— Do We Think More Alike Than Love Alike?

July 9, 2013 at 6:36 am | Posted in Online Ministry | Leave a comment

The important thing is to not think too much but love much; do, then, whatever most arouses you to love,” — St. Teresa of Avila 1515-1582

Heather and I are reading aloud to each other Sally Gunning’s The Widow’s War, a novel about a 18th century woman’s battle to control her life and fate. It takes place in Brewster, Mass. where we have a second home. Our friend Sandra recommended we read it prior to a historical society tour we’ll take in August. Gunning published the book in 2006. It’s historical accuracy is vivid, yet its exploration of its heroine’s inner life is relevant to many present day widows and widowers.

The novel causes me to reflect on how religious individuals have understood acts of love in completely opposite ways in both days of yore and modern times – particularly in Massachusetts which was settled by many heretics. I’ve wondered if plus ca change, plus ca reste le meme?  Gunning’s story triggered a number of NewUUish thoughts, one of which, is understanding what’s aspirational vs. how we view ourselves right now.

Many Cape Cod women love the book and recommend it as a must read. At a dinner with members of the local historical society (all age 60+ women), Heather and I heard stories of perseverance and continuing happiness in the face of great loss and considerable challenges. Many of these women attend church of one faith or another  but a few have also turned away from religion  in favor of mutually caring friends who are relatively new to them compared to their long time church families. Life for them charges ahead with new possibilities of love, happiness, and adventure.

Here’s a synopsis of the story:

It  unfolds as the terms of Widow Liddie Berry’s husband will play out. Edward died at sea when his whaling vessel capsized in a ferocious storm. In death, he strips her of her independence while in life he relied on it  when sailing  for months at a time. Widowhood, however, trumps his high regard for his middle-aged wife’s intellect and ingenuity. He leaves their 35+ year home, her care, and most of their possessions to a son-in-law. The cruel act dumfounds her.

She grieves but has little time to dwell on the loss, for the door to a way of life begins to slam shut. She resists against all odds. The small New England community turns her into an outcast. Her family spreads vicious innuendos and community leaders manipulate her reputation for their personal agendas.  The treatment jeopardizes her ability to survive. Her spirit of life and inner faith, however, strengthen her resolve. She eventually returns to Sunday worship only to find she’s been found guilty of flouting its values. The minister and lay leaders lay down rules for her that either limit or dictate access to meeting house and town life.

The accusations alternately pain and enrage her.  In particular, unfounded innuendos of sexual impropriety with a native American Indian discombobulate her. Citizens find it unspeakable that a white woman nurses a bed-ridden Indian. Ironically, this Indian valiantly saved four of Edward’s ship mates and then desperately grabbed him but couldn’t hold on. In addition to being a hero, the indian’s labors are invaluable to the town’s whaling industry.

The two outcasts live their platonic, intimate, relationship as faith in action. It results in a strong bond that everyone else finds extremely threatening. The few words spoken between them reveal an innate understanding that people of faith may think alike but do not love alike. This relationship develops more but to prevent a spoiler, I’ll leave at that.

And herein lies why I’m writing about this book. Do UUs have a tendency to think more alike than actually love alike? Loving alike is probably aspirational, and it’s not clear how the faith is doing on this practice. We cite Ferenc Dávid’s statement, “We need not think alike to love alike,” as rationale for larger concepts of welcoming community, social activism and multi-culturalism. It seems there’s an assumption that we strive to practice the sentiment to smooth tensions between us.

Thinking alike, but not loving alike seems to be a subject that UUA president Rev. Peter Morales broaches in a UU World commentary, http://www.uuworld.org/spirit/articles/220122.shtml. He said he has difficulty understanding why UUs don’t seem to trust each other despite our common beliefs.

How do you feel about Dávid’s statement and it’s relevance to your community?

I’m looking forward to the August tour of historic Brewster that will take us to the settings in The Widow’s War.  The book makes me all the more grateful to have new friends with whom we are cultivating mutually caring relationships.

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