Wednesday, January 29, 2014

While to That Rock I'm Clinging

Pete Seeger died.

I hadn't cried all day, even though I had thought about this day before it happened; dreaded it coming, because it would mean that death really did come to all of us, even those of us as good, as filled with Spirit and meaning, as willing to live out our values day by day, as the one we called "Uncle Pete."

I won't go into all his virtues. You can google that. I will say that the hagiography you see right now about Pete Seeger is far closer to the truth than most sentimental postmortems.

A Facebook friend, Karen McCarthy, posted a video --

And I broke.

I never met Pete, unlike some of my peers. But his were the first songs I heard. I still have the LP, Birds, Beasts, Bugs and Fishes.  Abiyoyo, Abiyoyo ...

Perhaps he was my first minister. His were the songs played in my house, and my parents lifted him up as a hero. For fighting for justice. For the Hudson River. For adhering to his values during the McCarthy hearings, and then again during Vietnam, when he defiantly sang, "Knee Deep in the Big Muddy" on the Smothers Brothers show. 

It came at great cost, this living according to his values. It came at great sacrifice. Do we Unitarian Universalists have a theology of sacrifice?

I was a grown-up, a mother of 4, and still Rev. Pete provided pastoral care to me.

My youngest daughter was sick. Okay, not sick. As she said, "I'm not sick, I just have CANCER!"

There was no one carrying me. Every day, I had to keep putting one foot in front of the other. But I clung ... to something. Not faith in a God who would make it all okay. But I clung to community, to reality, to the knowledge that somehow, as a dear friend told me, I would make it through this. No matter what. There were people around me who loved me fiercely. And somehow, I knew, that life was still worth it. No matter what happened. No matter if I felt my heart was being ripped from me. Life was still worth it. And there were slim moments of peace, in realizing that.
No storm can shake my inmost calm,
While to that rock I’m clinging.
Since love is lord of heaven and earth
How can I keep from singing?
Pete Seeger was a folk singer. Some of the music was his. Some he gathered, curated, from others. I clung to that rock. Quaker hymn, Unitarian Universalist hymn, Uncle Pete brought it to me.

Ultimately, I believed that Love was lord of heaven and earth. No matter what happened, no matter disease, no matter death, no matter the Big Muddy, no matter the hate that swirls around us ... ultimately, there is a Greater Hope.

 I lay my banjo in the dirt. 

 Thank you, Peter Seeger. My "Uncle." My "Minister." My hero.

 Thank you for loving the hell out of the world.

Monday, January 27, 2014

To Love the Hell Out of the World

To love the hell out of the world means to love it extravagantly, wastefully, with an overpouring abandon and fervor that sometimes surprises even yourself. That love flows out of you, sometimes slow and steady, sometimes in a torrent, sometimes filled with joy, sometimes with fierceness, or anger, or a heartbreaking pain that makes you say, "No, no, I can't take this anymore. I can't do anymore. It's too much ... too much."

But it's too late. You've opened up your own heart, your own mind, body, and strength, and yes, it is too much. But there's also so much love that comes crashing down on you, gifts from the Heavens in the form of the smiles and cares from others, a giggle burbling up from a toddler's fat little belly, the soft, sweet smell of star jasmine catching you unaware, not knowing where it came from ... but it's here. And you're here. And just to live, just to exist, swells your heart with enough gratitude and love that you must release it or burst. And so you love, love the hell out of the world again.

Without scale, without ratio, without carefully allotting how much you will give versus how much you will receive. You love because you must. And it's the air you breathe in, the water you swim in, it's the rushing in and out of creativity, of self-expression; it's seeing the amazing, amazing, amazing gifts of the people all around you. It is loving with awe, with reverence and irreverence, seeing the miracle in a lump of dirt, in a shy hello, in forgiveness, in standing in the shadow and watching the joy someone else experiences without you, and yet feeling connected through time and space with all who have been and all who are to be.

To love the hell out of the world means to see with our hearts, fragile and unprotected. To accept that life is shattering and excruciating. To see the hell in a world, in a group, in a person, in a tear. To know that it is the experience of both the oppressor and the oppressed, as we are both. To wade in to it, armored for battle but leaving our heart completely exposed because that is what we follow, it is our night goggles in a dark world of smoke, falling beams, and faint cries from over ... there.

We love emphatically, actively, with our hands and feet; pushing the wreckage aside, reaching down, stretching until we fear our arms can go no further, but they do, we touch fingers with others, then grab on for dear life, pulling them out to safety, then going back in to remove the hell itself, before it traps someone else. We round a corner only to find hands waiting for us, to pull us  to safety, to warmth, for we are both the savior and the saved.

The hell is all around, and we work, in great passionate swoops and in slow, plodding routines, to put that extravagant love into action and remove all the bits of it from the world. Misery, ill health, disease, viciousness of greed in the face of want, voices that shout hate or whisper meanness, soul-eating addiction, humiliation, despair, injustice that curls up nastily, poisoning the spirit of giver and receiver ... we do not flee. Bone-chillingly afraid we may be, but we step forward. We are the only form love will take and the work is ours to do.

Our job, our mission, is to take all of that love, all that overflowing, passionate, undying agape and train it on the hell that exists in this world.

We are Unitarian Universalists -- from one source, to one destiny -- here to love the hell out of the world.