Belonging doesn’t begin with other people accepting us. It begins with our acceptance of ourselves. Of the particular life and skin each of us was born into, and the work that particular birth entails… From that deep place of belonging to ourselves, we can understand that we are inherently worthy of each other. Even when we make mistakes, harm each other, lose our way, we are worthy.
-Adrienne Maree Brown
Our new church year has arrived and our mission in the world is more important than ever! We are in a period of rebirth as a religious community and this mirrors the processes unfolding in the larger world following two years of global struggles. We are learning a new normal and finding joy as we cautiously return to many of the activities we love in our lives and with our beloved community. I just returned from a much needed summer break that included a pilgrimage to a Hindu Ashram, a silent retreat at a Fransciscan Retreat Center, a few weeks visiting friends and family in the hot and humid Midwest, and time enjoying our beautiful and sunny beaches.
Our congregation inaugurated a new church year with our annual Ingathering and Water Communion Service and we listened to each other share our hopes and aspirations for ourselves and our community as we pass through this new threshold and discern how best to live out our liberal religious lives in the world. It is clear to me that spiritual community is needed more than ever as we face the many novel challenges of this time in history and seize the exciting opportunities before us to better ourselves and grow as a people.
“Belonging” is our spiritual theme for contemplation this month. Belonging can be defined as “having close or intimate” relationships. Religious communities are important places where people find belonging in their lives. They are as old as humanity itself and, at their best, they connect us with our history, ancestors, ethical principles, society, our place in the universe, and a sense of our purpose in life. It is perhaps in and through all of these that people have encountered G-d or their own deepest humanity in churches and synagogues and temples.
Contemporary research has demonstrated that people who participate in religious communities tend to live longer (almost 4 years on average!) and report better health and a higher quality of life than others. I have been struck by recent surveys on friendship and loneliness which found that 49% of Americans report having three or less close friends, and 27% of millennials and 20% of all generations of men report having no close friends at all. Our mission as a religious community includes creating an interactive and intergenerational community that is welcoming and inclusive and that takes an active responsibility for our community and world. I wonder how we might better welcome those who are alienated from the larger community? I wonder what it would take for us to truly affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of each person? Let us reflect together on this theme of belonging this month and let us find its presence among us in ever greater measure.
Our friends at Soul Matters provide us with a few inspiring questions to guide our community’s reflections in small groups and other activities of the church: When was the first time you thought to yourself, “Now I belong.” How does the assurance of belonging most often enter your body? Through words? Touch? Silence? Song? Solitude? Nature? Creative expression? Prayer? Memory? What does the phrase “Belonging to myself” mean to you? Whose inability to belong breaks your heart? What exiled or hidden part of yourself needs to be invited back into belonging? If someone asked you, “How do you belong to the land?”, what would you answer? Think of the family members and friends that have the deepest sense of belonging. What do they all have in common?
Lastly, we would love to hear from you! If you have a joy or sorrow to share with the community in our weekly announcements and in our Sunday morning services, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also use this email address to request confidential pastoral presence and support from a trusted member of our commissioned Pastoral Care Team.
Your in ministry and love,
Rev. Jeremiah Lal Shahbaz Kalendae