On May 15, 2022 Valarie Kaur was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Meadville Lombard Theological School. These are her remarks.

Twenty-two years ago, when I was a freshman in college, I walked into a college class about religion and violence in India, and at the head of the seminar table sat a professor who was known as the nation’s preeminent scholar on Kabir, the 15th century mystic poet of India, who pierced people awake with his songs of divine love.

And this professor, welcoming us with bright curiosity, wearing her signature purple sweater, glasses dangling from her neck, laughter in her voice, seemed to me to capture some of Kabir’s spirit, buoyant and witty, wondrous and wise. Her name was Linda Hess, and I wanted to be a scholar like her when I grew up. My dream was to earn a doctorate in religion.

So Linda became my advisor, and in class after class, and conversation after conversation, I didn’t know it then, but she was trying to teach me that to study violence is to study love.

One day, while I was preparing to travel to India for field work, to capture the stories of violence in the past, my father pulled me to the screen to witness the horror of September 11, and within hours, violence erupted on city streets, all across America against people of color, beaten, chased, stabbed, and then the phone call came and Balbir Uncle had been killed. The first person killed in hate in the 20 years since 9/11 was a Sikh American father, a family friend. In my terrible grief, I wrote Linda. What if, I said, what if I used my camera to capture the violence that’s happening now?

Not in the past, but here, not over there, but on this soil, and Linda responded with poetry, of course. She cited AK Ramanujan, who cited an ancient proverb. Winnow, winnow! Look here, winnow when the wind blows. Remember the winds are not in your hands. Remember you cannot say I’ll winnow, I’ll winnow tomorrow. Linda said: it’s like entering the whirlwind.

Linda, your words launched me into the rest of my life.

Within days I was on the road, listening to people, grieving with them, organizing with them, but the violence continued on and on, and so I left behind the dream of the doctorate. The whirlwind took me to the sites of mass shootings, sometimes when the blood was still fresh on the ground, it took me inside supermax prisons. It took me to the shores of Guantanamo, into the halls of Congress, into asylum clinics at the border, and year after year, for 20 years, everywhere I worked, I began to finally see what Linda was trying to teach me. The study of violence delivered me to the door of love.

I believe that the greatest social and political crises of our era are fueled by a deeper spiritual crisis, a constriction of the human heart. The choice to stand for some of us, rather than all of us. And the only way we will birth that world that we dream, the only way we will birth a multi-racial, multi-faith democracy, a sustainable future for all of us, is if a critical mass of us, is if we practice a way of being, a way of seeing, that leaves no one outside of our circle of care. What’s needed now for the future of this nation, this world, our species, is nothing less than a revolution of the heart. Revolutionary love.

I believe revolutionary love is the call of our times.

And so graduates of 2022, you are the midwives to the world that is longing to be born. You are the custodians of the songs and the stories and the scriptures that carry that song to love.

You know how to look back through history, through the noise and the haze and the destruction and pull those songs of love through for a new time to embolden us, to empower us, to sing through us. Jesus called us to love thy neighbor. Abraham to open our tent to all. Mohammad to take in the orphan. Buddha unending compassion. Mirabai to love without limit. Guru Nanak to see no stranger. That we can look upon the face of anyone or any being and say: You are a part of me I do not yet know.

And so, dear graduates, yes, you are graduating in the midst of many whirlwinds. In the face of pandemic, climate crisis, anti-democracy forces, war, assaults on our bodies, and ongoing mass shootings. And so this is my deep wish for you.

May you be brave with your grief, for grief is the price of love. And the deeper you grieve, the more you expand your capacity to love.

May you harness your rage, for rage is the force that protects that which we love. And the aim of divine rage is not vengeance. It is to reorder the world.

May you listen to your opponents with humanity, for there are no such thing as monsters in this world, only human beings who are wounded.

May you tend to the wounds that are yours to tend and share that labor with others.

For when one breathes, the other can push. Remember the wisdom of the midwife, and as you breathe, may you let joy in.

As for me and my house, you’ll find us serving joy. Serve joy, my loves, serve joy. For when you do so for your home, for your congregation, for your community, when you serve joy, you are presaging the world to come.

Linda, you sent me into the whirlwind all those years ago for me to discover wisdom. But you never left my side. You officiated my wedding. You blessed the births of both my babies. You proof-read every line of my book, the same way you did my college honors thesis. And so today, I am delighted to tell you that the dream that you planted in me 22 years ago is fulfilled.

Thank you, Meadville. Now as you prepare to celebrate your 80th birthday, may I dedicate this Doctorate of Divinity to you. For you have lived a life of love. You have chosen to love a little more and a little more and a little more every day. Loving the world, loving your students, loving your family, loving Kabir and letting his songs of love sing through you. Sing through us. I love you with all my heart. Would you do me the honor of standing up so that we may applaud you?

Thank you. And so graduates of 2022, I leave you with Linda’s words, who echo another poet’s words, who echo the ancients: winnow, winnow, when the wind blows, answer the call when it comes. Keep answering it, for choosing to labor for a more just world with love, with joy, therein lies the meaning of life.

Thank you. And congratulations.