“Covenant is a promise I keep to myself, about the kind of person I want to be, the kind of life I mean to have, together with other people, and with all other living things.”
~Victoria Safford, from the article Bound in covenant from UU World magazine, summer 2013.
At the beginning of every new church year we make covenants in our religious education classes. Here’s the thing about covenants: they are going to be broken. The beauty of covenant is the process by which we live into them, failing and trying again and again to come back to our better selves. We use covenant instead of rules in RE classes very intentionally. Rules are hierarchical; adults typically tell kids what the rules are. Rules are also inherently punitive; break the rules and you will get into trouble.
Covenant is about community. In covenant, everyone shapes the agreement. In reaching something which works for us all, we learn to compromise. It’s a living document made by the community, for the community. When covenant is broken, we invite one another back in. This invitation is at the heart of covenant and grounded in our Universalist theology; we believe in second chances. This doesn’t mean people get away with awful behavior. The covenant serves those who commit to its purpose. This is all we ask of our children and youth, all we ask of you: commit to the purpose of covenant.
“Come, come, whoever you are. Wanderer, Worshiper, lover of leaving. It doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. Come,yet again, come, come.” – Jalaluddin Rumi
The above poem by Rumi has been adapted and included in our hymnal. The song, as we sing it, leaves out my favorite lines: “even if you have broken your vows a thousand times, come, yet again, come”. Covenants break. They take work. When we look at the covenant of marriage, or the covenant represented in some religious traditions between the individual and God, we know they are serious business. We also know without upkeep- love, attention, and care– they break.
So as we enter into another year, take good care of each other my friends. Love each other, pay attention, care for the well-being of one another along this shared journey. Be prepared to call others, and be called, back into covenant. Know we will have some broken vows, but with love we can come back. Come, yet again, come.