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 Contents: UU World September/October 2002
September/October 2002


Hungry for Transformation

by Victoria Safford

Back in the middle of February, we had a little evening forum at church, similar, I'm sure, to gatherings you've been holding in your own congregations. It was six months since September, and the people were invited simply to share with one another how they were feeling. That was the only agenda and assignment, that small question — that huge question — and at least for the first of the two hours we hoped to live within its discipline.

We hoped not to barrel right away into all those noisy Unitarian Universalist opinions, all those articles they're reading in The Nation and The Progressive, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, those Web sites that they've found, the commentaries that they've heard on NPR (some of which they've no doubt written), the positions they're defending so ably on the op-ed page, and of course the persistently wobbly but heartfelt agenda of the under-funded Social Action Committee. We knew we'd get to all that eventually, but we didn't want to go there right away. Instead we hoped to cast a different kind of circle, within which, out of which, people could rise to the holy occasion of hearing one another, of beholding one another — which is related to but different from filling an empty room with intelligent Unitarian talk. It was a gathering for prayer.

It was a lucky night. The circle held. When anybody wandered off or lost their way in the dry sands of rhetoric or opinion, the circle gently called them back, so thirsty were these people to connect with one another and with something antecedent in themselves, something original, something essential, something deep. One couple, new to us, drove forty miles from way out in Wisconsin to sit on metal chairs in a cold, fluorescent classroom and listen (just listen) to the beating of hearts, as if they'd come out for a night at the symphony. There were high school students there, there was a member 82 years old, and everybody in between, maybe thirty people. And it was not long before they left off speaking about September 11, that particular, precise disaster, and began to talk instead and cogently about September 10, the mutilated world we'd known before but maybe had not seen so very clearly, which is in fact the world we live in now, the very same, the one of Frederick Buechner's "great hunger," this insatiable, desperate hunger for transformation, this hunger that begs not just for our flickering attention, but for our sustained, directed passion.

Sorrow flowed into the room. Rage, decades old — or new and young and raw, straight out of the awesome youth group — stormed into the circle. Silence made its holy way. And now these were dangerous waters, and as we spoke and heard each other, inevitably we paddled very close that night to the deadly shores of despondency (which in some communions is a sin) and cynicism. Then, someone in the circle saved us all from drowning, someone with more presence of mind than the minister could muster in the moment. He said, "You know we cannot do this all at once. But every day offers every one of us little invitations for resistance, and you make your own responses." I wrote it down, right then, because this person is prone neither to social activism of any kind, nor to religious language, of any kind, but it was he who said, "It is a sacred offering, the invitation to resistance, and every day you make your own responses," so humbly, so quietly, but with trembling conviction. And we were grateful and amazed.

The Rev. Victoria Safford is the minister of the White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. The passage is excerpted from an address delivered in March at the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association Convocation in Birmingham, Alabama.

 Contents: UU World September/October 2002
UU World XVI:5 (September/October 2002): 17-18

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