Microcosms. Our beloved Joan Konopka shared with me a couple of years ago that, “Small groups are a microcosm of the UU Church. We gather together in Peace. We welcome diversity knowing we do not always agree. We are seeking a sense of Community knowing we have cultural differences. It is an opportunity to question our perceptions of the World and ourselves in a safe space. We become Friends.”
These small groups of eight to ten folks mirror our larger congregation. They are cut from the broad cloth of the whole, representing the unique and varied individuals that make up this community. But beyond that, they come together however often seems good for them, and they mirror one another. In our reading this morning from James Baldwin, he says that we mirror and magnify one another’s light. They receive one another gently. They are steadfast in their showing up for each other. And when life gets too hard to handle and we are overcome with sorrow or shame, they make space for one another in a judgement free zone and do the lifesaving – I would say, holy – work of listening well and accepting whatever pours forth. When we feel our own light diminishing, these good people recognize the spark and beam it back to us.
As synchronicity would have it – this is the month that we are exploring mystery after all – I spent a weekend a couple of weeks ago on a retreat that at its core turned out to be about spiritual friendship. About the value of such a thing, these intimate connections we cultivate through simple acts of presence, of listening well, of encouraging depth. The Buddha corrected a questioner, when asked about good friends being half the spiritual life, saying, “Not so . . . Good friends, companions, and associates are the whole of the spiritual life.” That these are essentially, critical to walking a noble path. Simply put, we need one another. The Insight Dialogue Community suggests that we begin by pausing and relaxing – centering ourselves in the moment and preparing to listen. Only then can we open up to someone else. We attune ourselves to what emerges, noticing shifts and changes, being okay with not knowing what might come next. We listen with our whole selves – body, mind and spirit allowing ourselves to be touched by what is being said. Only then can we offer a deeper truth in kindness that might be of benefit.
I cannot imagine a greater gift than to be received in such a way. And this is the essence of our intention in small groups. To find a safety of space that allows us to speak our truths. To be heard with the surety that we are known in the fullest of our humanity, our listeners not flinching or turning away, but embracing us in all our messiness and joy, breathing in our being and exhaling love. We take our turns, each of us drawing from the deep well of our souls.
These covenant groups as they are rightly named provide the safety we desire through our promises made at the outset – how we will be with one another when we gather, apart from how we are in more public spaces with acquaintances. These are sacred spaces in which spiritual friendships are fostered, nurtured, and held in the highest regard. They call upon whatever sense of the ultimate we each bring with us to be there alongside us as we open our hearts to one another.
Today’s service comes with an invitation to any of you who think this sounds like the kind of relationship you want to nourish here at UUMH. There is room at the table for additional members in one of our groups or maybe you want to create a new group with the help of our leaders and myself. In a congregation this size with a part time ministry available to its pastoral needs, I couldn’t be more supportive of a strong small group ministry program. One of the things we do so well here is to care for one another, and this vital ministry is a big part of how we do that. I encourage you to explore the possibilities.
“The longer I live, the more deeply I learn that love—is the work of mirroring and magnifying each other’s light. In our best moments, we are that person for another,” says Baldwin. May that Love which is the Spirit of this place engage the work and the blessings, both, in the transcendent moments of coming together as it is mirrored in one another’s eye’s and hearts.
So may it be and Amen.
Rev. Tracy Johnson UUMH Chatham, December 3, 2023