Making Space for All to Thrive
This month, my congregation’s worship theme is Sacrifice — a hard one to lean into even as the world seems to be asking all of us to wrestle with it.
To understand sacrifice today, in the third decade of the 21st century, let us begin not on the altars of ancient stories where living beings were given to flames; but rather in the repeated stories, then and now, demanding that old ways, cherished and familiar, be given up to the fires of our greater hopes, intentions and commitments. Let us pick up the biblical charge in which God says, “Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them,” and then continues, “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
Sacrifice, in one definition from the dictionary, is about “giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy.” In this understanding, it is an act motivated from within – an offering of something cherished made willingly because we’ve named something or someone else as claiming our hearts more fully. It gives up something to make way for the currents of a greater river, for the ever-flowing stream of life and justice.
My colleague Darrick Jackson recently wrote, “As a person of color who grew up working-class, sacrifice has had different ramifications for me than for someone white and middle-class. Often I was starting from a place of sacrifice, so adding another ranged from a deeper burden to ‘what’s one more thing.’” Then he added, “Now, I’m beginning to understand sacrifice differently. It does not have to be grounded in pain and suffering. What we are asked to do is create space for others to thrive. In our interconnected world, the ‘I’ needs to be in balance with ‘We.’”
What are we each asked to do to create space for others’ thriving – and for our own? What must we give up to support the earth’s thriving – and the wellbeing of all who depend on it?
These questions of sacrifice will lead us quickly to a wide range of answers such as: giving up a good night’s sleep to care for a loved one in pain; getting vaccinated or wearing masks; saving up or even leaving our homeland for our child’s needs, education or opportunity; sharing resources with those in the paths of fires or floods, hurricanes or drought; opening our homes to those in need of belonging, of relationship or shelter; cutting back on our consumption to address climate change; volunteering in our communities; stepping up by voice or vote or protest to end racism’s oppressive force; offering our time, resources or talents to anything that creates space for thriving.
In Anne Lamott’s treasured instructions to writers, she describes the willing sacrifices required of true writers with words that equally apply to all of us committed to living and loving and pursuing the justice we long for. She writes, “You are going to have to give and give and give…. You have to give from the deepest part of yourself, and you are going to have to go on giving, and the giving is going to have to be its own reward.”
Are we willing to sacrifice in that spirit? Are we able to commit our full lives to the fires of our own passions? To give ourselves to love? To let go, not only of the way things are that we no longer value, but also to willingly give up ways of being we might still cherish, openly or secretly, even though we know they contribute to the suffering or exclusion of others, of the earth, or of our own true selves? If you wish to explore these questions in a guided writing session, please join me online on October 20 for a session on “What Love and Life Ask of Us.”
What are we willing to do, to offer, to sacrifice to create space for the thriving of all, to truly give ourselves to love? In his poem, “let it go,” e.e. cummings closes with this charge:
let all go – the
big small middling
tall bigger really
the biggest and all
things – let all go
so comes love
 Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, NY: Anchor Books, 1995.
 Complete Poems, 1904-1962, e.e. cummings, NY: Liveright, revised edition, 2016.