out is key for me. It’s not just something in our thoughts, a mind exercise – yes, we believe in justice – and that’s it - we believe in it. Now we can move on! The acting out takes it from the head and gives it hearts and hands and feet.

The proposed UUA Article II Bylaw revisions attempt to capture the values most prominent in our tradition, to attach a word – which will always fall a little short – but we must begin with something. Interdependence, Equity, Transformation, Pluralism, Generosity, Justice. And they give a little definition of what we may mean by that. But then in each instance, they move into action. We have always said we covenant to affirm and promote certain values. Now, with this new language, we covenant to do something about each of them. We look to the love at our center and apply it to what we value and act it out in real time. I don’t know about you, but love has always been a verb as far as I am concerned. Talk is cheap! Show me what you mean when you say you value the sacredness of diversity, for example, in all beings’ cultures, experiences, and theologies. What does that propel you to do? What does it say about how we will relate to people? The associated action speaks of engaging one another with curiosity in an effort to learn about each other, we do so with respect, and we let love ground us as we go about this process of seeking after truth and meaning in our lives. Truth and meaning are found in one another.

We will have an opportunity to explore some of this over the next several months and this is my shameless plug for the UU Wellspring Small Group that is forming! Let me know by the end of the month if you want to participate!

Tomorrow, we honor the life and work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I hope you will take some time to reflect on his teachings and on his sacrifice. There are numerous opportunities to do so in our wider communities. In our responsive reading this morning, he begins by imploring us to assert the dignity and worth of all beings, especially those who have been decentered, relegated to the margins. No doubt he is speaking directly to those folks with these words, a people who have not had their inherent worth and dignity recognized in the social system in which they have lived, oppressive still. And he talks about values as primary, solid, and sacred. He calls people to the interconnectedness of love and power. Once a people claim their power, they must then turn to the Love that it is grounded in, as persons and as a people, in order to avoid recklessness and abuse. In order to avoid returning blow for blow, I hear him saying. To assert oneself with love as a guiding force, a teaching force, I think. “Look at what I value and how it can be expressed for the betterment of all involved,” our actions speak. This goes for us, too, as we attempt to live out the values we hold as powerful tools in our world. We are called to use them wisely, by always returning to the love at our center. And Dr. King says that love all by itself is just romanticism. It must be empowered by the values espoused. They must go hand in hand in order to be effective. When power utilizes an active love toward its ends, it is ensured the best outcome, a relational outcome, a just outcome for all beings. And this just outcome looks for what might stand in the way of love and seeks to correct those wrongs. It is very active. Reciprocal. Mutual. I feel that essence, that Spirit which we proclaim every week, alive in its midst.

My colleague’s reflection speaks of hope in this inspired love – this Spirited love which has the power to overcome the evils that will always crop up. But this empowered love is stronger than any of those and so we can be hopeful. She talks about the heretical nature of our faith, and don’t we need that now? The courage to stand against what seeks to destroy the values we hold so close. We have always been a people who are willing to take the unpopular view, the alternative view, the countercultural view. We choose to live differently, to walk this earth with reverence for all of humanity, for all of creation. I know it is hard right now to see a way through all the turmoil that keeps on coming at us. And it is easy to feel hopeless and to become immobilized, to have a sense of powerlessness in the face of it all. But we have this love at our center, the ground and root of our values, telling us that we are right about human worth and dignity, about our Earth home and it’s need for protection, about the beauty of diversity, about sharing from our abundance so that all can live well, about right relationships among all people that foster equity and the opportunity for each of us to become our highest and best selves. When we act on these beliefs, our hope is kindled into a bright flame of love, held out for all to embrace to be embraced by.

What are we doing here that utilizes the Love we talk about? We care so deeply for one another I say, because I have been watching and I see it is the case. We look out for one another, tend to one another in times of hurt or difficulty. We step up when needs arise. And we care about our world. We contribute and we take the time to learn and engage with issues and those who tackle them, seeking to understand and to alleviate, both. Our Social Justice and Worship Teams have joined forces it seems in bringing us a greater awareness of where love is lacking and fresh ways to think about and respond to those missing pieces in the interconnectedness of our world. We have full hearts, and we hope for a day when love is more of the norm. It may never entirely be the case, but we can move ourselves and our world closer to that place when we commit to acting from that center of love.

This theme of ours – this liberating love – has two sides to it, one inward facing and the other outward facing. Did I say this last week? It sounds familiar, but it must be the case that it bears repeating! We are freed when we operate from a place of love. And the love we share makes a way for liberation in our world.

Today I invite you into contemplation and action. Take some time to think about the place of love in your life, how it informs your thoughts and how you live out your days. Take some time to consider the value of operating intentionally from a place of love. What would that look like? And then, as opportunities arise – and they will constantly do so, I assure you, move from that place of love. Apply it in your responses to circumstances and people. And then contemplate some more about how that looked and felt and what outcomes came about that were different for you. I invite you into a deepening with the concept of love. It is a personal way to honor the legacy of Dr. King and to explore our faith as it engages with our times.

So may it be and amen.

Rev. Tracy Johnson

UUMH Chatham, January 14, 2024



​Unitarian Universalist

Meeting House of Chatham
Sunday Services  10:30 AM

819 Main Street
All MAIL To: PO Box 18​​
Chatham, MA 02633
(508) 945-2075

Serving our Cape Cod Community in Chatham since 1986

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