January 19, 2014

Caring! I Have Just Been Led To This Other Profound Message That I Would Like To Share With You! Wow How Appropriate! I Am So Blown Away Right Now...

Written by Rev. Diana Jordan Allende

I am indebted to Milton Mayeroff’s little book On Caring for a philosophical perspective on this commonplace human endeavor, although I daresay there is a wealth of information–nay, wisdom--readily at hand in this room, for I believe that each of us has experienced caring deeply about some one or some thing or some idea–and probably all of the above.

Mayeroff defines caring as helping “the other” to grow, whether “the other” is another person, an idea, or, say, a community. The “other” can be anything to which one is related, but which also has its own value, independent of us and the value we assign it.

Here’s what Mayeroff says of caring as a way of life: “In the context of a person’s life, caring has a way ordering other values and activities around it. When this ordering is comprehensive, because of the inclusiveness of one’s carings, there is a basic stability in one’s life; one is ‘in-place’ in the world, instead of being out of place. Through caring for certain others, by serving them through caring, a person lives the meaning of his or her own life. In the sense in which a person can ever be said to be at home in the world, he or she is at home not through dominating, or explaining, or appreciating, but through caring and being cared for.”

This “caring” is pretty potent stuff! It can order and anchor our lives. And caring for others not only helps them grow and be transformed, it helps us grow and be transformed.

What about care fatigue? How many things can one truly care for at the same time? According to Mayeroff: Very few. Perhaps there is no limit to the number of things or persons or situations that we can care about, but if the process of caring is one that helps another to grow (to flourish, to thrive) and also shapes our own lives in profound ways, then obviously limitations of time and energy will require us to be selective. Mayeroff writes of our discovering our “appropriate others,” by which he means identifying those people, activities, ideas, causes that both “complete” us and “require” us. We might remember Sam Keen’s questions: What are my gifts? What are my duties? Who are my people?

We need worthwhile commitments in order to grow ourselves. And there are some ‘places’ where we are genuinely needed. A congruence between what we need and where we are needed benefits all and positions us for more of our own growth and deepening.

Everything I have said about patience and companioning, about hope and humility, about deepening and centering ourselves through the process of caring for others points to the spiritual nature of caring. Caring can lead us through some dark nights of the soul, but it can also connect us to meaning in our life in a way that would otherwise be impossible. We need those worthwhile commitments for the purpose of our own wholeness, our own creative unfolding.

One such commitment that many of us have made is a commitment to this Fellowship, to help it grow–not just in numbers or activities or programs–but in its ability to receive people where they are, and to touch and nurture and transform them. To help us grow. To help us flourish. To help us explore and mature spiritually. Religious community is one of the few places in our culture where we should be able to come and feel safe, to come and feel open to new possibilities, to come and risk vulnerability in order to be known by others, in order to feel less isolated and alone. This is high, holy work even though it is done through a thousand common gestures: greeting, welcoming, assisting, joining, listening, sharing, considering, re-considering, making amends, forgiving, accepting, learning and beginning again.

We rely upon the social graces of civility, courtesy, consideration of others.

We rely upon the spiritual graces of love, humility, openness and trust.

The relationship between “the one and the many” is characterized and balanced by the concept of covenant: how we agree to treat one another. Our covenant should be consistent with our UU Principles and Purposes and with our AUUF Mission Statement. The covenant we read this morning, No. 473 is this: To dwell together in peace, To seek the truth in love, And to help one another.

Sounds a lot like caring, doesn’t it?

Caring does not mean a refusal to set limits. It does not mean relationships with no boundaries, no norms. Caring can and often must include confronting a situation, a person, a behavior with love. We care for our community by holding one another accountable to its covenant of mutual caring. To attend to the needs of “the one” and ignore the needs of “the many” is just as unbalanced and unwise as to attend to the needs of “the many” while ignoring the specific needs of “the one.”

We must genuinely care for each other in order to care for the community as a whole. And we must be mindful not only of good communication, but also of open communication and honest communication, which includes listening as well as speaking.

I think we are at a stage in our development as a religious community, where we need to be more explicit about our covenant with one another. We need to develop shared understandings about responsible behavior and conflict resolution and management. Disagreements and misunderstandings are part of being in relationship with others. Approaching these in a respectful and forthright manner are part of staying in relationship with others.

I trust that this community is up to whatever tasks lie ahead.

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