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Given by Rev. Lee-Ellen Strawn on May 20, 2018

Fardusi read to us earlier Rumi’s poem, which depicts life as a guest house. And Boulo shared St. Francis of Assisi’s prayer that he might be an instrument of peace. Rumi reminds us life is a process of encounters, some that bring happiness and some that bring hurt. And St. Francis strives to be the joy in the midst of sadness, the hope where there is despair, and the love where hatred reigns. Rumi holds up the sometimes uncomfortable truth that we will, each one of us, be host to various experiences in our lives, both the positive and the negative. And St. Francis asks that he be used to transform the negative with the positive, the good.

As I was thinking about what to share with you today, I wanted my message to be memorable to you, not because of any eloquence on my part, but because you are most deserving of powerful words to carry with you throughout your life. You are deserving of words that will take root in your heart and mind, and grow to yield abundant fruit. You are deserving of words that will explode within you and change you.

The words of Rumi, the 13th-century Muslim mystic poet, might suffice for this.
He articulates the truth about the impermanence of human relationships; like a guest house, people will come and stay for a time in our lives, and then they will leave. Indeed, all sorts of guests might come to be with us; some who were invited, some who weren’t, and some we like and some we don’t. Some of our guests will look like us, while others will be different, and some will think like us and share our beliefs, but others will believe in ways we can’t, and may never understand. Surely, you have had such guests in your life, both in human form and in the form of ideas. A “guest” might even have been the prose of Toni Morrison, a new math theorem, or a political theory that unsettled you.

You have had to learn hospitality and generosity to engage with all who have come to be with you. At times you have done this well, and, at times, not so admirably. Yet do not despair; there will be another chance with the next guest that arrives perhaps this afternoon, or in the morning. Rumi shares a deep wisdom that our lives are made up of these temporary encounters, which we can choose to embrace, or not. But if we wish to be a good guest house, a good place of compassionate rest for others, then we might do well to welcome all without discrimination or prejudice, because each will contribute, or has already contributed, a unique chapter to our lives that cannot be replicated.

I think you are already drawing parallels to your experiences at NMH. Both the friends and foes who have lived side by side with us over these years are not meant to continue sharing the same living and learning spaces with us always. We are meant to persist on our own journeys, trusting that there will be another guest house just a ways down the path. For those we have had troubles with, this will seem a relief. But for those who have claimed our hearts as our friends, the parting will be painful. Rumi’s words underscore a profound knowledge of this life predicament, as we prepare for goodbyes and collect our roadmaps for the future.

St. Francis of Assisi is no less intriguing for us than Rumi, as we enter this time of transition into next steps. Now that you have been nourished by the guest house of NMH, and have passed the tests (or soon will), and have been certified with understanding, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life, as the poet Mary Oliver puts it? How is it that you will make your mark on the world in a way that no one else has had the courage to do? Why is it that you arduously dedicate your intellect, compassion, and talent to your work when the world is ready to hand you less intense, easier solutions? Might it be that you have a secret prayer to be useful, as St. Francis also hoped for? Might it be that utility is your deepest desire?

Now, if you could be the one person to sow love in the middle of hatred, to offer forgiveness where insults abound, to shine hope where anguish and despondency dominate, to live gladness where only sorrow resides, might this be a satisfying answer? If you were remembered long after your last breath as the one who took the bad and made it good, might this be your answer to those fundamental questions of humanity: “Who am I? “What does it mean to be human?” “What is my place in this world?” and “How then shall I live?”

Class of 2018, you are ready to pack your bags for the journey ahead. You have the right tools and resources to support you on your travels. As you go forth from this hill to greet new guests and explore new horizons, may you welcome all that life brings you and be open to its wondrous possibilities. May you be the one, even if you do stand alone, to be the instrument of peace, the reconciler, the lover and lamplighter of the world. Blessings to you.

Class of 2018, as you go forth from this chapel, may you carry with you the wisdom, the vision, and the passion you have learned from this place and from the many kind and caring souls who have hosted you on your NMH journey. May you be open to returning their hospitality no matter the guest who comes to your door, and in this way make of your one wild and precious life a gift to the world. May your minds be filled with possibilities, may your hearts beat with conviction, and may your hands be gentle in touch and tireless in doing good. Go with our gratitude and go with our blessings. May it be so now and always.


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