An Open Road Song

Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass includes a long poem called, “Song of Myself,” which begins:
“I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume.
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”
So let’s celebrate ourselves. The Liberal Pulpit devotes itself today to celebrate liberal religion. It’s great to be a Unitarian Universalist! Yeah! The Liberal Pulpit means no slight to any other world religion. We are not at war with other tribes. We’re just proud of our own. If, Gentle Reader, your heart and conscience lead you to follow a Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, or Rastafarian path, The Liberal Pulpit says, "more power to you" -- for power you will gain through attentive following of any path.

A number of Unitarian Universalists have noticed that sometimes people in other faiths think themselves right. But let’s be honest. Sometimes we Unitarian Universalists think we’re right. As the saying goes, “Don’t believe everything you think.” Actually, I’d like to go further. Don’t believe anything you think.

The reality is, pretty much all of us are suckers for our thoughts. We believe our thoughts. There's another saying, "The world is divided into those who think they're right." That's the whole saying, because everyone thinks she's right. The Liberal Pulpit will be striving to keep that in mind, even as we celebrate ourselves and liberal religion. After all, in many ways, we don’t choose our faith, it chooses us. Our consciences require what they require, even if we might wish they didn’t.

It’s up to us to be true to our religion, whatever it might be, to do the work of cultivating it to its fullest flower. "Stand by your faith," as Olympia Brown famously urged us (see SLT #569). Whichever seed got planted in you: do the work of nourishing it and developing it.

The flower of liberal religion is rooted in the understanding that revelation is continuous, there are always new things to learn, that our community is based on freely entered covenant, that we work for fairness in the whole world, that conflict is a good thing, and doesn’t mean any side is evil or wrong, and that a better world and a richer life is possible for all of us. That is the root, the grounding from which liberal religion grows.

Switching metaphors, our road is indeed an open road. So for us, the song of ourselves is a "Song of the Open Road," which returns us to Whitman. Herewith, the first, last, and two middle sections of Walt Whitman's "Song of the Open Road" -- a lovely expression of the spirit that infuses liberal religion:

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune.
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing.
Strong and content I travel the open road.

The earth, that is sufficient,
I do not want the constellations any nearer,
I knew they are very well where they are,
I know they suffice for those who belong to them.

(Still here I carry my old delicious burdens,
I carry them, men and women, I carry them with me wherever I go,
I swear it is impossible for me to get rid of them,
I am fill'd with them, and I will fill them in return.)...


From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines,
Going where I list, my own master total and absolute,
Listening to others, considering well what they say,
Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating,
Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me.

I inhale great draughts of space,
The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine.

I am larger, better than I thought,
I did not know I held so much goodness.

All seems beautiful to me,
I can repeat over to men and women:
You have done such good to me I would do the same to you,

I will recruit for myself and you as I go,
I will scatter myself among men and women as I go,
I will toss a new gladness and roughness among them,
Whoever denies me it shall not trouble me,
whoever accepts me he or she shall be blessed and shall bless me....


Listen! I will be honest with you,
I do not offer the old smooth prizes, but offer rough new prizes,
These are the days that must happen to you:

You shall not heap up what is call'd riches,
You shall scatter with lavish hand all that you earn or achieve,
You but arrive at the city to which you were destin'd, you hardly settle yourself to satisfaction before you are call'd by an irresistible call to depart,
You shall be treated to the ironical smiles and mockings of those who remain behind you,
What beckonings of love you receive you shall only answer with passionate kisses of parting,
You shall not allow the hold of those who spread their reach'd hands toward you....


Allons! the road is before us!
It is safe – I have tried it – my own feet have tried it well – be not detain'd!
Let the paper remain on the desk unwritten, and the book on the shelf unopen'd! Let the tools remain in the workshop! let the money remain unearn'd!
Let the school stand! mind not the cry of the teacher!
Let the preacher preach in his pulpit! let the lawyer plead in the court, and the judge expound the law.

Camerado, I give you my hand!
I give you my love more precious than money,
I give you myself before preaching or law;
Will you give me yourself? Will you come travel with me?
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?
fr Walt Whitman, "Song of the Open Road"
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This is part 1 of 5 of "What Is Liberal Religion?"
Next: Part 2: "Love Is the Doctrine of this Church"

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