It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
~ Wendell Berry
This month is a tricky one for us UUs. Let’s be honest. Berry’s celebration of vulnerability and limits is just not our thing. We are, after all, the religion of human potential, goodness and power! We don’t sing at impeded streams; we break through them. We don’t put up with confused minds; we keep at it until we become un-baffled. When we no longer know what to do, we just turn to each other and figure it out together.
There is something deeply inspiring about viewing ourselves so capable and strong. But there’s a shadow side too. In pursuit of being our best and most powerful selves, we often fear leaning into vulnerability.
It becomes a problem. The thing we need to protect ourselves from.
But it is a protection that betrays.
The theologian, C.S. Lewis, gets at this in his reflection on the vulnerability of love:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to keep it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”
In other words, there’s a big difference between breaking and being broken open. Yes, leaning into vulnerability is frightening. But often, it also unlocks a door, allowing grace to drift in.
For instance, a loved one dies and, to our surprise, our hearts aren’t just crushed, they are cracked open, illuminating beauty just a little more clearly. The absence we thought would haunt us, actually unveils how deeply we loved, and how lucky we are to have loved.
Or what about when we’re finally honest about the fears and burdens we hide? In that leap of courage, we discover that telling our truths doesn’t just make us feel weak or exposed; it opens our eyes. We become able to see that others hide their pain and fear too. And with that, the faceless crowd becomes a sea of fellow travelers. All of us connected. All of us aware how much kindness is needed, even when the other’s pain is not easy to see.
It’s all about understanding that vulnerability isn’t weakness but a softer form of strength.
Remembering that isn’t easy. But it is necessary. It’s maybe our most real work, as our friend Wendell Berry would say.