2021-02-02

The Longing for Belonging, part 1


OPENING WORD

“A Blessing Called Sanctuary”
by Jan Richardson

You hardly knew
how hungry you were
to be gathered in,
to receive the welcome
that invited you to enter
entirely—
nothing of you
found foreign or strange,
nothing of your life
that you were asked
to leave behind
or to carry in silence
or in shame.
Tentative steps
became settling in,
leaning into the blessing
that enfolded you,
taking your place
in the circle
that stunned you
with its unimagined grace.
You began to breathe again,
to move without fear,
to speak with abandon
the words you carried
in your bones,
that echoed in your being.
You learned to sing.
But the deal with this blessing
is that it will not leave you alone,
will not let you linger
in safety,
in stasis.
The time will come
when this blessing
will ask you to leave,
not because it has tired of you
but because it desires for you
to become the sanctuary
that you have found—
to speak your word
into the world,
to tell what you have heard
with your own ears,
seen with your own eyes,
known in your own heart:
that you are beloved,
precious child of God,
beautiful to behold,
and you are welcome
and more than welcome
here.

SERMON, part 1

Do you belong?

It’s been almost 40 years now since the TV sitcom Cheers first aired, with its theme song that said:
“Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came.”


It was, perhaps, an unfortunate sign of the times, that by the 1980s the most plausible such place for such belonging was the neighborhood bar.

It feels good to be recognized and seen – for everyone to know your name. It feels good to be liked – to be around people who are glad you are there. It feels good, for many people, to have a mug of beer in hand. The show attracted viewers by rolling those good feels together into one.

But it doesn’t really much work that way. If you were inspired by the show to seek community in a neighborhood bar, you were probably disappointed. You may have had some enjoyable evenings, but in the end there wasn’t a lasting life satisfaction there. The pleasure of a shared libation at the end of a day of working together depends on being grounded in the working together -- and without that grounding soon becomes a simulacrum of itself.

The neopagan and ecofeminist writer Starhawk got a little closer when she expressed it this way:
“Somewhere, there are people to whom we can speak with passion without having the words catch in our throats. Somewhere a circle of hands will open to receive us, eyes will light up as we enter, voices will celebrate with us whenever we come into our own power. Community means strength that joins our strength to do the work that needs to be done -- arms to hold us when we falter -- a circle of healing -- a circle of friends -- someplace where we can be free.”
Belonging means not just that everybody knows your name and they’re glad you came, but that there is meaningful work to do together. For our us-ness to be real, it must be us-ness in service to something larger than us-ness. To belong, we must belong not only to each other, but also to a shared purpose.

Or, rather, let me now back up and approach it this way. Let’s start with the fact, not the feeling. The fact of belonging is constant; the feeling of belonging may be variable. The fact is you do belong, no matter what. All God’s critters got a place in the choir.

You might feel you don’t fit it. People can feel that way sometimes. They can have the impression that this world doesn’t have a place for them. But everything that is was brought into being, and the causes of its existence establish that it needed to exist.

You are not separate. You never were. You never will be. So the issue is not whether you belong. You do. The issue is only whether you know it, whether you understand it and live like you understand it – because, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we disconnect – or rather, we fall into believing the lie that we are disconnected.

We might try to force ourselves to fit in, or try to dominate others to make them recognize our importance. We might deny our inherent interconnection, and thereby limit our own freedom. You belong to everyone and everything, and everyone and everything belong to you. As Max Ehrmann’s 1927 Desiderata says it:
“You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars. You have a right to be here.”
That’s inalienable. Your belonging does not depend on everybody knowing your name. You belong even if no one knows your name. Your belonging does not depend on anybody being glad to have you around. You belong even if no one seems glad of it.

You can step into your belonging, or you can step out of it and live from the false belief that you might not belong. To choose to step into your belonging, to accept that you belong and that whatever is happening to you also belongs is to step into your capacity for joy, freedom, and love. Any moment that you meet with joy is a moment you have stepped into your belonging – the belonging that is always there.

Your belonging does not depend on finding, somewhere, the people to whom you can speak with passion without having the words catch in your throats. You belong even if such people never materialize, and knowing that you do will help you speak authentically to anyone. Your belonging does not depend on finding, somewhere, a circle of hands that open to receive you and eyes that light up as you enter. You belong without that, and knowing that you do, you begin to notice all the ways that circles of hands always have been opening to receive you.

Brene Brown once defined belonging this way:
“Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”
When we don’t grasp our inherent belonging, we are apt to try to fit in. We accept the model of a circle with an inside and an outside, and we are trying to get, or stay on the inside. This is the exclusivity conception of belonging – to be “in” requires keeping others “out.”

I imagine the insurrectionists at the Capitol on January 6 were flooded with strong, wonderful feelings of belonging. They were with their people, doing work they thought of as important. It’s powerfully attractive, and we are all susceptible to the attractions that can produce mob behavior. We want the feeling and forget the fact. We want the feeling of belonging and forget the fact of belonging. So, as Brene Brown points out, fitting in is the opposite of belonging.
“Fitting in is the greatest barrier to belonging. Fitting in, I've discovered during the past decade of research, is assessing situations and groups of people, then twisting yourself into a human pretzel in order to get them to let you hang out with them. Belonging is something else entirely — it's showing up and letting yourself be seen and known as you really are — love of gourd painting, intense fear of public speaking and all. . . . When we fit in, we assess a situation and acclimate. When we belong, we bring ourselves to it and say this is who I am.”
We don’t shape-shift and “hustle for the worthiness we already possess.”

Hence, Brown concluded that true belonging – that is, the feeling of belonging when it comes not from fitting in but from awareness of the fact of our inalienable belonging – “only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world.” Thus, “our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

I said that the pleasure of a shared libation at the end of day of working together depends on being grounded in the working together and without that grounding soon becomes a simulacrum of itself. Let us now add that this pleasure also depends on bringing to the day’s labor -- as well as to its relaxation -- our authenticity.


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