Chris was a predictably playful person. I didn’t know them well, but in public settings at least, Chris was a bit impish. There was a clear indication when Chris was about engage in a bit of mischief, too. Chris would lock eyes with someone close by and give a little wink just before playing an innocent prank or poking a bit of fun at someone.
Now, I noticed a pattern over time. Chris only poked fun at close friends. Chris only played pranks on people they knew well. But Chris would give that little wink to anyone. Any stranger who happened to be around.
It was like Chris was saying, “Watch this!” Or maybe, “I’m about to do something fun, and now you’re in on it.”
Maybe Chris just really liked attention. Maybe having an audience made the mischief worthwhile. Or maybe Chris was expressing a special kind of hospitality. Drawing the circle of welcome a little wider by making someone into an insider. Welcoming someone who didn’t necessarily expect to be invited into Chris’ playfulness.
I’ve thought about Chris’ wink as we’ve explored our Third Principle of Unitarian Universalism: We covenant to affirm and promote acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations. As we talk about “secret handshakes” and how our way of doing things might leave some people feeling like outsiders, it occurs to me that it’s sometimes the simplest gestures that can express welcome.
With an easy, comfortable wink, Chris was able to invite people into a spirit of playfulness. It was a simple, connecting invitation. A person didn’t have to prove themselves worthy of a wink. A person didn’t even have to promise to react in any particular way. Chris didn’t have to vet a person ahead of time. They were invited in just be virtue of being present.
As we live into our values, I wonder if we have a “wink.” Maybe it doesn’t feel like acting with integrity to our principles is playful. Maybe it doesn’t feel safe to just draw the attention of whoever happens to be close by. Maybe we’ve been taught not to attract attention. Maybe we don’t think we need an audience.
For some of us, it might feel like living into our principles is supposed to require some effort. It’s supposed to feel like hard work. These are big, important promises, after all. Serious business.
But what if we chose to invite people into what we’re doing with something as simple as a wink? What if we nurtured a habit of effortlessly welcoming others without requiring anything on their part? Imagine what it would be like to have an easy way of saying, “Watch this!” Or maybe, “I’m about to do something purposeful, and now you’re in on it.”
What if part of living into our principles is learning to offer a playful wink?
Rev. Randy Partain