Horton: Relationship building both a powerful and scary practice

"Love is a conversion to humanity."

On this past Valentine’s Day, most of us probably thought of romantic love.  

Yet St. Valentine wrote his notes to the young daughter of his jailor, signing them, “Your Valentine.”  

The origins of Valentine’s Day have little to do with the romantic hype our culture promotes.  

Rather, it originally honoured the enduring qualities all love relationships have in common.

I agree with Robert Hardies: “There are some who say that the greatest tragedy of human living is that we are alive, but fated to die…I happen to believe the tragedy of human living is that we need one another desperately, yet we’re always pushing each other away…Herein lies our tragic dilemma: We long to be, yet its so hard to be, together.”

The central teaching of Jesus of Nazareth is to “love your neighbour as yourself.”  

The Buddha taught that compassion is primary.  

Every major faith has a version of the Golden Rule about treating others as you would be treated.  

These teachings are so vital to our collective human well-being precisely because it is “so hard to be together.”

How can loving relationships and communities help us to build bridges out of isolation? 

Empower us to deconstruct stubborn early-life defenses?  

Motivate us to make the often clumsy and difficult effort to deepen our intimacy with those we care about? And even those we think we don’t? 

An important bridge is respect.  So often we miss the mark by not fully hearing the truth of each other’s reality.   

We jump to conclusions based upon our own limited experiences. Or even more troubling, our fears.  

We may be polite to one another, but we are not respectful if we cannot entertain the notion that another’s differing perception is just as valid as our own.  

Respect is one of four principles lifted up in the relationship covenant my religious community has adopted. 

The other three are also bridges: communication, trust and appreciation. These qualities are vital to all healthy relationships. I have yet to meet a person who does not have more to learn, unless it is the Dalai Lama.  

Make no mistake—relationship building is a powerful, often challenging spiritual practice.

It requires a change of heart, for it is far too easy to retreat when the going gets tough.  

Sometimes our more solitary practices can be cop-outs from this transformative yet scary practice of relationship.  

We need both—times to go into the deep silence within that connects us with the farthest stars, and time spent immersed in the transformational crucible of community.  

Those who gathered in community around teachers like Jesus and the Buddha experienced this transformational power.  

Inspired by such examples, we are challenged to create such community in a world where isolation and alienation are rife.

Carter Heyward, Anglican priest, says “Love is a conversion to humanity.”  

Not to Christianity or Islam or Taoism—to Humanity. When I hear of violence—demonstrators shot, women kidnapped into sexual slavery, children cut down with machetes—when I hear these stories it is hard to see the perpetrators as fully human. 

I believe they are not conscious of their full humanity.  

When we hear these stories, it is hard to remember what it means to love, not only neighbour, but enemy as well.  

Yet if “love is a conversion to humanity,” it is only love that can make a difference.  

As the saying goes, “God isn’t finished with” any of us yet.  Every one of us has a ways to go before our “conversion to humanity” is, if ever, complete.  

Let’s be about it!

Rev. Linda Weaver Horton, Unitarian Fellowship of Kelowna.


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