By Rev. Joan Kessler
I want to share with you all a short story from a book some of you are currently reading from the latest book by Richard Wagameese, One Story, One Song. The story is called How to Change the World:
The story details his walk with an elder. She threw a pebble in a pool of water and together they watched the ripples eddy outwards in concentric circles. “That’s the way you change the world. The smallest circles first.”
Creator built us of energy and spirit. Beneath our flesh and bones are molecules, atoms and neutrons spinning in a non-stop cosmic dance. That is the truth of our physical reality, so one small act can have wide-ranging consequences. That’s what she showed me. Do what you can where you can. Think less about the big picture than of what is achievable right now. Do whatever needs doing with a grateful heart and mind clear of expectation. That’s how you change the world.”
Wagameese details a gathering hosted at his house… an old tradition “dusted off”.
We share a potluck dinner first. We never ask anyone to bring a particular dish; we’re grateful for whatever arrives…. Everywhere you looked there were people talking and eating and having a great time. When the meal was over, the main event got started. There were 18 of us. People who came were mostly strangers to us and each other. But there was a feeling of safety and community in our living room that night.
Everyone had the chance to tell a story, sing a song, read something they’d written, read something that had moved them or introduce a special piece of recorded music. We sat in candlelight, with the fire of the woodstove crackling, and we were awed by what came out.
We heard the touching story about homelessness and setting down roots from a man who lives down the way. He and I had never spoken before, only nodded at each other when we passed on the road. But his words were riveting. They showed him to be a man with a history much like mine. Without gathering, I might never have had the privilege of learning that. … People told stories about childhood, the spirituality of fly fishing and the trials of war. One person read a poem for the earth.
Deb and I have similar gatherings every month since. Everyone who comes leaves feeling more complete, more attuned to their neighbors. Community happens that way, people coming together for a common purpose. That’s what Lorraine (the elder) meant when she said, “The smallest circles first.” One ripple at a time: that’s how we will change the world.
This beautiful offering from the late Richard Wagameese gifts us with such very simple and practical wisdom. When I read this story, it reminds me of the way hospitality changes lives, by just extending the offer of safety, comfort, nourishment, and friendship. And it is about making space for the story and experiences of your guest. But to do this, successfully, one must put all agendas aside. True hospitality is about an exchange of listening and being heard, of sharing one’s stories and experiences with another and finding there a place of belonging.
Our reading from Acts reads like a travelogue really. Paul travelled some 10,000 miles over his ministry, crossing borders, bringing the good news of Easter that death doesn’t have the final say. After some stumbling blocks, Paul has a vision one night. In a dream, a man pleads for him to come to Macedonia. Because of this vision, Paul changes his mission and charts a completely new and different course. It is in Macedonia that he meets a group of women who listen to him and are changed by his message of God’s love for everyone. Lydia, a businesswoman and dealer in purple cloth, is so moved by her experience of Paul’s teachings she receives baptism right then and there. And moved by the love of the Spirit she extends hospitality to Paul and his travelling companions, inviting them to come and stay at her house.
Richard Wagameese’s story I just shared, and the reading from Acts, both have this common thread of hospitality for me. It is about opening one’s doors to someone who is on the other side because of sexual orientation, gender identity, skin color or ethnicity. As we begin to come out from under COVID and learn to live with the virus among us, how do we begin to open the doors of our community of faith once again. What are the small circles we can create, like dropping a pebble in a pool of water that will ripple outward and show our wider community who we are and what we do and believe?
Our Affirming Task group met this past week, and we had a most dynamic and spirited conversation about what the Affirm designation means to us. The more we meet and get to know one another, the more deeply the stories are shared and heard. This is part of what becoming Affirming is all about – being willing and able to listen to the stories and experiences of others, showing hospitality by sharing food, compassion and companionship. We can say we are “welcoming” already but we say this as ones who are already part of a group. The Affirming designation will make our congregation known as a safe place for all who are looking for a spiritual home and fellow travellers on the way. They will not have to guess at whether or not Winfield United is a safe place for them to just be.
This Spring we are also talking with one another about ideas to enhance our relationship to the Rail Trail which runs alongside us and who we might meet and get to know as we extend hospitality to travellers. Possibly flower gardens and picnic tables. And to have a labyrinth to welcome people inside our doors to walk a sacred path. True hospitality is not about revenue but it is about a return on investment. What have we to give to those new to our midst and longing to find a place of belonging?
Paul’s vision led to a mission. May our vision of becoming an open-hearted, open-minded, inclusive community of faith, committed to the teachings and example of Jesus continue to unfold and inform our way forward these coming months. Because maybe, just maybe, we change the world by one small act of hospitality after another and the smallest circle ebbs outward in ways that bring meaning to our community. May it be so and Amen.