I received an interesting comment on my post A Unitarian Universalist Theology. “…why should we concern ourselves on [relationships t]hat will pass , instead of what will endure?”
The question, even though I attempted to give an answer, remained with me. Here is a portion of what I wrote:
What does endure? Everything that I see and experience dies in this universe including the stars above. Some ancient scriptures state that love endures. But where is love found? In relationships. I have never seen or experienced love that existed independently or was separate from a relationship between two or more entities. … So if love endures as many various scriptures indicate, then focusing on relationships is a means to experience love and to have that love endure beyond us.
I have reflected more on love enduring beyond us and remembered several events in my life where this is true, at least in my life. My father’s parents were conservationists, a term that today would probably be translated as environmentalists. They co-founded the local chapter of the Audubon Society. The both loved being in nature; exploring the various ferns and fauna that grew on their property. I was fortunate to have them live across the road from me and so I was surrounded by their love of nature. They introduced me to raising Monarch Butterflies and other caterpillars. They would teach me to be awed by the diversity of life even within the same species. My grandparents have now been gone for over 40 years, yet when I stop to look at flowers or butterflies pirouetting in flight , or to listen to the warbler’s song, it is my grandparents’ love that is being expressed here. Their love surfaces to my memories and hold me in that grace.
I had a childhood friend who was my best friend through out middle school and high school. He was gay. We continued our friendship into adulthood. And while I struggled with acceptance of my sexuality, he was able to be there for me. I would argue with him about the sinfulness of it all and he would listen and still accept me for where I was.
Then Glenn in the late 1980’s was diagnosed HIV positive. I wanted to do something that would let him know that I supported him, that I cared for him. An opportunity opened up for me to become involved with the founding of an Interfaith response to HIV in the Connecticut city where I lived. This opportunity based in the desire to support my friend was to shift the direction of my life for ever.
I was on the founding board of this new entity. Then I was president and then through some heavy duty risk taking, I stepped into the director position not knowing if sustainable funding would be established. That position grew into full time and then had a complement of eight staff. Fifteen years later the ministry was providing family preservation supports to hundreds of people living with and affected by HIV. We were educating our youth with a youth directed, youth organized HIV/AIDS education program. We were doing outreach into the immigrant Brazilian population. We were providing a full service food pantry with fresh meats, fresh vegetables, fresh dairy, fresh fruit and a nutritionist at 20 hours a week. And we were the first in that community to be a tri-lingual agency with English, Spanish, and Brazilian dialect Portuguese spoken.
My relationship and my love for Glenn endured through this time even though Glenn did not live long enough to see or hear the full story of his inspiration on my life. He died just before I became director of that organization.
When I came out of the closet and subsequently excommunicated from the Charismatic Christian intentional community I lived in, it was my relationship with another friend that carried me through and lives on in me now. Wayne’s wife was active in the AIDS ministry in those early years. When she retired our friendship thinned as friendships sometimes do. A few years had passed and she died. I attended her memorial service and Wayne and I reconnected our friendship. I was floundering spiritually. Wayne invited me to attend his Unitarian Universalist congregation. I did and while I did not join the congregation for a good length of time, I was beginning to sense that this was home for me. Wayne was a good mentor for me. He had a perspective on things that was delightfully refreshing.
When I began talking about entering seminary for the UU ministry, Wayne was the first to encourage me. Wayne was a phenomenal knitter. He was knitting me a sweater for those cold Chicago nights when the cancer thought in remission was discovered to have metastasized in the brain. Wayne spoke with the knitting ministry of the church to finish the sweater even as he lay in the hospital bed approaching his final hours. While I have not had much opportunity to wear the sweater here in Alabama, I treasure it as another example of love enduring.
In many ways these relationships continue on in my life in various ways. It is their love that endures and sustains me. They have shaped my vision of life and they have steered me into uncharted waters at the right time. There are others whose lives have intersected with mine whose love endures and shapes mine. I am sure that there are lives that I have intersected with and perhaps have shaped their lives, hopefully for the fuller, happier side of life.
This for me is part of what I would refer to as having a relationship with the holy. That indescribable flow of energy between two or more that creates something new and different. It could be something as simple as an awe and appreciation of the wonders of nature or the creation of a new entity that lets people know that they are loved and not alone with a frightening disease called AIDS.
And so I emend my answer. Love endures. The physical may pass away, but the love shared endures and can still inform the present. It is through relationships that love develops. It is through relationships that love informs. It is through relationships that love shapes our lives into new creations. It is through relationships that our lives are directed on a path towards what exactly, I do not know. Some say to the holy, some say to an afterlife of bliss, some say to come back and do it again. And some say this is life is all we are given. Whatever the destination, I have come to believe having quality relationships with others is key to an abundant life. And love endures.