Living Beautifully

[This sermon follows a child dedication ceremony]


There is something very special - indeed, very sacred - about welcoming a child into a community like this one. 

Such an act brings us new hope for tomorrow as we witness a fresh new life enter the world full of promise and possibility. 

Today's welcome also reminds and assures parents and children that they are not alone in whatever they may encounter in this complicated world. You are welcome. you are in community. You have a home to return to. 

It is very fitting that we hold such a ceremony today - a day when we turn our focus to the meaning and importance of love in community. 

Throughout the month of September, we are looking the broad notion of "living beautifully." By these words, I mean living in a balanced way - living with connection - seeing the beauty around us - and bringing forth the beauty that is within each of us - each of us. Last week, we spoke of being the change we want to see in the world. For a loving world, we must be loving. For a world of justice, we must walk, talk, and act justly. We cannot secure true, lasting, peace through war - only peaceful ways can bring such a peace. 

Participating in a loving community is a central aspect of living beautifully. 

We need each other. Our lives become empty and purposeless without others. Japanese aikido master Mitsugi Saotome put it this way: 

"If you were all alone in the universe with no one to talk to, no one with which to share the beauty of the stars, to laugh with, to touch, what would be your purpose in life? It is other life, it is love, which gives your life meaning. This is harmony. We must discover the joy of each other, the joy of challenge, the joy of growth." 

Let's acknowledge though that being together is not nearly enough. When I say "you are not alone", as I do at the beginning of every service, you may yet feel alone. You may know all too well the feeling of being lonely in a crowd. After all, we are surrounded by some 8 million people here in London - and we can be desperately lonely nonetheless. 

The kind of community I mean by "loving community" is one like that described by Pagan priestess and author Starhawk in our second reading. Please close your eyes and imagine: 

"Somewhere a circle of hands will open to receive us, eyes will light up as we enter, voices will celebrate with us whenever we come into our own power... Arms to hold us when we falter. A circle of healing. A circle of friends. Someplace where we can be free." 

No elevated, angelic, cloud world - even one accompanied by divine harp music - could be more of a heaven than this vision. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke often of "the Beloved Community." The beloved community is the dreamed-of future for our society and our world. It is a place, as Starhawk describes, where we celebrate rather than resent each other's growth - where we hold up rather than tear down - where we foster healing rather than enable escape - a place where we want every person to be free to at last be truly, completely, utterly themselves. 

This vision may sound nice but closed and insular. Surely, there are communities that have sealed their love for one another with locked gates and barred windows, certain to ensure that the new and different and awkward do not disturb their blissful communion. 

And this is where we should turn to the work of feminist theologian Sharon Welch. The work of changing the world - the work of combating oppression - seems quite the opposite of this loving community vision, but in true loving community, it is not. 

"Resistance to oppression" she writes "is often based on a love that leads us to value ourselves... [L]ove is far more energizing than guilt, duty, or self-sacrifice." 

Fighting for justice without love in our hearts yields only brittle victories - tentative cease-fires - angry surrenders - burned-out warriors. Fighting with love for ourselves, for one-another, and even for the unjust, is the path to a lasting justice. 

Sharon Welch goes on to say "Solidarity does not require self-sacrifice, but an enlargement of the self to include community with others." 

Reaching beyond ourselves is not a matter of putting ourselves aside. Rather, it is expanding our notion of self to include the world. 

The 20th century Christian mystic Thomas Merton put it simply: "We are already one. But we imagine that we are not. And what we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we are." 

Loving community is the place where we join together to expand our understanding of who we are. We begin to understand that self includes not just me, but you too. And then, that it includes him, and her. And finally, we understand that it includes them as well. 

"We are already one... What we have to be is what we are." 

Now, I know that this is a beautiful vision and one that real life can often shatter as we encounter hostility, anger, envy, and worse from those with whom I say we are one. 

If you have spent time in this community though, I think you will have some notion that rediscovering our oneness and opening ourselves to love really is possible. It is not easy. It takes work. It takes courage. 

We lose sight of our oneness primarily because of our fear. We are afraid of being rejected. We are afraid of being fooled. We are afraid of looking foolish. We are afraid that anyone who truly sees us will know that we are bad or not enough. 

These fears are the enemies of oneness and the obstacles to love. Long ago, a very wise Sufi mystic said: 

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” 

Those words ring true today - perhaps even more profoundly so as we find more and more ways to keep apart from the possibilities for love around us. So, try pulling your iPod ear buds out of your ears - stop texting for a moment - turn off the telly - put aside the iPad or the Kindle or the laptop that so captivates your attention. 

And turn to the real live human beings that surround you. Remember that "we are already one." Look hard, look lovingly, look seekingly, look compassionately, look for that connection that makes us so much more than separate and isolated individuals. 

If you dare, take a look around this place right now and catch the eyes of others. Stay with them for even just a moment. What can you see? Can you see their being? Can you see yourself? Can you see all of us in every heart? 

Today, we have welcomed a child among us. May his life be lived amid the interconnected web of our existence. 

May all of us rediscover the oneness that is already ours. 

May it be so.