September is a season of homecoming for us UUs. And renewal is central to that. At the opening of each new church year, we renew our commitments to each other and our church community. We renew our energy for another year of journeying together.
It’s also a time of renewing our renewal questions. Yes, that sounds odd, but it’s essential to understanding the importance of this month, and the importance of our faith. You see, one of the less noticed roles of religion is its sneaky way of changing our lives by asking us to change the questions we ask. This is especially true when we talk about renewal.
In our culture and secular lives, the questions we ask about renewal focus mainly on health (Are you drinking enough water? Are you getting enough sleep?”) and work/life balance (Are you making enough time for family, play and rest?). Those are fine questions, but they don’t take us very deep or push us very far. They don’t enable the kind of transformation that religion wants for us.
And so along comes religion and it says, “Hey, look over here. There’s a box with an entirely different set of renewal questions that nobody’s opened yet.” Questions like:
- Are you sure it’s your body that’s tired, or could it be your soul?
- What if “time away” isn’t about restoring ourselves in order to return to our work, but instead about making space to decide if it’s time to reconfigure ourselves and re-imagine what our true “work” is?
- Is it time to renew your responsibility to those who will come after you?
- Is it time to renew your commitment to carry on the work of those who came before us?
- What if you saw your daily living and loving as an opportunity (even a calling) to renew others’ faith in humanity?
- Could it be that continual self-improvement is not the path to renewal but instead compassionate acceptance of who you already are, warts and all?
- What if renewing our common future isn’t just about moving forward, but instead requires a return to an honest telling of the past?
And that’s just the questions that are sitting on top of the pile!
So friends, this month let’s dig in together.
Let’s renew and refresh the renewal questions we ask.
Let’s remind ourselves that, indeed, we change our lives by changing the questions we ask.It might seem like one of our easier monthly themes. After all, compassion sounds … well, nice. It conjures up a bunch of warm feelings. Images come to mind of people telling each other they are keeping them in their thoughts. It would seem to be all about emotional connection and empathetic feeling.
But then along comes a quote like this:
Compassion hurts. When you feel connected to everything, you also feel responsible for everything. And you cannot turn away. Your destiny is bound with the destinies of others. — Andrew Boyd
True compassion is to engage in the suffering of others. — The Charter for Compassion
Both are reminders that compassion is not just a matter of niceness and thoughtful feelings. It’s a deeper type of feeling that drives us to action.
Indeed, that may be compassion’s defining characteristic; it is distinguished by doing. To feel the pain of another, well, the word “empathy” has that covered. But compassion takes it a step further. Compassion calls us to do something about that pain.
In other words, compassion calls us to change things! It’s not just about comforting others; it’s about our comfort getting disturbed. It’s about connecting with another’s pain and struggle so deeply that we can’t rest until they rest. When we feel compassion–real compassion–we don’t just understand another’s pain, we want it to stop. And then we do what’s needed to make it stop.
It makes one wonder: Maybe the true test of compassion is justice.And if that’s close to the mark, then maybe compassion’s question for us this month isn’t what we thought it was. Instead of asking us, “Are you able to feel?” maybe it’s asking, “What are you prepared to do?