"The Look of Love"
UUMH Chatham – February 13, 2022 – “The Look of Love” – Rev. Tracy Johnson
Yesterday I baked a cherry pie. Gently, carefully, wove the strips of lattice crust. Cut a heart of dough and placed it at the center. A gift for my beloved. Some of you craft delicious soups, chopping, sauteing, stirring, seasoning, and deliver them to other members who can’t make it out or cook for themselves. You remember that they were fond of a certain recipe. Some of you are religious in your phoning to just check in, to listen and to laugh together amid our isolation. Beautifully penned notes wing their way to the grieving, to the celebrating, to the lonely among us – a lost art in my opinion and so very heartwarming upon receipt because of it. Earlier this week we received a request for assistance from a stranger given our number, the thought that we might have a little extra we could share. Our discretionary fund is dwindling – not really funded – but here is the interesting piece: that someone unaffiliated as a member would come to find this out and share their practice of donating to such causes on a monthly basis, a small amount that is a percentage of their take, because of a greater Love that they have received, wanting to be of service to this unknown person, to be of service.
I am moved by all of these simple acts of love, austere as Hayden writes. The winter fires banked against the weather, the warmth that awaits us, the shine on our shoes. The things we do without thinking that are expressions of our undying respect for humanity, that none should suffer the weight of hunger or loneliness or find themselves wanting for the most basic of needs. Undying I say because all of these made up my week, just seven days in which I have had the privilege of bearing witness to love. How many more examples passed by my view unnoticed? I can only imagine.
Gandhi writes about the connection between non-violence and love; the act of the latter defining the former. As I read these winter mornings from a book of his quotes and reflections on non-violence, I am enticed by the expansiveness of its connection to so many things, but for today it is love that I want to focus on. He writes of love as both source and resource, existing on its own as something grounding, foundational and feeding what comes next. It is active in our midst – the Spirit of this Meeting House – right? And out of the abundance of that Spirit comes the service that springs forth from within these walls, these homes, these hearts. With deepening purity and expansiveness its power to heal and to hold comes alive.
Poet, David Whyte suggests that in naming love we seek to control it. In the pointing to it, the labeling of it, do we diminish it? I think of all the words humanity has invoked to attempt to name the concept of God, the Holy, the Sacred, descriptors that will always fall short of something so beyond what is fathomable by the human mind. We embark on a work, begin to attend to a cause, but cannot know the fullness of the love that draws us into action until we are already there in the middle of it, revealing itself in a flowering more delicate and beautiful than we might have ever expected. We know it in our hearts though, a fullness at our centers, a warmth, and a joy that no words can contain, its intoxicating presence drawing us onward. It feels good to let love lead the way. Perhaps, for this we are made.
I spent some time in the past thirty days – “30 Days of Love” they call it at the Side with Love office of the Unitarian Universalist Association. It runs each year from the occasion of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s. birth until Valentine’s Day weekend. Perhaps some of you took me up on the weekly invitations in our eblast – I often invite us into thoughts and activities this way, so if you aren’t looking for them you are missing out! But invitations to explore what love looks like when paired with the concept of justice. Each week there is a focus on a theme and an extensive multi-generational compendium of things to read and view and do on your own or in collaboration with other UU’s. This year’s themes were reproductive, gender and LGBTQIA justice; democracy and voting rights, decriminalization and racial justice, and climate justice.
We spent a Sunday morning on the first of these, so timely as Roe v. Wade hangs in the balance and LGBTQIA folks continue to suffer under the burden of violence and oppression, exploring an intersectional, human rights-based approach.
The following week I listened as a children’s story was shared, “Granddaddy’s Turn: A Journey to the Ballot Box” about the changes in laws allowing African Americans to vote, about the tests they encountered when they showed up that eliminated their opportunity, and about the young man who followed his grandfather’s admonition to be patient, ultimately voting so many years later, doing so “for his granddaddy.” I well up with tears writing this – maybe in sharing it – because so much has been wrong for so long and as I, as we, bear witness to it the Love in our midst calls to us from somewhere deep within and asks of us to please do something. And so there was an opportunity to join with others in an evening of phone banking – training first and then making calls to folks in Texas to ensure voting rights are available to everyone.
Later this spring we’ll have an opportunity to explore together the UU Common Read for this year – “Defund Fear: Safety without Policing, Prisons, and Punishment” by Zach Norris. Watch for invitations! And I sent an email to our representatives here in Massachusetts asking them to co-sponsor The People’s Response Act emphasizing an inclusive, holistic, and health-centered approach to public safety by creating a public safety division within the Department of Health and Human Services.
I listened to poetry and meditations invoking my attention to climate, petitioned our Social Justice Team for permission to sign onto the Build Back Fossil Free 2022 Letter to President Biden demanding executive action on climate justice on behalf of our Social Justice Team, adding our voices here in Chatham to those of other faith organizations seeking change.
What did you do with these incredible offerings, lovingly curated for our response? To side with love is to move in accord with love in action, to partner with Love. To do so with purity of intention is to make non-violence a way forward. Not because we will get love in return, cheapening the act, but because if we are paying attention, we can’t help ourselves. Last month a couple of us braced ourselves against the frigid temperatures and ocean effect snow along Nauset Beach to partner with AmeriCorps volunteers in a MLK Action Day Beach Cleanup here on Cape Cod. Lately when I walk my Emma at the beach, I bring a bag to pick up trash that endangers local wildlife. I am learning to listen to the call of Love. As I scrolled through my photos for a PowerPoint, I recalled the afternoon we spent downstairs in the Fleck Room with folks from the local League of Women Voter’s addressing letters to help get the vote out in the winter of 2020. And I know that some of you regularly pick up packets of postcards from Florence Seldin’s trunk to be addressed and mailed as this effort continues. To vote in a democracy is a most basic of human rights. Regularly we gather with others in prominent places holding our signs in quest of love wrought large upon our communities, imploring action, change, thoughtfulness and conversation. We risk willingly, stirred by love.
I wonder how we come to the work of love? Do we do so out of a sense of duty? Do we show up begrudgingly? Are we hopeful? Do we engage such work from a wholistic place that seeks to heal our world? Do we show up for what seems doable given our own personal circumstances, or do we stretch ourselves even at this later stage in life to contribute in some way, somehow? I certainly took the easier road for the most part, although that day at the beach was a stretch! There are so many things that need our love, and it can be overwhelming as we are beckoned this way and that, no end in sight, no promise that love will win the day. And yet, if each of us did just one thing toward a more just and loving existence that would be 50 more steps taken on the journey. And if we each did so only once a week that would be 2600 additional steps every year. From Gandhi again, from Young India, January 8, 1925, “The law of love knows no bounds of space or time.” A man ahead of his time. Mystics and scientists are coming to one accord on the ripple effects of our actions. Movement triggers movement. Energy sparks energy. Love engenders love. That deep desire to ensure the good of all that dwells within us percolates forth and so the unending spiral widens from our hearts.
In loving we give up a piece of ourselves, take chances, risk . . . Nelson Mandela, imprisoned 27 years for his attempts to end apartheid in South Africa, later brokering a peaceful democratic transition there, promoting reconciliation, is quoted as saying, “love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” This is perhaps the hardest part because it gets down to our values, asks to dig deeper into the well of our existence, to set our own truths and needs aside in order to hear those of another. With purity and expansiveness, the power of love transforms.
What will love look like for us in the coming months as we prepare to reopen our doors, to re-enter the community with a little less caution – not throwing it to the wind, but experiencing a bit more freedom of movement. Are there pre-pandemic ways of expressing the love that wells up within us that we have had to set aside? Sometimes we can feel so stuck by our circumstances even as we have been so very creative these past two years.
What does love look like for you? Certainly, you know it when you are on the receiving end! And you know it when you bear witness to it. But what will it look like with you in the driver’s seat? This is an invitation for us to think individually and collectively about the face of love we project in our lives and in our community. It is an invitation to shed any wariness we have about saying that it is our faith’s tenet of love – for people and our world that serves as a catalyst for what is experienced of us. May this Valentine’s Day be a reminder to us of the power of love in our midst. May we be blessed and blessing, both.
So may it be and amen.