Minister, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Easton
I love the hymn we sang this morning. Enter, Rejoice and Come In. As a start, it’s “singable.” And it’s upbeat, with a sense of optimism and possibility. Like the ancient psalms, which called for a joyful noise and a spirit of gladness to welcome in what is holy, today’s hymn is one of invitation and welcome.
It’s a directive hymn. Enter. Rejoice. Come In.
As I was humming the tune all week, excited for our new church year to begin, I began to wonder about the difference between the ‘Enter’ and ‘Come In.’
I picture that transition time when you are a guest. You arrive at someone’s home, maybe on a rainy evening. You arrive with raincoat and umbrella. Even before stepping in the front door you do your best to shake off the rain. You enter and your wet coat being taken by the host. As guest you pause in the foyer, entered by but not yet “in.”
Between the ‘Enter’ and ‘Come In’ there is a between moment. We’re called to ‘Rejoice’ and in other verses are invitations to ‘Open ears’ and to ‘Open hearts’ and we’re invited to not be afraid of the unfamiliar. Whose home did you just enter? Which foyer are you in? What smells are familiar? and not? Maybe you were greeted by a child or pet excited for you to be here.
We anticipate, maybe offer gratitude for the moment of settling, for our raincoat cared for, and then we ‘Come In.’
Where are the invitations in our lives? Where are the chances for connection, for belonging, for the opening circles? When guest are we open to the newness of the moment?
Invitations issued. Invitations accepted. Bit by bit we extend and accept welcome.
When I was in high school I taught swimming lessons during the summers. I mostly taught the non-swimmers. These kids, anywhere from say four to eight, who for the most part weren’t comfortable putting their faces in the often chilly pool water. My job was to create bubble blowers who would put their whole face in. There was an art to the inviting.
First, I needed to commit. Teachers of the non-swimmers needed to be in the pool. No teaching from the warm deck. In the shallow end where the kids could stand, I’d joyfully invite them to hold the side and blow bubbles, or kick and blow bubbles. I was flexible. Anything to get started.
A few would blow bubbles right away. Most would not. They’d have known me about 10 minutes. My request was for them to stop breathing and trust me, their teenage swim teacher?
Here’s the invitation that worked for most of the reluctant ones. I’d hold my hands just below the surface of the water and ask them to blow bubbles into my hands. Most would. I’d buy trust with few or no words. My actions mattered. Seeing my hands made a difference.
For those still skeptical, I would lift a tiny bit of water in my hands and invite them to start there. And for some, that is what we did every day the first week.
An invitation to do something new required a gentle coaxing. This was an invitation to stretch – to try the unfamiliar. An invitation to blow bubbles, their whole face in, I knew this was the key to swimming. An invitation to take a risk that was a bit scary, but mostly exhilaration, once the bubbles are blown. In time it might be an invitation to belonging to the ‘those who can swim’ group.
We sing: Enter. Rejoice. And Come In.
We have a yearning to be a part of something, to belong. Yet the work of both inviter and invitee is an artful dance. For belonging to matter the stranger needs to feel safe enough to move authentically from the ‘Enter’ to ‘Come In.’
The stranger…or the slightly known newcomer…or the tentative member…the new in-law…or the new neighbor needs to sense a welcome of space, and trust there is an opportunity to be themselves – their whole selves, not to force fit into what the group expects and needs.
Over time, invitation upon invitation leads some from blowing bubbles to become deep sea divers. Others become diving board kids. Others become shell collectors, preferring not to be too near the waves.
Invitations are a start to possibility, and to deeper relationships. Yet this extending of invitations – and trying to get something right, and the accepting of invitations and trying to get something right has its challenges.
This September at UUFE we are exploring the theme of Invitation. As we launch the church year I’ve tried to consider that each email I send, and each call I make is an invitation. I know at times I hesitate. I don’t want to bother the already busy, or I overthink whether the member would find the experience rewarding. I worry if an invitation may stretch a still tender connection to the fellowship too far – appearing as plea and not invitation.
What builds up for you as you consider making an invitation? Accepting one? Invitations in many forms, the in-the-envelope kind and the more common open invitations – say to conversation during coffee hour, or to community events – What motivates you? Holds you back?
Something at times feels risky, or maybe awkward is more apt. In the asking, there is a chance of rejection. The invitee has a choice. Choice is part of the response – a good part, the invitee having the freewill to accept or not. Yet that is some that awkward part, the not knowing of something when we ask.
And once an invitation is extended and accepted, there needs to be follow through. For an invitation to be a genuine opening it can’t be a shallow offer. It needs to come with care and attentiveness to build trust. To issue the invite is to commit.
We are here together today. Enter. Rejoice and Come In.
Invitation is part of the spiritual practices of hospitality. When we extend an invitation we are reaching out – offering concrete evidence of nurturing connection, and expressing the worth of one another.
A colleague, Rev. Abhi Janamanchi in Bethesda (UU Cedar Lane) recently wrote of belonging in (Church of the Larger Fellowship, ‘Faith in the Borderland’ July/August 2015 publication). A part of a one of his sentences, out of his context of his bigger point, grabbed me. He says that “…the struggle to belong is an integral part of the belonging.”
He writes as a UU minister, who also practices his Hindu faith and identifies as a person of color. Grounded in the culture of India he shares of his challenges to belong in UU circles. While I don’t share his context, I sense these words “…the struggle to belong is an integral part of the belonging” help us understand that sense of not quite feeling we fully belong, even in groups where we’re “in.”
Whether in your families of origin, created family, living community, neighborhood, or school have you sensed being on margin? Of not quite fitting in? Maybe not a stranger in the group, but yet we feel pressed to some edge. At times close to the center, and then not.
Rev. Janamanchi’s sense of the continuing struggle to belong for UUs, he describes this way, “The center of Unitarian Universalism lies outside of itself, in the stranger, in the difference rather than the similarity. In our faith the margins hold the center.”
If our ‘center’ as a faith community is in the stranger, there is deep value in room created for coming in, and coming in, and coming in again and again …as literal stranger, as the changed persons we are each week – that is at the core of building community. Picture the circle – the margins holding what’s least familiar at our core.
Picture the ‘Act of Invitation’ – seeing the open door, risking stepping in. As our roles in life shift time and again (even in the same relationship) imagine invitation as making the margins matter as the core.
When I invite a member to be a deeper part of UUFE – when I’ve called, or sent an email, everyone has been gracious and at least considered the invitation. Of course, not everyone says yes to every invitation. Each time I picked up the phone I’ve gotten to know you better – even if it’s to learn what is not a possibility for you.
I’ve taken to seeing ‘awkwardness’ as a measurement of sorts. That sense of ‘awkward’ even a bit of fear, means I’m venturing into the unfamiliar. It is in the awkward invitations where we might be changed…might create space. Awkward calls I’ve decided should go to the head of the list. Invitations take some courage. Invitations matter.
The invitee balances the yearning for belonging and getting beyond pleasantries with the wondering, “Is there really room for me here – all of me. Can I let down my guard, bit by bit?”
The practice of invitation – the spiritual practice of invitation requires the dance of invitation be issued and accepted again and again. Invitations are the way we break the circle and widen it – growing to make more and more room. Invitation – authentic invitation – is the spiritual practice needed to live into our conviction of an ever changing community. May we all be blessed in this spirit of invitation.
As we lead into our Water Communion ceremony, I invite you imagine our mixing of waters as a mixing of invitations – of connection – of seeing the wholeness – of imaging the bounty of invitation.
Enter, Rejoice and Come In.
May It Be So