Away They Go
“My. People come and go so quickly here.” — Dorothy Gale, The Wizard of Oz.
Well, it’s happening again. I’ll be saying goodbye to another friend on Friday. Someone whose life is taking them, as usual, in exciting, wonderful, and newly life-giving directions…elsewhere. I only eclipsed one year here on the island a few weeks ago. But already the warning of my friends, that people will come here often, and then leave here often, has come to be true. What people say most often is, “This is a transient place.” And that always makes me smile a little.
One of the very first things anyone aspiring to the Unitarian Universalist ministry ever reads is the sermon, “The Transient and the Permanent in Christianity” by Theodore Parker. Parker was a gifted writer. He spoke about the arc of the moral universe always bending toward justice, and that idea was used to vastly greater effect by Dr. King and then President Obama. Lincoln even cribbed from Parker’s prose for the famous “Gettysburg Address.” Parker was also known as the Unitarian minister who chose to combat the horrifying Fugitive Slave Act by hiding those fleeing slavery in his home and shooting at anyone trying capture a “fugitive” and return them to the southern states.
His sermon stirred up a lot of controversy…more than his defense of those migrating northward did. In fact, by intimating that among those things that are transient in the faith he professed were the authority of the bible and the even the authority of Christ, he became thoroughly unwelcome in Christian circles. He compared every earthly aspect of his faith—churches, books, rules, creeds etc.—to the growth and then decay of a plant, to the lifecycle of an animal, or to a passing cloud. He called these the transient attributes of the underlying permanent laws and forces of nature. And then his friends and colleagues shunned him. They left him alone.
In my more philosophical moods, I understand Parker as well as I understand the near constant diffusion of people in and out of this tiny cell in the ocean. Many of us have in our midst the sense and the attributes of transience in our lives—whether we work at jobs that move us from classroom to classroom, whether we host travellers in our homes, whether we simply observe the tourists. It is part of life here. It is part of life everywhere. It is part of life.
But in the feeling of sadness as my friend prepares to depart I find the truth that Parker spoke. The transient and the permanent are not opposites—they are not listed in separate columns somewhere or categorized. Those fleeting, changing, moving things in life are pieces, attributes of an underlying truth that we are more connected than we realize. I will mourn the moveable, but I will rejoice in the joining of my soul to another. And when the passing clouds close around my friend’s flight, I will delight all the more in the times, the fleeting times, we shared together, those transient moments that show me the permanence of love.
And may it always be so.
Rev. T. J.