“You are welcome here… as long as you believe like we do, pray like we do, and (scroll unfurled) understand that you cannot allow certain people be leaders, you cannot accept the validity of other religions, you cannot accept variations in sexual orientation”—the list went on and on—“or your welcome will be invalidated!”
How has welcome affected me on my spiritual journey? Perhaps a better question is, how has unwelcome affected me on my spiritual journey?
Unwelcome embedded a 20 year hiatus into my spiritual journey. After unsuccessfully navigating unwelcoming waters, I pulled down my sail, abandoned my journey, and tied myself to a seaside dock. I couldn’t navigate the complex mire of criteria unfurled before me on the checklist scroll. I didn’t have the right vision of God. I didn’t pray using the right words. And I seemed incapable of understanding how and why certain people and beliefs were valid while other people and beliefs were invalid. I was told, in no minced words, “You cannot call yourself a Christian.” Thus, while I felt the wind tugging at my downed sails, sometimes quite furiously, I tightened my dock lines, feeling unworthy of the wind and unwelcome in the open water.
One day I took note of several other sailboats in my vicinity. Like me, many of them did not meet the checklist criteria; and yet, they told me that they, too, felt the tug of the wind calling them into the seemingly unwelcome waters. “Yes,” we agreed, “we must be what is called ‘Open & Affirming.’” But what did that mean? Our resounding consensus was, “We accept everyone. PERIOD.” Really? “Yes. Really!”
God was let out of the box! As depicted in Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” I felt as if my small heart grew three sizes that day! In the presence of this welcoming Open & Affirming spirit, Love expands to fill all the space it is given…and then some! And that love-filled space transforms the unwelcome into the welcome. And with the welcome comes an immense sense of oneness, of unity.
Helping one another, our fleet of Open & Affirming sailboats untied the knots that bound us to the dock. We raised our sails and the wind of welcome tugged at them. Together, we charted our course across the harbor. Sometimes the wind was hard to locate and we sat still in the water, seemingly going nowhere. Sometimes the wind blew so ferociously that we lacked the skill to catch it in our sails and some of us keeled over. But together, sometimes elegantly and sometimes clumsily, we navigated from the dock, through the harbor, and into the open seas. We learned to listen to and respond to the wind; the unpredictable, often uncontrollable wind that is nevertheless our essential partner on our journey.
Without the eyes of judgment upon us, we now chart courses through uncharted waters. Listening to the spirit in the wind, we tell our stories, speaking, singing, and writing from the heart. Buoyed by the spirit of unity among our Open & Affirming group, we sail without fear of rejection. Our unfettered spirit has drawn new sailboats to our fleet. No “scroll of scrutiny”… no litmus test… just a welcoming Spirit inviting everyone on a journey to God’s table!
How has welcome affected me on my spiritual journey? Welcome has made all the difference. Welcome has invalidated the “scroll of scrutiny.” Welcome has untied the knots that had bound many of us to the shore. Welcome has been the wind in our sails, our journey partner, our inspiration, and the source of the unity and love we share daily with those whose paths we cross on our uncharted course sailing with the Open & Affirming wind.