Covenant is what the 13th-century Persian Sufi mystic poet, Rumi, was talking about in lines that we have made into one of the hymns (#188) in our hymnal (Singing the Living Tradition).
Come, come, whoever you areCome, yet again, come -- for so the power of covenant, of commitment to relationship, calls to us, whoever we are. We are lovers of leaving, called to come back again. Our hymn however has left out part of Rumi’s original poem. Here’s the whole thing:
Wonderer, worshiper, lover of leaving
Ours is no caravan of despair,
Come, yet again come.
Come, come, whoever you are.That additional line, “even if you have broken your vows a thousand times,” speaks to the nature of covenant. We fail. We fail in inevitable and daily ways to fully embody, to be fully present to the love that we have promised. Sometimes we even fail in egregious, heartrending ways to be the supportive presence we promised to be. Our heart fails to show up for the presence -- to our family, to our congregation -- to which we committed it. It doesn’t matter, says Rumi. Come, yet again, come. Even if you have broken your vows a thousand times, the vows still stand, broken but strangely unweakened, beckoning, inviting, calling, urging, whispering: return, re-commit, renew the heart’s promise of presence and connection. Come, yet again. Come.
Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving.
It doesn't matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times.
Come, yet again, come, come.
That’s what covenant means.
Every time you say, “OK. I’m coming” – or say again, “All right. I’m here, and I will stay with you” – you re-enter the life of covenant. We abide in the life of covenant only by continually re-entering it.
Every Unitarian Universalist congregation is in covenantal relationship with all other Unitarian Universalist congregations, all thousand or so of them. Our seven principles declare that covenant:
That covenant among our congregations is also one of the ways the individual members of a given congregation express their covenant to each other. We promise together to share a life with one other of affirming and promoting inherent worth and dignity, affirming and promoting respect for the interdependent web.
Justice, equity, and compassion;
Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth;
The free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
Rights of conscience and democracy;
The goal of world community;
Respect for the interdependent web of existence.”
That’s quite a promise. We do fail at it, of course. And each time we do, we promise to try again, for this is the life of covenant. In a strange and magical way, all those failures are the success of covenant.
One of the other ways popular among Unitarian Universalists for expressing the content of our covenant is the affirmation by Griswold Williams, also in our hymnal:
“Love is the doctrine of this churchThat’s our promise: to dwell together in peace, to seek knowledge in freedom, to serve human need. And again, we fail. And again, each time we do, we promise to try again, for thereby is woven the fabric of our shared covenantal life.
The quest of truth is its sacrament,
And service is its prayer.
To dwell together in peace,
To seek knowledge in freedom,
To serve human need,
To the end that all souls shall grow
Into harmony with the divine.
Thus do we covenant with each other and with God.”
There are other ways we might express the content of our covenant. It’s important that we express it, yet at the same time, covenant is ultimately inexpressible. In covenant, we promise more than our words can say. Beyond this or that way of saying it is the promise to, one way or another, keep walking together, howsoever our paths diverge; one way or another, keep reaching out to connect, howsoever we disconnect; one way or another, keep watering the seeds of love in our own and each others’ hearts, howsoever parched they sometimes get. Come, yet again: come.
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This is part 2 of 3 of "Interdependent Web of Covenant"
Next: Part 3: "The Covenant Story"
Beginning: Part 1: "Covenant Not Creed"