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Racine, WI 53405

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Creating Beloved Community

We’ve been talking about Beloved Community for the last two weeks. We’ve talked about how we don’t have to think the same, or be the same, but instead how we’re called to be like-hearted in Beloved Community. We’re called to be compassionate, respectful, understanding, patient, kind, loving, caring. More than anything else, Beloved Community is an attitude, a way of being – not just in this place, but in the world.

We also talked about “bringing what we have to offer to help others stand” while balancing giving and receiving in a healthy, positive exchange of energy.

Today’s scripture in Acts 15, about Gentiles being welcomed into the early community of Jesus followers, challenges Beloved Community to be open and accepting to everyone.

Henri Nouwen said the Beloved Community is “the place where the person you least want to live with always lives." It’s like getting to your gate at the airport,  looking around wondering who you’re going to be sitting next to, and your gaze rests on one particular person and you think, “Please God, not that person.” The law of Beloved Community says that is the person it will be.

Gentiles (non-Jews) were those people for the early church. One of the major issues in the early church was: do we have to let them in? Shouldn’t we make them convert to Judaism and follow the Law of Moses before they could be baptized and included in this new community?

It's shocking, and a testament to the power of Jesus' preaching about love, that Peter actually stood up for the Gentiles. He believed God had chosen the Gentiles as they were, therefore, it should not be made more difficult for them to join the movement.

It's a sad truth that we create in groups and out groups and sometimes make it terribly difficult for people to be let in. Beloved Community opens its arms wide in welcoming the stranger, the guest, the outcast, the seeker, the foreigner… everyone! Even those, perhaps especially those, we don’t want to accept! We should probably keep in mind the rest of Nouwen’s quote which essentially says, be careful, because you may be “the person someone least wants to be with” for someone else!

Sometimes becoming part of a community feels like we're being asked to lose part of ourselves: becoming cookie-cutter country club snobs, or stick-together-like-glue sorority sisters, or drinking the Kool-Aid with Jim Jones.

Beloved Community, is just the opposite. It enables us to find ourselves in one another. As we allow ourselves to become vulnerable with others, we also learn and grow. When we connect with others in a way that shows love, respect and compassion, we also find the best within ourselves. Our goal is love, and through love - transformation. Then, opening the door wide to welcome and embrace people we don’t know is not worrisome. We come to understand that each new person we meet has the potential to help us grow and know ourselves and the Divine in a deeper way.

Let me share a story from John Philip Newell’s book, A New Harmony, that exemplifies what I think this means.

Newell is the former warden of Iona Abbey, a revered religious community, retreat setting and pilgrimage site. When he was at the abbey he received many requests from couples around the world wanting to be married on the holy island. His standard response was to invite them to come and speak with him about it. Not many couples took him up on this offer. But John and Fran did. When they met with him they explained that their families were not supportive of their relationship. John was Roman Catholic and Fran was Protestant. The tragic division that has marked Northern Ireland was playing itself out in their families. John and Fran sensed that at the abbey they would find a place of welcome. Newell agreed to marry them three months later. The plan was that they would return to the abbey as guests for a week, and at the end of the week, in the midst of the Friday evening communion service, they would celebrate their marriage, and the abbey community would be their family of support.

By the end of that week three months later, John and Fran had been taken into the hearts of staff and guests alike. Older women poured affection and advice on Fran. Younger men were queuing up to be John’s best man. The abbey kitchen baked a cake. And bottles of wine were appearing from every nook and cranny. Hundreds of folks entered the abbey church that evening. The long table, an ancient Scottish practice, had been prepared. It stretched with candlelight the entire length of the chancel. The bread and wine were ready. They sat in concentric rows around the table with John and Fran at the center. Both John and Fran shone with an inner light which their union and the community had brought out in them. Everyone was caught up in their transformation.

At the end of the service, Newell invited everyone up to the refectory to continue the celebrations. As food and wine began to flow from the abbey kitchen, Newell was standing with John and Fran. Someone whom they did not know approached them with the wedding cake on a tray. It turns out that this new person had arrived on the island just two hours prior and came to the service. Everyone had been invited to the reception and the man said, “Perhaps I shouldn’t be doing this, but when I arrived I saw the cake and thought someone should be handing it out.” Everyone felt welcomed. Everyone had a part to play. And no one in particular was organizing it. John and Fran’s marriage union was blessing a whole community with oneness.

Henri Nouwen made an important observation and asked an important question: "Community is first of all a quality of the heart. It grows from the spiritual knowledge that we are alive not for ourselves but for one another. Community is the fruit of our capacity to make the interests of others more important than our own. The question, therefore, is not ‘How can we make community?” but, ‘How can we develop and nurture giving hearts?’"

As Sacred Journeys, and as individuals who are part of the larger world community, we are called to work on developing and nurturing giving hearts, Hearts that are open, accepting, non-judgmental, kind, and gracious. Hearts that draw the circle wider and wider until everyone is brought in and no one is left out.

Love & Light!