“Dig deep,… carefully cast forth the loose matter and get down to the rock, the sure foundation, and there hearken to the Divine Voice which gives a clear and certain sound.” John Woolman (Quaker abolitionist), ca 1770.
This past month I have found myself tumbling head first into the elaborate matrix known as “the liturgical committee” set up to plan a multi faith service in Washington, D.C., on the eve of the Supreme Court oral arguments on the freedom to marry.
Anyone who has ever helped plan a multi faith justice service in conjunction with a monumental political event can recite a standard litany of complaints—there is never enough money; the core group holding the details of the event is always small and overstretched with multiple other demands on their time; despite all the best intentions such services inevitably fall short of the attempt to represent the diversity of faith traditions; the desire for breadth is in constant tension with the equally compelling desire for depth and must be worked out in a service that lasts roughly 90 minutes.
And, on top of all this, in the larger political and media worlds, such services are always auxiliary to the “real” show happening elsewhere—in this case at the Supreme Court.
Yet despite all of these built-in difficulties, between now and Tuesday when oral arguments commence, many overtaxed volunteers will be pooling their resources to create such gatherings. While they may, as I have done, go to bed at night wondering how they got pulled into such a project and swear to their significant other NEVER AGAIN! They come back to these events. I believe they do so because of an inner often unarticulated prodding to seize the awesome opportunity of creating a Holy moment in the political calendar.
As important as the highly orchestrated and tightly controlled rituals of our Courts are to our democracy, we as a people also need faith rituals—messy, hopelessly flawed, aspirational rituals—that ground us in our connectedness and provide us a moral compass for our collective mandate to make the world a better place. We need opportunities to intentionally realign our justice work to the sacred; to commit again and again and again to live our lives in such a way that justice radiates out from what is most Holy. This is work that needs big tents of rich religious traditions and deep religious longings.
While singular religious traditions often can more smoothly mark monumental justice moments, we also need the rituals that stretch us beyond our faith comfort zone. From the earth-based to the scripturally bound we need opportunities to worship in spaces where the tensions of difference become in and of themselves part of the ritual experience. Multi faith services are not a Benetton ad or a salad bar of faith diversity—even though they may sometimes feel that way—they are rather incarnational, attempting to call forth a community identity as transformers of the world grounded in the sacred.
For LGBTQ people and those who love them, such spaces are healing and even life-saving.
Many of our faith traditions have cast us out or pushed us to the margins—we become the problem, the threat, the sin, the other. Many of our traditions have been held hostage by gatekeepers who have used religion to bound, contain, even strangle the power of love to transform our world.
We need rituals that can help us to set aside in Woolman’s words, all “the loose matter” of procedure and policy and legalities so that we can get to the core longing in all of us to be enveloped in the mysterious and awesome power of love. Without such rituals reminding us of the sacredness of love, we can lose our way and our justice work becomes warped and ugly, even oppressive.
So this weekend I hope you will join me in attending a big tent multi faith justice service in the wake of the Supreme Court’s oral arguments on the freedom to marry. If you are in Washington, D.C., you can join me at National City Christian Church on Sunday evening for the United for Marriage Multi-Faith Service.
Or join one of the many other services planned across the country.
My hope is that as you attend such events, you will go with an open heart ready to be moved not by the perfection of a liturgy—the structure itself belies that possibility—but by the spirit of love longing to be expressed in traditions both familiar and unknown.
This weekend may we communally follow the prodding of the Quaker abolitionist John Woolman who in the 18th century heard the voice of the Divine harkening him to the work of justice, reconciliation, and salvation.
May it be for us as well.
Photo by Andrew Snow for Believe Out Loud