By David Ruffin –
When I was a child, my mother sang me to sleep with songs of Jesus’ love. I believe I experienced Divine love through this – in the devotion of my mother, the feeling in the music, the affirming of this love through Jesus particularly, too. Yet, at the time, I was also beginning to conceptualize God’s role as the voice of conscience. God wanted me to be good and God’s love seemed, to me, rather conditional upon my success in that.
Over the years, my commitment to this being “good” and being perceived as such, and the pain I experienced if falling short in this, could run deep. It took a wrench in my “performance plan” to push me to question this paradigm of earning love. When such a wrench came, it hurt mightily and I did not easily surrender my illusion of influence over love. But, in this surrendering, I began opening to and developing faith in a love beyond condition.
When I experienced just such an unrestrained spiritual embrace of love at All Souls Church in Washington, D.C., I found my religious roots in Unitarian Universalism. And, in feeling called to make way for such all-embracing love, my call to ministry also took root.
When I came to Harvard Divinity School to study a God of unconditional universal love, the more theology I learned, the less I realized I would ever know or even need to know. I was already very open to people of different faiths, but coming into the kind of deep relationships that are possible in seminary – studying with diverse friends such diverse spiritual paths as Humanism, Buddhism, Judaism, and Pentecostalism – I began to see, not how they all were the same but, indeed, how they each supported love’s growth.
When I took up meditation, for example, I cultivated this practice both as Christian-centered contemplative prayer and as Buddhist-based mindfulness meditation. Breathing in and out and deepening my surrender to love, in dialogue with these very different religious framings, I experienced the truth in each through their effects on me. Deepening my relationship to unconditional love led me to experience this love as, indeed, beyond the condition of belief.
This journey continued when I founded the Sanctuary Boston, an alternative young-adult- led spiritual community, grounded in Unitarian Universalism and open to seekers of all kinds. The seekers that came and formed this community sensed we could trust an actual shared experience of love more than any particular understanding of it. We longed to feel that such a love could hold us together because we knew the personal pain and public brokenness of the opposite. Showing up in our need and trusting that our need could be met, we found that sharing experiences of love beyond belief was possible and powerful – especially because it wasn’t conditional on tradition or understanding.
Any of this sound familiar…?
People sometimes ask me, as they may you, how it’s possible that we at All Souls offer both theologically theistic and theologically non-theistic worship in the same church, at the same time, by the same ministers. I tell them that though this is technically true, the deeper truth is that whatever beliefs we hold on any particular day everyone at All Souls is invited into a shared theology of love beyond belief and a shared journey of growing together in faith in that love, beyond any condition, belief included. Having different kinds of services, honoring the differences in our understandings and the ways we experience this higher love, is the very theologically practical work of our making way for love’s flow among us. The more we each feel connected to love beyond belief, the more we can come to trust it, be healed, renewed, and guided by it, and find the strength and freedom of heart to share such love beyond our walls.
We are all here to be inspired with the spirit of love and to inspire others. Wherever you are on your journey, or wherever you are in the church building on Sunday morning, with a heart open to both your need for love and your power to share it, even your very respiration adds to our collective inspiration.