Skip to main content

May Nothing Evil

The first hymn in our Unitarian Universalist hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition, is “May Nothing Evil Cross This Door." It is a hymn that easily brings tears to the eyes of those who have found in our sanctuaries a place and a people and a faith we can count on to salve our wounds and salvage the wreck we become, and even save our lives. In that hymn we sing of security, faith, warmth, peace, sacrament and laughter. We ask that these walls, thin as they are, “be strong to keep hate out and hold love in.” 

Would you recognize evil if it “crossed the door” of your church or synagogue or masjid? A man with a gun hidden inside a guitar case and the intent to kill hidden in his heart? That happened in a UU congregation I know. A charismatic member of the congregation with a special gift for welcoming newcomers and connecting lonely people who is arrested and convicted of child pornography? That’s happened in a UU congregation I know. Might a man who beat up his wife last night or this morning walk through those doors? Yes. Might a woman step across that threshold whose life and relationships are being destroyed by alcoholism? Yes, of course. Might some representative of a corrupt government come, with warrants and strongmen with guns, to arrest a portion of us who no longer qualify as Americans, but only as vermin, or perverts, or imbeciles, or dark-skinned, or commies, or as Unitarian Universalists? Could that happen? Of course, and it has, many times, in many places. But it is not the people who pass through the door themselves who are evil.

People make mistakes, deceive themselves and others, operate out of erroneous information or reasoning, have sociopathic tendencies, are influenced by the delusions or paranoia that mental illness can bring, were raised in a home environment that distorted their sense of right and wrong. We are all perfectly capable of making terrible, appalling, horrendous, inexplicable decisions that propagate pain and suffering through the web of our connections to other people and the earth. 

UU theologian Paul Rasor suggests that the word “idolatry” may be a more useful theological concept than “evil.” He defines idolatry as the practice of drawing power from a source that “prevents or inhibits life from flourishing.” Evil is a collective pursuit of an end unworthy of human desire, a pursuit which entails an insidious and unacknowledged process of disconnection from everything that makes a humane and meaningful life possible. Evil works like cancerous tissue in the human body. A cancer has our DNA, but it is indifferent to anything but its own prosperity. It dominates a previously shared environment and coopts any useful systems in order to sustain its own growth. It sees no boundaries, grieves no losses, has no shame. It is so blind to consequences that it actively consumes the very structures that are essential to its own existence. It eats through blood vessels, fills cavities, strangles vital organs, gradually weakening its host and diminishing its own returns until both host and cancer die.

Evil is made of us, but is not us. In the process of becoming, it draws us in, disables our moral/ethical compass, and uses us for its own ends. It lives, in potential, in the everyday, here among us in our congregations, in our families, in our government. Among us it is either already growing and spreading, or it is waiting for the conditions to be right so that it can. It is incumbent upon the faithful, in particular, to nurture health in our own communities, to connect to people beyond our own neighborhoods, to guard the integrity of our political system, and to be ever watchful.

To the seeds of evil, may we say “I see you.” 
To a cancer that is growing among us, may we say: “Let us uncover the wound and treat it.” 
To powers greater than we who question the worth of our neighbors, may we say:“I stand with these.”
To those who align with such powers, may we say: “I see suffering because of this; tell me what you see.” 
“To our neighbors whom we do not know well, may we say: “Come in, share this meal, tell me your story, and I will tell you mine. 
To a future world in which we love our neighbors as ourselves, may we say: “I give my life over to creating you.”

Rev. Margie Allen, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog


My mind has been thinking about time and how it seems to be different now with all of what is happening. First there is COVID-19 and our stay-in-place semi-lockdown.  For those who have full-time jobs, and even for those who don't, we schedule things around moments in time.  Our lives are routine-based:  when we get up, when we eat, when we work, when we have time for family, when we have time to ourselves, when we sleep, etc.  When our routines are disrupted, many of us feel out of sorts or even lost.  What happened?  Why is this happening?  When is it (routine) coming back?  I've heard that there are many Americans who find it difficult to take a vacation, a real vacation of a week or two, because it takes them away from their work for too long.  As we are gradually allowed to come back to our former lives before COVID-19, perhaps we will have a better sense of time, our old time.  But then again, maybe time will never be the same.      George Floyd was killed senselessly an

Make even these days count

One of the most popular features on a local newscast of a small TV station is something rather surprising. It is a feature called- “The Day of the Week”.  Today is…….. Monday!  The station put forth this as a kind of joke at first, but it was so popular that it became a regular daily addition to the morning newscast.  Apparently, so many of us have lost track of what day it is that we need a reminder. During this stay-at-home time, every day seems to blend into the next.  It is truly difficult to remember how many days we have all been quarantined at home, what the date is and what day of the week it is.  Many of us have a few markers that help- jobs that pause for the weekend, celebrations of Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays- special days of worship.  But even with these, the days seem to bleed into each other like a striped shirt washed in hot water. The period that we are in right now in the Jewish calendar is ironically, a time of counting. A time when we purposely try to keep
I did not want to write about this virus-time. I did not think I could.  Another piece was in my mind this week, not quite yet taking shape. But when I sat to write, the virus took my attention and I could not wrest it back.   There are useful and funny memes online, and stories of good will and good works, and words of inspiration and comfort. And terrible stories, too.  Mostly at a distance, we have been sharing dance and art and music, facts and opinions, cautionary tales and fairy tales. We miss hugs and doing projects and working and learning together in person. Sometimes we are in a bubble for a while that lets us just be, free of anxiety or fear.  Sometimes we cannot get out of bed.  Sometimes we cannot sleep.  Sometimes we eat all the chocolate and sometimes we eat nothing.  We who are privileged live like this.  We are grateful to the people who work at the jobs we need to have done even in the face of the danger and I believe we do not understand a fraction o