The Shape of Things to Come has been our worship theme over this month, and as we’ve noted, we shape our own realities with raw materials and also we are molded by other people’s actions and by external events that occur and we are changed. Someone said to me gently after the storm. “Ah, this was your first hurricane.” No and yes. I’d volunteered for years in New Orleans and known people who lost everything in Biloxi, but yes, Irma was my first not vicarious one, only it was, still, because my house was passed over this time. I don’t know why it was not our time, this time. In the summer my neighbor four houses down died suddenly at home. As the forensics car and the ambulance drove by slowly, all the elder neighbors came out to watch in a sort of curious and companionable vigil when one of our younger neighbors ran breathlessly up to Diane and me and said to us, “I’m glad you two are okay. I was afraid it was stopping at your house.” Not today.
I didn’t get that—but what I did get was opportunity. And so did you. No matter the damage or the blessing in our individual lives every single day we get that opportunities to respond–at our house, our work, our hospital, classroom, outside–our minds dizzy with relief or scrambled with fear or pain. Given the awful opportunity of their day, the Mexican rescue workers pulling children and adults out of the rubble of the earthquake responded, “We will not stop!” Opportunities can be big, life-challenging like that or sometimes deceivingly simple—a small uninvited chance to move out of my comfort zone which I really enjoy being comfortable in.
In the context of suffering or survivor’s guilt, of injustice or privilege, and as the various storms of life batter us, who do we understand ourselves to be? How do we prepare to let go of what can be destroyed, and move beyond to what lasts? I was cleaning up the debris in front of the house I did not lose this time, praying for those who did, and jotting down thoughts for this sermon on paper, but the wind kept blowing it away, so when I found this piece of cardboard among the limbs and leaves, it became my tablet and I could put a rock on it. It came to me that spiritually we need preparation for various life storms like folks ready their physical environment, and so I scribbled, “How do we shape resilience when life storms hit? How can faith, hope, and love abide and thrive?
As I wrestled with the broken tree limbs and raked up the needles, I remembered something Pam had told me and which I share now, with her permission. When I asked her how she was coping with these challenging times, she said, “I have been completely blessed. I am aware of all of the goodness around me, but I also am aware of my own body and spirit, too, that I seem not to be as quick to come back from things as I once was. As I’ve aged, I find I have to dig deeper to discover those reserves of strength to help me get through when it is hard.“ So true for so many of us these days no matter our age, because there are just so many things to get through. But then she added, “but you know, tonight I sort of dragged myself to UCG for flash mob practice for the Day of Peace, but after the dancing, music, being with others, I felt lighter. I didn’t expect that.”
Ah, I thought. That goes on the spiritual emergency plan list: 1) Prepare with a Practice. What spiritual practice, however known, nurtures your resilience and helps put you back together? Renews your faith in God or life or others or yourself? For me, it is varies–Sunday worship, crystal bowl concert, thanks Cindy, being outside, morning prayer, even meetings at UCG can renew me! What is a practice that you do or could do or know to do that you sometimes neglect, that helps feed your faith, however known? Meditation, yoga, writing, walking, music, art? Prepare with a practice. I wrote it on the cardboard.
I pushed behind the tallest palm tree to extract the dried out fronds that were crumpled in twisted tangles and there it was just to the left and above my head, shining in the heat—still there. A Golden Orb Weaver–her web connecting so many disparate entities, broken boxwoods, feathers and food, and glistening with dew. From most angles what holds her in midair is invisible to the eye, but from another angle the blessed tie that binds is gold. Gold. How can such a thin, gold strand be so strong? She had been in that exact spot before the storm. Giant trees fell, but that thin place held. And flying in and out of the bent but not broken flowers were butterflies. And at Sweetwater Preserve under the broken lotus were still the mud and the tiny green leaves, fronds rising up. “Hope,” says Emily Dickinson, “is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all, and sweetest in the gale is heard, and sore must be a storm that could abash the little bird that kept so many warm.” Hope is the bird, the butterfly, the person pulled alive from the rubble by the ones who do not give up, the spider in a golden web or a green shoot… hope is the belief that today is not the only day. That there will always be metamorphosis. To all that deals in death, there will always be a resistance. Like Lawrence Kushner wrote,”Eternal life is eternal. Everything participates in circles of return. Everyone will be transfigured and reborn. Even a stone will become earth in which a tree will bear fruit to be eaten by a child which will become the twinkle of an eye. Everything will change.” Wendell Berry wrote, “Practice resurrection.” Yes, do that, it will help your resilience, or to put it another way, Remember metamorphosis. I wrote that on my cardboard.
And just after I did it, as I stooped to extract something from the fence, a disembodied “Howdy neighbor!” erupted from behind it at uncomfortably close range. Jerry, next door, is a retired entomologist and apparently all those years of observing insects has gifted him with a sixth sense about when I am nearby because he frequently shouts out a greeting in this way, and scares me out of my wits, but this time, I felt a wave of gratitude to hear him puttering around and so I leaned my hand on the fence, and said, “I’m so glad your new roof didn’t take a tree.” He agreed that we’d all gotten through relatively well this time and when I went out to the road with a load of limbs, there was a GRU guy walking up the street and so I went over. He was young, but looked tired. I felt happy that I had a chance to say thanks directly to at least this one human being.
My cardboard of resilience and soul-preparations made it to the back of my car for the work week and I wrote down gratitude for the interfaith clergy working to stand against injustice while promoting peace, and Rosh Hashanah and the International Day of Peace and the fall equinox, the challenge of balancing it with equilux. Night and light. On Tuesday night after new member orientation, I sat on the back of my car outside the West Wing and wrote down on my cardboard more resilience boosters like the Board of Membership and our UCG staff who love and welcome our new members- to-be. And I wrote down the new members-to-be themselves, too. You gotta love someone who hasn’t even joined up yet but who knows folks need to be here but don’t have a ride, and if we had a UCG bus, it would help. Or another who sings and plays the oboe, but not at the same time, and another two who have already given their money to help with the hurricane relief buckets and who actually looked at their minister and say with a straight face, “We want to know how the pledge drive works and how we can get a pledge card so we can give.” Mic drop! Yes, please join! You all are assisting your church family with resilience.
Last Sunday Talia invited us to remember Mr. Rogers’ teaching that we are strengthened when, in crisis or opportunity, we look around for the helpers. And from her own perspective, Talia added this spiritually savvy sentence, “It is harder to be afraid of anything when you are surrounded by neighbors.” So to help keep faith, hope, and love alive in you and to support your resilience: choose community. As humans we are deeply made for community, however known. And though we can survive for a time in some circumstances, off the grid of human connections physical, emotional, spiritual, and social, and as much as we introverts may feel exhausted by the challenges of it, now more than ever, the shape of things to come is community. In all its myriad shapes and forms and bright and subtle colors and as we learn to do it more equitably and without hurting each other so much and damaging the Earth beyond repair, we will nurture community and be nurtured by it. Over time, as we prepare for the next storm with a practice, as we count on metamorphosis that leads to life, and as we refuse fear by choosing community, we will get better and better at getting through disasters, buoyed up by one another and ironically, shaped by the new challenges, too, as they pour out. Not that I look forward to the new challenges–these opportunities. They still will pull from us all we have got, but always, there’s that moment when we will be the givers and the recipients of grace upon grace, and given the chance to offer immense replenishment to one another as we open a path to resilience, even when it looks like what is being offered is nothing much.
What will it be for you, that nurtures your resilience when the next storm arrives? May we find the deepest clear springs of faith, hope, and love welling up in our souls, no matter the storms that rage.