What is a Safe Harbor?

I’ve been sailing all my life now,

never harbor or port have I known.

The wide universe is the ocean  I travel

and the earth is  my blue boat home.*

Today we begin our month long theme of “Safe Harbor.”  What do we mean when we talk about a safe harbor?  As Unitarian Universalists, we do not require of ourselves any particular doctrine or dogma.  Religious doctrines and dogma often make people feel a certain kind of security.  Of course, they also become the very things that some people use to criticize, demonize and at times violently attack others who do not share those beliefs. In other words, the very things that provide ideological safe harbor for some become its exact opposite for others.  The doctrine of the Trinity became that very kind of safety-clung-to which ultimately split the Unitarians from the Congregationalists centuries ago.


The rose that wilts after six days will become a part of the garbage. After six months the garbage is transformed into a rose.  -Thich Nhat Hanh

In Unitarian-Universalism, we honor and receive wisdom from  many traditions, including Buddhist teachings which point out to us that nothing is permanent and that all things are always changing.  How in the world can one find safe harbor if nothing is permanent? The insight of the Buddha, shared now for almost 3000 years is that we can find true peace and security by entering into the present moment with all of its constant changes.  Not unlike that is the teaching of the Christ who, when asked about the coming of his kingdom observed:  The Kingdom is within you.  The search for an apocalyptic day and being on the right side of good and evil is, with those five words, trumped by the core message:  be here, now.  It’s the only kingdom (or harbor) you will find.

These words at the top of the page are from one of the most loved hymns that we sing at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Gwinnet–“Blue Boat Home.”  I think few would argue that the singing of it creates a feeling of safe harbor.  The tune is a variation of a long time favorite in many churches of many persuasions known as Hyfrydol–a Welsh tune and title meaning “cheerful.”  It is used in the Wesleyan hymn “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” and “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.”  The tune, itself, creates the feeling of joy and safety.  And yet, these words of “Blue Boat Home” proclaim that we who traverse on this planet earth have never had harbor or portal–we sail through the vastness of the open and wide Universe.  We create for ourselves a safe harbor with a song that proclaims never a harbor have we known.

These contradictions, these ironies, these opposing fields of experience are ours as human beings. The world and our personal lives can be frightening and oppressing.  They can leave us lost and terrified. We also have within our beings the capacity to create safe harbor–especially as community.  Today, let us notice those of our fellow travelers who are suffering.  Let us find ways to create safe harbor for them and with them.  Even if the safe harbor we create today is gone tomorrow, the safety of it today, right now, is real.  It counts.  It matters.  And those harbored in it find real, true rest.

Bob Patrick

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