I have a book on my shelf called The Spirituality of Welcoming, and I am an advisory board member of the Bay area Coalition of Welcoming Congregations. Last month some of my colleagues participated in an annual interfaith celebration called Witness our Welcome. And lately I seem to be engaged in meaningful conversation about what it means, feels, and looks like to be truly welcomed and welcoming.
I take welcoming to heart.
Sometimes I express welcome with open arms, literally. A genuine warm hug that is not the slightest bit obligatory but is completely heartfelt and real. Other times I express welcome with silence, which is actually a quiet, patient trust in the unfolding of the truth. Welcoming silence (as opposed to withholding silence) can be an incredibly loving, freeing, experience, when the other person knows that they can take as much time as they need without worrying about being intruded upon or having to fill the space with mindless chatter. To feel welcomed can be like feeling at home with someone.
When I first joined the Courage to Lead group, and then subsequently completed the Courage Facilitator training, I remember the first time the retreat guidelines were discussed. The first one, Presume Welcome and Extend Welcome, was completely startling and unnerving. To be more precise, presume welcome was the part that got me unglued.
Presuming welcome bumped up against so much of my experience, as well as my political beliefs. To presume welcome might result in hurt, loneliness, or even loss of life or safety. I come from generations of religious persecution; I have lost family members in the Holocaust, and I have known too many people who have experienced violence or threats of violence because of hatred and bigotry. To presume welcome and extend welcome felt very risky.
Yet I found myself thinking about this a lot: What would it be like to actually presume welcome, rather than presume exclusion or rejection? I am not talking about naive or reckless assumptions that are not based in reality; I am talking about conscious, mindful, intentional welcoming. Presuming welcoming as an act of self-love, and extending welcoming as an act of generosity and kindness. Welcoming involves both giving and receiving, and a true moment in between of actually being fully present with another person.
An old Webster's Dictionary defines welcome as "gladly received," which reminded me about the workshop I attended last week with Buddhist teacher Sylvia Boorstein. was advocating the revival of the word abide, which means