Belonging Intro, Exercises and Questions
What Does It Mean To Be
A People of Belonging?
You hardly knew
how hungry you were
to be gathered in,
to receive the welcome
that invited you to enter
became settling in…
You began to breathe again…
You learned to sing.
But the deal with this blessing
is that it will not leave you alone,
will not let you linger…
will ask you to leave,
not because it has tired of you
but because it desires for you
to become the sanctuary
that you have found…
Jan Richardson starts off her poem by mentioning hunger. It’s also a perfect way to begin framing this month’s theme of belonging. We’ve all felt it. Just saying the word “belonging” conjures it up: The hunger to be included; the longing to be let in. No one likes standing outside the circle. No one likes leaning against the locked door listening to everyone laughing inside. From the time we are little, belonging is the thing we seek. It’s the hoped for Holy Grail at the end of our journeys.
Or is it just the beginning of our journey?
You have to love the way Richardson surprises us with that twist. One minute she’s wrapping us in comforting words about settling into belonging and the next she’s shaking us awake and telling us to get up and go. And maybe what she’s really waking us up to is the fact that there are two types of belonging, only one of which is a blessing.
To use her language, if you find yourself being invited to linger rather than leave, warning bells should go off. Be weary of those who welcome you with a club jacket and soft couch. They may have let you in, but soon they will enlist you to help with the work of keeping others out.
Instead, as all the true sages and sacred traditions tell us, the true blessing of belonging isn’t that you get to come inside the circle; it’s that you get to participate in expanding it.
Which means maybe our question this month is different than one we might expect. Instead of “Where can I find belonging?” maybe it’s “How can I become belonging for others?”
May that be the question and the type of belonging this month that – to use Richardson’s words – “will not leave any of us alone.”
Our Spiritual Exercises
Option A :
Whose Are You?… All in One Place
We all know that belonging is not just about place, but people as well. Quaker teacher, Douglas Steer gets at this beautifully:
“The ancient question, ‘Who am I?’ inevitably leads to a deeper one: ‘Whose am I?’ – because there is no identity outside of relationship. You cannot be a person by yourself. To ask “Whose am I” is to extend the question far beyond the little self-absorbed self, and wonder: Who needs you? Who loves you? To whom are you accountable? To whom do you answer? Whose life is altered by your choices? With whose life is your own bound up, inextricably, in obvious or invisible ways?’
It’s such a powerful and important truth: we are who we belong to. But it’s also a hard truth to remember. The world around us doesn’t help. Its focus is on becoming not belonging. It wants us to wake up every morning and ask, “Am I succeeding?” not “Who needs me?” “ Who loves me?” or “With whose life is my own bound up?”
So this month why not engage in a bit of course correction? Why not see what happens when who we belong to is front and center at the start of every day?
This exercise is designed to help with this. Here are your instructions:
- Clear off a space on a table, dresser, desk or shelf in your house.
- Over a few days or a week populate that space with pictures of people who come to mind when you ask yourself “Whose am I?” Find or print out the pictures. Add as many as feels right. Push yourself to think beyond the obvious answers: your family, your church community, etc. Treat the question as a meditation practice. Asking it each day will lead you to unexpected pictures: a mentor from your past, an unknown boy on the other side of the world suffering because climate change caused by us, those who have been exclude from our faith because of white-centered structures. Or maybe it will take you beyond people, to a pet from your childhood or that park you walk in every Saturday of the Fall.
- Once the space is filled with your chosen pictures, send another week or two using it as an altar of sorts. Pause briefly before it every morning. Or maybe more than briefly.
- Pay attention to how bringing your network of belonging changes your days. Journal about it. Discuss it with your partner or friend.
- Come to your group with a report of how placing belonging at the center of your attention altered your days.
Note: You don’t have to do this exercise by yourself. Consider doing it with your partner or with your children as well.
Belonging to the Earth
When talking about belonging, one soon meanders around to the idea that we all share the earth as our home, as the one place to which we all belong. And yet that fact rarely sinks into our daily consciousness. It is a concept stuck in science books rather than a truth that sits at the center of our spirituality. Earthrise is a short documentary that helps us change that. It’s an award-winning short video that tells the story of the Apollo 8 astronauts and the first image captured of Earth from space in 1968. It’s a story about “escaping” earth to realize how deeply we belong to it, and to each other.
Don’t just watch it; turn it into a spiritual exercise by watching it after the sun has gone down and talking a walk afterward. Think of it as a “night walk meditation” and use it to deepen your experience of watching the film. Let the video and night walk take you where it will. Come to your group ready to share the one moment from the film or from your walk that affected you most deeply.
Here’s the link to the video: https://emergencemagazine.org/story/earthrise-film/
Find Your Place in the Work of Belonging
Belonging always comes with blindsides. When we receive a generous welcome it’s hard for us to imagine and notice the ways in which that open door doesn’t work the same for everyone. Our faith is slowly waking up to the fact that we haven’t been and aren’t the “welcoming congregations” we aspire to be. This is especially true when it comes to race and systems of white supremacy. The gap between our intentions and impact remains painfully large. The work is urgent and large.
This exercise is intended to help you find your place in that large work. Below are a number of resources and discussions that speak to the work our faith is doing around de-centering whiteness. As we know, the work needs to be systemic, but in the midst of systemic work there is also personal work to be done. Identifying “your work” is as important as participating in “our work.” So during this month where we are all trying to “be belonging” for others, not just find belonging for ourselves, use the resources below to better identify and deepen “your work.” Come to your group ready to share what surprised you about your exploration and what commitments it led you to make.
- “In this Delicate Turning” Sunday Morning Worship, GA 2019: https://www.uua.org/ga/off-site/2019/worship/sunday (Music from centering begins at 1:04:44 and sermon begins at 1:09:43, but we encourage you to watch the entire service)
- “Othering and Belonging” by Rev. Darrick Jackson – found in the UUA published book, Centering – Navigating Race, Authenticity, and Power in Ministry
- “The black hole in the white UU psyche” – UU World article by Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed: https://www.uuworld.org/articles/black-hole-white-uu-psyche
- What it means to be white – Robin DiAngelo – The VUU #144 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HzeebSMZYxI
- Dialogue about the White Supremacy Teach-In (The VUU) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tC0lsIuHbsc
- Our Anti-Racism Work: Creating Accountability in our UU world (The VUU) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QM_tCPZMnc8
- Keep Talking, Start Doing: Ten Ways to Deepen your Congregation’s Multiculturalism Journey: https://www.uua.org/multiculturalism/introduction/deepen-your-journey
- Congregational Stories and Best Practices: https://www.uua.org/justice-programs/stories
- Ta-Nehisi Coates on Reparations
Share Your Belonging
This exercise is simple and hard (at least for us UUs) at the same time: Invite somebody to church!
At the heart of this exercise is a deep religious truth: True belonging is something you give, not just get. If we don’t share the belonging, we’ve found, it becomes a cage not a home. And why would we want to keep it to ourselves anyway? Yes, it’s awkward to invite people to church. Nobody wants to seem like they are pushing their religion on someone. But at the same time, the gift of finding belonging comes with a deep sense of gratitude. And gratitude naturally leads to generosity. The best way to say thanks for a gift is to share it. In the end, it’s all one big reminder that being a people of belonging is inexorably intertwined with being a people of gratitude and a people of generosity.
So lean into all three this month by uttering and completing these two simple sentences: “I think you’d enjoy my church because _____________. Want to join me this week?”
Find Belonging in Our Recommended Resources
Our recommended resources are full of wisdom about what it means to be a people of and a person of belonging. Engaging these resources and finding the one that especially speaks to you is a spiritual practice in and of itself.
So, if none of the above exercises call to you, engage the recommended resources section of this packet as your spiritual exercise for the month.
Set aside some regular time throughout a week to go through them and meditate on them until you find the one that most expands or deepens your understanding of belonging. After you’ve found it, consider printing it out and carrying it with you or pinning it up so you can continue to reflect on it throughout the weeks leading up to your group meeting. Come to your group ready to share where the journey led you.
As always, don’t treat these questions like “homework” or try to answer every single one. Instead, make time to meditate on the list and then pick the one question that speaks to you most. The goal is to figure out which question is “yours.” Which question captures the call of your inner voice? Which one contains “your work”? And what is that question trying to get you to notice or acknowledge? And don’t forget, often it helps to read the list to a friend or loved one and ask them which one they think is the question you need to wrestle with!
- How would your days and heart change if you told yourself (and really believed): “I’m already home. I’ve already arrived”?
- For you, what is the opposite of belonging?
- We all have experiences of self-doubt. We all wrestle with “imposter syndrome” and the voice in our heads that says, “I don’t really belong here and will soon be found out.” Who was the first person that met you in that place of doubt and helped you get out?
- What if you haven’t really just been exiled or kicked out of the group, but instead put on a path to true belonging?
- Who is sitting just outside your circle and needs welcomed in?
- Does your “belonging work” lie in making room for your grief?
- Have you ever had to sacrifice belonging for integrity? How about right now? Is your current source of belonging asking you to compromise your integrity?
- Is it time to shift the question from “Who am I?” to “Whose am I?” How would your living and loving be different (and better) if it was a bit less about becoming and a bit more about belonging? What if “Am I succeeding?” was replaced with “Who needs me?” “ Who loves me? With whose life is my own bound up?”
- Have you ever found belonging in silence?
- Have you ever found your better self in the middle of a forest?
- Who taught you that it is safe to show your whole self? That every part of you belongs?
- Did you find your place of belonging or create it?
- What if belonging happens when you finally say to yourself “I’m enough”? What if belonging isn’t the moment you find your people but instead the moment you stop trying to prove yourself? What if the whole game is about finally belonging to yourself?
What’s your question? Your question may not be listed above. As always, if the above questions don’t include what life is asking from you, spend the month listening to your days to hear it. Or maybe the question or call you need to hear is waiting in one of the quotes listed below. Consider looking there!