Beloveds – today, I take us down a stroll through the archives of Reflections to a piece I wrote three years ago this spring. It’s about welcome, and so I ask you: What is welcoming for you? When you enter a space, what tells you that it was designed with you in mind? Think about all the people who get left out of these questions all the time, and maybe make some changes in your places of worship or spaces where you make ritual. Consider how you “welcome the strangers” into your midst, and let’s see what I had to say in 2017!
Welcome to cloudy Portland. It hasn’t rained quite enough, yet this year, but here I am at home, typing to you…
What does it mean to to you when you hear, “make yourself at home”? What is “at home,” after all?
In addition to the Tarot cards I traditionally read, I’ve been learning a new deck, called The Goddess Tarot, and each card refers to a different goddess. If you’ve been around a bit, you’ve heard or read me refer to Brigid, a goddess from the British Isles (especially Ireland), as a blesser of the house. But there is another goddess on my mind.
This Lady is a Greek goddess, considered to be the oldest (though others like Euroynme were said to be present at Creation, but who cares about time?!). She is one you invoke every time you light your stove or fireplace. You needn’t even say Her name.
But her name is Hestia. You may know Her in her Roman form as Vesta, of the Vestal Virgins who maintained Her eternally burning hearth. And that is what this goddess is known for—the hearth. The center of the home.
The hearth is where food is prepared—thus, Hestia is considered a provider of feasts and repasts for the stranger, the one who is welcomed.
I just mistyped, “hearth” as “heart,” because that’s what I’m thinking of. If our hearts are warm, if we are open to the differences of others, if we are inviting as well as willing to listen and change, if we pay attention to the cues of those who come to us, we can be welcoming.
Many of us in UU and Pagan settings sometimes have trouble with invitation and welcome, especially of those who seem different from “us.” White UUs, for example make assumptions about people of color who come to services. “I bet this is different from anything you’ve seen before,” one white UU said to a Black (lifelong UU) visitor. Oops! Ouch!
Our hearts are the hearths of our beings. They are in many ways, the center of our experience, the figurative center of our emotions, and the literal rhythm of our lives. They allow us to feel empathy. Together with our minds, they help us pay attention to what others need and to make accommodations without breaching boundaries.
So today, I am considering welcome, and considering Hestia.
What is the center of welcome for you? When do you feel welcomed? How might that be similar or different for others?
If you’re a hugger (as especially I’ve observed Pagans often are), you might ask, “Is it okay if I give you a hug?” and mean it. It gives others the opportunity to set and be responsible for their own boundaries. Ask questions, but don’t interrogate. Let people have their own time and space.
Do offer food and drink. Do offer a seat that is appropriate for the person you’re welcoming. (If you’re welcoming me, for example, that means a sturdy sofa or a chair without arms.)
You may not need to know these things. You may be someone whose heart/hearth burns brightly in a way that all of us can see. But then again…
Then again, there are many of us afraid to reach out to the newcomer. Or there are those of us who overwhelm with too much information or too many questions.
It’s a balancing act learned only by practice.
If your congregation, your circle, your community wants to be more welcoming, perhaps Hestia is someOne to turn to, someOne to think about or research. Just a thought as I sit here thinking of chopping vegetables, making guacamole and shaking hands with people I shall meet tomorrow.
Be well, loves, and be welcome here—
PS – Are you or someone you know preparing to see the Ministerial Fellowship Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations? (That is, the MFC of the UUA, as it were…don’t we love our acronyms) I’ve got a couple spots left for folks who going to see the MFC in the fall, so please do send folks my way, or be in touch yourself. Just reply to this email or go to https://thewayoftheriver.com/mfc-coaching/
I’d love to talk with you about your plans for the future and how you’d like to go about preparing for your MFC panel!