If there is one theme that has marked these past several weeks of my life, it is community. I’ve been driving around Virginia with my project team, spending face-to-face time with our community partners in research. I’ve spoken at our University’s Community Engagement Institute about “Cultivating Community Partnerships” and I’ve been living into my own words with both existing and new projects. I’m meeting new community in my own life through “virtual introductions” of my seminary cohort members who will meet each other personally at our first residency together in a few weeks. In these busy weeks, I’ve been asked to step into several community projects that challenge me in the best of ways to embody social justice, to advocate for those whose voices are often unheard, and to be truly present with people across lines of power and privilege with the goal of getting to our deep, common goal: unity in community.
The joy of community is the sense of belonging that emerges among people who come together for a common purpose: to address a social problem, to offer support, to worship, to learn. Within it, we find other commonalities we never knew before. But, it’s the serendipity of community that gives us moments where we realize we are so much greater than the sum of our individual identities. We meet someone who has walked a familiar path, who comes from the same part of the country, who shares an interest unrelated to our reason for coming together but that binds us even closer. We have a sense that we have come together not only for our intended purpose, but that we are part of something greater. I find great wisdom and renewed faith in those serendipitous moments of connection.
Yesterday, I had the great privilege of leading the remembrance ceremony for a community group close to my heart, our local chapter of the MISS Foundation. I shared some words about community and we joined together in a tangible display of what community means, even in the midst of grief and loss. I wanted to share these words and photos with my wider community as well this Sunday morning, dedicated to all the beautiful communities who come together in love and remembrance, and to all the moments of beautiful community in which we are given the gifts of grace, growth, and belonging.
May you find yourself surrounded by your own beautiful community today.
Unity in Community
Thank you for inviting me on this Saturday to be with you, in this midst of this beautiful community.
Some of you may be surprised that I chose those words to open this event: beautiful community. I know that you are all here because of grief that has shaken you and your family to your core. I can only imagine the tears that you have shed, the nights that are too quiet and the days that are too long. I have shed those tears, and paced down the pathways of my own losses. One of things that changed the whole course of my own grieving was when a beautiful community opened it’s arms to enfold me, and to welcome me into a space where I was understood and accepted exactly as I was. No matter what has happened on your own journey, no matter what has brought you into this place of remembering: today you are beautiful community because of your togetherness, and I am grateful to be in your midst.
When I was invited to join you today, I started thinking about community. Communities bring together the diverse around something shared. Communities come together when there is something important, meaningful, beloved. Communities tie us together in belonging and mutual understanding. Communities remind us that even when we feel lonely, we are never alone. We are always greater together, tying together the strands of our memories to create a collective rainbow of beautiful memories.
I began thinking about the beautiful, colorful pieces of memory that I still keep and treasure in my own heart. I have the delicate, green ribbon like the one that once trimmed a tiny hat. I have a pink polka dotted ribbon that I know was a favorite of a young ballerina whose stories I have heard told by her parents over and over again. I have a yellow and brown ribbon that reminds me of their son’s stuffed giraffe that was…and still is…in every holiday card sent since his death. I have a sparkling gold ribbon that tells a story of precious lives that will be cherished in hopes and memories. I have a brightly colored strand of “magic wands” reminding me of a dear friend who supported so many grieving people by allowing herself…and them…to laugh until they cried even while they mourned. I have the delicate, gossamer white that reminds me of the glistening candles and white flowers at the Angel of Hope. All of these…and so very many more…are the ties of beloved community for me that connect me not just to the memories I cherish myself, but to so many other precious lives and treasured memories of those whom I have companioned through their grief, and those who have companioned me.
Today, we gather to remember at the beginning of this day together, the Kindness Walk of those who companion each other. Each one of you came here with special people in your minds and in your heart. We invite you to take one of these bags of ribbon…maybe a color or a pattern will catch your eye and remind you of the one you remember.
Today, each of us walks with a memory. Be sure to take one of your ribbons and tie it onto your own bracelet first in honor of this most precious memory.
But let’s also remember something important: we are not walking alone. We are walking together. This is a walk of kindness, and we are tied together as beautiful community. So, as you walk, share your beautiful ribbons and memories with each other. Tell a story, share a memory or a hope or a wish. When you do, add a ribbon of another person’s memory onto your own. With each ribbon…each memory…we tie ourselves into beautiful community and celebrate those for whom we walk.
Before I close and step with you into a community tied together in loving memory, I want to close with some time for quiet reflection, followed by a few words that speak to the spirit we are creating together in our sharing, our walking, and our remembering today. It is my honor to open this day, and to walk beside you in this beautiful community of memory and kindness.
In a moment of silence, we gather our memories and hold them together.
It is hard to speak of oneness when our world is not complete, when those who once brought wholeness to our lives have gone, and only memory can fill the emptiness their passing leaves behind.
But memory can tell us only what we were, in company with those we loved;it cannot help us find what each of us, alone, must now become.
Yet no person is really alone; those who live no more echo still within our thoughts and words, and who they are has become woven into what we are.
In this beautiful community, we affirm the worth of each one whose life, now ended, brought us closer to the Source of Life, in whose union no person is alone and every life finds purpose.
–adapted from On Wings of Awe (Jewish Prayer)