Come, come, whoever you are; wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving, ours is no caravan of despair, come, yet again come… sang the 20-or-so young adult voices who had now gathered, hand in hand at midnight, around a small circle of tea candles, their voices now quieting for the beginning of worship. Lighting the central chalice, Lexi read her selection from the Tao Te Ching, ending with “To have without possessing, do without claiming, lead without controlling: this is mysterious power.” It is typical of Unitarian Universalist youth to transform a mundane multipurpose room, a basic wood cabin or, as was happening here, a quiet dock on a lake, into a sacred space with only a few tea candles and sincere eyes. These youth community gatherings are completely initiated, designed, facilitated and attended by young adults who are as diverse as the beliefs they hold. Unitarian Universalism is a religious tradition with a long history of reconciliation, in terms of spiritual beliefs, ethical covenants, and intentional lifestyles. Drawing on Unitarian Universalism, the spiritual tradition I was born and raised in, and the many other spiritual and religious wisdoms of Earth, I have set out to deliver a series of short, informal homilies for the Knox-Galesburg community.
While homilies are generally heard from a pulpit, there are many places for homilies. Consisting of a mix of storytelling, ethical philosophizing, spiritual contextualizing and engaging congregational community relations, a homily can quickly place a new and challenging perspective on age-old subjects and provide strength in facing the newest challenge of our days.
This particular set of homilies, titled Radical Compassion, will be informed by sociological analysis to provide multi-valet perspectives. With a focus on my local audience of Galesburg and Knox, balanced with a holistic, intersectionality framing, these homilies will be fostered with a congregational mindset. Throughout these homilies, I invite you to join me in the difficult, and always complicated heavy lifting of heart and spirit that our daily lives are infused with.
I will challenge you to look within yourself, and look beyond yourself, and I will join you in these endeavors to consider how each of us, as individuals and as a community, experience and express compassion. Let me be clear from the start that I do not pretend to be enlightened, gifted or otherwise ‘above’ anyone else– there are no right answers. I am writing these homilies to grow, to make myself vulnerable and through that honesty to become stronger, and I hope you too will join me on this personal search for truth and meaning.
But what do I really mean by ‘Radical Compassion?’ Well, I’ll be exploring that throughout these homilies, but more than anything it means feeling, expressing and living compassion beyond one’s obligations. I mean asserting compassion as a basic human need, independent of who seems ‘deserving’ our compassion.
I have included a photo with today’s homily, documenting a meeting between Fidel Castro and Pope Benedict XVI that took place last year. This image is brimming with political struggle, economic anger and cultural dissonance that are of great importance, but not our focus today.
Today this photo is a sign of something much simpler, something much grander than any particular implication: reconciliation. As soon as I first saw this photo in the paper I cut it out, and two years later that same copy hangs over the door to my room, as a blessing of sorts. For politicians, reconciliation is often doubletalk for giving up, for weakness and otherwise to be avoided. However, in our endeavor, reconciliation is our affirmative challenge, not to stretch yourself too thin, but to stretch your vision far, and thereby traverse empathetic distance to forge compassionate reconciliation.
Knox talks about community a lot. But there is a big difference in being part of a community, and gathering together in community. Let us gather together in community to foster solidarity amongst ourselves, to expand our circles, to see less ‘strangers’ and more fellow humans–friends, old and new, near and far, let us gather together to look one another in the eyes and offer transcendent empathy. You too are welcome in this circle of radical compassion.