[I offered these reflections during our Annual Meeting on June 10, 2018. – VW]
We shaped the arc of this year as a circle. “Draw the Circle Wider” was the theme of our ministry, the metaphor we used for our mission to think expansively and to prepare for a future where we would not fairly passively expect people to find us on Sunday mornings but would intentionally create a program and community life that reached out to them.
We drew the circle wider, doing and thinking differently.
But as I reflected over the year just concluded, it occurred to me that a circle is an interesting configuration for a progressive institution to embrace. There is more to it than meets the eye!! As Americans, as Westerners, we stand in a tradition that has instructed us that time marches forward and so should we, questing always for the new, and ever moving FORWARD. “Forward through the ages, in unbroken line,” says the words of one of our most cherished hymns (those are the UU lyrics to the old chestnut “Onward Christian Soldiers”).
So it is therefore a little more countercultural than we may have realized to suggest that we draw a CIRCLE. After all, “you’re going on circles” is not a compliment but an expression of concern. To draw a circle wider is an expansive notion but still… are you just going in circles?
The circle is a symbol of eternity. It is sacred. It is the shape of the sun, the planet, of wholeness. To embrace the circle is potentially, an interruption and rejection of the violence to self and to creation that can be the result of endless questing, endless forward motion — the kind of quest that we know can lead to obsession with conquest. To abide within a circle of motion is to recognize that our job and our journeys are not linear propositions, where we move forward in exhausting and eternal pursuit of some unattainable ideal beyond the horizon, but are cyclical: we are born, we live, we die, we leave a legacy that helps to root in the next cycle of gentle growth. And so this cycle, this circle proceeds not in competition and quest but in blessing, as the indigenous American poet Joy Harjo writes,
Like eagle rounding out the morning
And as we have sung many times this year in our signature anthem: “Draw the circle, draw the circle wide! Draw the circle, draw the circle wi-i-ide! No one stands alone, we stand side by side. Draw the circle. Draw the circle wide.”