Like many neighbors doing their part to urge in spring, my son and I spend our weekend morning transplanting seedlings. Our task is to thin the herd. We approach this work with an unspoken awareness of the terrible, lovely power we possess. We get to decide which of these fragile things have their chance to carry on in larger containers, and which will return to beginnings.
My son with his still unbroken optimism rejects this as a false choice. He scrounges around the kitchen for used water bottles then saws off the tops and drill holes in the bottoms. Bringing them into the dining room where garden debris litters the table and floor, he paws through the dirt for discarded seedlings. We move as many wisps of roots as we can to their more capacious, though still temporary, homes.
The sunniest place in our house – the south-facing balcony door – lets in a small draft. That means the hodgepodge of pudding and yogurt cups that comprises our starter garden lives in my son’s bedroom next to the heat register. We wedge in around it two living room lamps with fluorescent bulbs that shine for fifteen hours a day.
Somehow, our makeshift arrangement suffices. The phenomenon of phototropism still inspires wonder as we watch our plants reach for the light. They follow it, they drink it, they thrive. Just two lightbulbs and an occasional spritz from a water bottle. How is it possible that it takes so little to make something grow?
Of course, the effort only seems little when seen in isolation. The decision to start a container garden from seed for our tiny condo balcony began as a New Year’s resolution. From there, we took a series of steps: Rescue cups from the recycling. Study planting zone calendars. Cook up a batch of homemade starter mix. Buy seeds. Clear space. Turn lights on. Turn lights off. Spritz.
Each task on its own barely registers on the balance sheet. Yet here we are with basil and chrysanthemums taking over the bedroom.
What if it’s possible to grow a spiritual community with small steps like these?
Our Unitarian Universalist church’s Annual Giving Campaign is underway right now. One thread running through is the importance of open doors. We can see our congregation living out its commitment to this openness in the ways we organize our Sundays. Friendly faces staff the sanctuary Welcome Table, online live streams run for both services, and Religious Exploration greeters make sure that new children and families can find their way around. These are critical parts of ensuring that someone arriving on our campus feels a sense of belonging.
How then do we wrap our minds and hearts around the ones who have yet to arrive? What about neighbors who are dying to turn towards any hint of light but haven’t found their way through our doors? Many of us understand that we live at a place and time in which desperate isolation coexists with overwhelming demands on our energy, attention, calendars, and finances. Unitarian Universalism’s messages of hope and connection are more important now than ever. Yet our neighbors will not magically appear in our sanctuary any more than peppers will spontaneously materialize on my balcony this June.
Will we commit to starting new growth from seed? From within UU’s sixth and seventh principles we can hear the call to open outward. We must be willing to emerge from the comforting confines of our campus and share the vital principles and mission of our faith. To do this, we might have to rearrange things, to move our light into places that we haven’t taken it before.
Several years back, Rev. Kim Wilson offered a list of 28 ways UUs can practice outward orientation. The suggestions are as relevant now as they were then, if not more so. Here is a selection:
- Put a UU decal on the window of your car or home.
- Write an article for a local newspaper about a church project in which you’re involved.
- Practice your response to the question, “What is Unitarian Universalism?”
- Host a party to which you invite both members and nonmembers.
- Tell a nonmember about an adult program.
- Carry Seven Principles cards and give them to people when they ask about Unitarian Universalism.
Taken separately, each of these small steps seems almost inconsequential. One hand-me-down lamp moved to a new corner, or one spindly root lifted to new ground. In the aggregate, though, our small acts have power beyond imagination. We grow the beloved community.
It’s fitting that the Annual Giving Campaign takes place right at the cusp of spring. Isn’t internal fundraising so much like all that wintertime work of starting a garden? Gathering resources, one pledge at a time, allows us to have on hand the right tools for the job.
The ground is thawing. Are we ready to begin?
Image: Montréal Botanical Garden