Brian Wilcox. 'everything moves'
A major shift occurs when we who contend for inclusion realize we are that inclusion we are contending for. Then, this matter becomes very intimate. We see that not to include the other that appears unlike us is a self-betrayal and of all of us.
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About the year 1659, I often felt an overflowing of the love of God in my heart, … This love and tenderness and compassion worked so in me that it extended even to everyone on the earth.
*Stephen Crisp, a Quaker, in David A. Johnson. Quaker Prayer.
But the truth is that we are dying. The moment we are born, we are dying. ... Every breath is actually the sound of the clock ticking. We are getting closer and closer to this world of the unknown, death. What will matter to us at that moment is love. I am not, of course, talking about ordinary love, romantic love. I’m speaking of true love, unconditional love, love that the mystics felt, love that the bodhisattvas felt. ... In the end, when you are dying, when you have just a few breaths left, there is one thing that will matter to you, and that is love. Then perhaps you will wish that you had loved more when you were alive.
*Anam Thubten. Embracing Each Moment.
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Alvin, a retired chemist, attended the last church I served as pastor. He was the only African American in the congregation and a delight to know. He glowed with joy. I see him as one of the most Christian persons I have served as pastor, possibly that I have known. Even more, he was a loving man.
Alvin was the lay leader of the church, the go-between for pastor and congregation, and sang in the choir. The congregates did not treat him as a black among whites, but as an equal among equals. One could see he felt at-home among his fellow congregates, and they with him.
Alvin came to the congregation via another one, in a sense. When seeking a church to join in south Florida, Alvin visited one on a Sunday. He sat down, waiting for worship to begin. A white woman came to the seat; she informed Alvin that was her seat. He left that day and never returned there.
Alvin visited the church I served and felt welcomed. The esteem he had among the white congregates showed in their appointing him to the most crucial role in the church for a nonclergy person.
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The Sage was asked...
Do you find it difficult to love some persons?
How's that possible?
I don't intend to love them.
I cannot not love them.
Love is my nature. When I'm out of the way, Love loves. You don't intend for your heart to beat, do you? What is of Spirit arises from Spirit. There is nothing unnatural about loving everyone. What is not natural is not to love everyone.
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I recall, as a young pastor in my early twenties, thirty-seven years ago, lying in bed beside the church building. That night was a Saturday. The all-white congregation was in rural south Mississippi.
I decided we would celebrate Race Relations Sunday, a yearly celebration of the larger denomination. Yet, I was not sure but that they might not celebrate it with me. I did not ask the people permission. I did not consult the congregational leaders. How could I, with integrity, serve in the name of Christ unless speaking for the equality of all races? All peoples? After all, Jesus was welcoming to all, as were the earliest Christian communities.
The early Christians were radical in their inclusivity. However, they were the outsiders. Now, where I served as pastor, people of color were considered the outsiders by the now white insiders. Things had changed much since Jesus and, later, the first Christians. The denomination I was serving in, Southern Baptist, was strongly identified with white superiority.
That room was dark and lonely. To me, Mississippi was a symbol of southern racism. I felt a strong, hovering fear. I had no idea how the people would respond.
After the worship meeting the following morning, no one complained. If I had walked in that Sunday with a black friend, there would have likely been more than complaint. A pastor and friend nearby, about this same time, was fired from his congregation. He had invited persons of color to worship with his people. When the church was holding a meeting over his doing this, persons were laughing at him. He left fortunate not to serve such a church any longer.
To love is to include in your heart the other, including the other who does not look like you. This matter of inclusion goes well beyond race relations to all relations, as we see in the following story.
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Storyteller Gene Edwards shares "The Dirt Farmer" in his Stories I Love to Tell.
It was the early 1800s. A Virginian had been working out on his farm all day long. He had named his home Monticello. Late in the afternoon he received a delegation of statesmen from the capital of Virginia. There were some serious conflicts and problems in the state. The delegation had turned to this man, so respected not only in Virginia but throughout America. The problem presented to the farmer was enough to concern him so much that he decided he would ride through the evening to the capital to help resolve the crisis. Along the way he would see if he could find a place to eat and sleep. If not, he would ride his horse through the night and into the next day.
As evening first began its advance, the dirt farmer, who had not made any effort to change his clothing, came to a tavern. He went in and sat down at a table to order food. As dirty as he was, no one recognized him. Perhaps his hat covered his flaming red hair.
The innkeeper took one look at him and said, “I don’t serve dirt farmers here, and you will get no food and you will get no lodging.”
The tall man rose and, without saying a word, left to continue his journey to the capital of Virginia. He found both food and shelter farther down the road.
Just a few days later, the innkeeper, who had shown no kindness nor consideration toward the wayfarer, discovered who the man was. He immediately dispatched a letter which read, “I am so sorry I did not know who you were. I ask you to return and allow us to extend to you the hospitality of our inn and show you every consideration which you so amply deserve.”
A few days later the innkeeper received a letter from one of America’s best-known citizens. The letter read, “Sir, if you do not know how to extend kindness and hospitality to a dirt farmer, you will also not know how to give hospitality to the vice president of the United States.”
The signature on the letter was that of Thomas Jefferson.
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Roger Housden, in For Lovers of God Everywhere, writes of the present moment. He says, "Yet the present moment is not so much what is happening now (although attention to what is happening can be an avenue to it) as it is the context, the field, within what is happening takes place." Housden's words relate to the spirit of welcome. To see someone from the Heart is to see not merely a particular person whom you can choose to love. You see someone within the field of All.
Love does not choose to love someone. Love can no more choose to love than a raindrop choose to be wet. Love spontaneously loves the All in which every being appears within. We are the Field of All. And one of the primary ways Love manifests is welcoming persons into our space, whether a physical space or the space we call the heart.
This act of welcoming is a sign of Love being present. Love, being intangible, assumes tangibility. As Housden writes, "To love God is no abstract matter; its proof lies in the love you offer into your life." When we offer another into our life, the otherness of the other is seen as another way Life appears in the Garden of the Heart.
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©️ Brian Wilcox, 2020
Brian can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org; his book, An Ache for Union: Poems on Oneness with God through Love, is available through major online booksellers, including Amazon and Books-A-Million, or via the publisher, AuthorHouse.
Quote of Crisp revised for modern readers.