It has been said many times, many ways, that you cannot force a flower to bloom. The conditions have to be right, and you cannot force the issue by shaming the flower. Rumi reminds us that it is rain, not thunder, that nourishes the plants. If you want to see flowers and fruit, you have to nourish and encourage.
That is what a Unitarian Universalist congregation tries to do; people are welcomed, just as they are, and given a safe place to grow into their own best self.
The 3rd Principle of Unitarian Universalism is “Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations”. We accept you as you are, and we accept the person you want to be known as. Our community is committed to encouraging you to be the best version of yourself, but only you know what that best version really looks like. We cannot force you to be your best, partly because we cannot claim to know what your best really is. We instead focus on giving you an environment where you can grow.
Plants need water, soil, and sunlight to grow. Spirits need knowledge, community, and sunlight.
Max Müller once wrote that “A flower cannot blossom without sunshine, and man cannot live without love.” This is why so many of our congregations include the word “love” in their mission statement or covenant; love is the best tool we have for encouraging one another. Fred Rogers once said, “Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.” This is one challenge of being part of a UU community, because it can be a struggle to love one another through periods of growth.
A seed must be planted, wet and dark, before it grows. As the sprout inside grows, it rips apart the protective shell that was formed around it and it exposes it’s vulnerable and tiny self to the sun and air. Growth is, from the perspective of that seed, violent and one presumes it would be frightening; human children don’t react calmly to birth. And that’s just the beginning…
So, we must remember that change and growth can make us vulnerable, and vulnerability can make us defensive. It can be hard to love someone who is growing. It can be hard to feel loved when things seem upside down. Our commitment is not an easy one to keep. It is easier, and more effective, because we share the task with our congregation.