Covenant is a promise, an agreement. I have grown to love this important symbol of commitment in my studies in seminary because it represents a profound way of being honest in the world. Covenant is not contract; a contract can be terminated, it can be breached, it can be void. Covenant cannot. In biblical heritage there are a variety of covenants, promises made that if we behave in agreement, we will be repaid.
“The center of the free church, the heart of the whole thing, is a promise of fidelity, a covenant, which each member freely makes upon joining. Actualy also, each member begins again with, or renews and renegotiaties his or her promise many times in the course of the life of the churc h, in the privacy of renewed conscience of spiritual growth.”
– Alice Blair Wesley in her essay, “In the beginning”, found in Redeeming Time, p3
So ultimately, a covenant is a promise. Jewish theologian Martin Buber said that our humanity is inextricably bound to our promises. He called us the “promise-making, promise-breaking, promise-renewing animal.” Our promises to ourselves, to our loved ones, to our communities of faith, to our work are the way we bound our choices in the world. Our promises are how we define our commitment, our love, and yes, even our shame. Marriage is a covenant. The implied agreement between an employee and employer is a covenant, because no employment contract covers everything the two expect of one-another.
Our social reality is full of covenants. Its full of how we choose to be with one-another. When we leave those covenants implied, when we do not explore them to clarity, there is misunderstanding and sorrow. When we explore them, make lucid with each other our promises, we honor them, and in doing so, we create safe space where our love and appreciation for each other blossoms.
There is much this concept can do for us all, not just Unitarian Universalists, but for the greater world.
So, here are two thoughts: 1) What covenant do the 7 principles imply? and 2) What covenants do you make with yourself for how you treat others? How can you make them more clear so others will know what to expect of you?