A Time to Settle In

SERMON        A Time to Settle In

“Every morning I put on my shoes and get back to work.”  That means something different to each of us.  I offer you an invitation to consider what it means to you.

At this moment I’m feeling relieved - and I’m guessing most of you are, too.  We have been carrying a lot, and have been on a roller coaster all week.  But we’re still in a strange place, knowing - as Reggie Harris wrote - that those currently in power are being as relentless at controlling the narrative as they’ve always been. 

And we are confronting the harsh reality of how divided we are as a people.  I grew up saying the pledge of allegiance.  The phrase “one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all” is hard-wired somewhere in this aging CPU.  We are just not there.  We need a great commitment to better understanding.  And, as President-elect Joe Biden said last night, to healing.

What will it look like, now, to settle in, settle down, settle ourselves?  How can we become and stay  more grounded in the weeks and months ahead?

Craig Dreeszen shared an election day posting with me - this one from the leader of the Zen center in Worcester, David Rynick.  Rynick has advice for staying grounded.  He writes:

“Take time to shrink your field of attention. Staying current and informed are important, but the daily acts of living are equally important.”

He suggests we should separate ourselves from the stream of news that comes in on all our devices.  “Turn to the immediate world around you” he writes, “turn to the running water that comes out of your faucet, the smell of coffee brewing, the way the morning light slowly illuminates the view from the window, the sensation of the breath that has so faithfully sustained your life all these years. Just this.”

The day after this week’s election it was still cool outside.  Early in the afternoon I opened my front door and stepped out.  Our house faces south, and at 1 pm the sun leans at least thirty degrees to the west.  But it provided enough warmth to help offset the chill of the wind.  I huddled down on the middle step.  

Cars and pickup trucks went by.  I watched  people walking alone or with their dogs, masked and unmasked.  What Barbara Pescan called the glory of the passing away of autumn lay about me.

The past week’s wind and rain had stripped most of the trees in my view.  

“Bare ruined choirs, where once the sweet birds sang.”

That line from one of Shakespeare’s most beautiful sonnets captures the melancholy as well as the beauty of this time of year.  I stared at the bare choirs - the gnarled arthritic branches of the catalpa and the thorny locust trees, the arching lacy halo created by intertwined topmost branches and twigs of the maples in my neighbor’s yard.   

I looked up at the clear deep autumn blue of the sky.  I felt the sun on my face.  Present to what was before me, for that moment, at least.

David Rynick's second bit of advice is to appreciate the people in our lives. (Even the difficult ones.)  He writes.

“We are all (even you) part of an intricate network of relationships of mutual nourishment as we rub up against each other, irritate and delight each other, near and far, living and dead.”

That’s an element of what Reggie Harris was saying, evoking the memories of past champions of freedom and reminding his readers of all the people working together right now for change.  

Rynick’s point is that we can help ground ourselves by stopping to notice and appreciate the people in our daily lives.  

Take a moment, an intentional moment.  Imagine you are seeing your spouse or child or sibling or friend, or even the person who checks you out at the grocery store, for the first time.  Really notice them.  Appreciate the miracle of their being.  Appreciate the miracle of your own being.

He also advises us to give ourselves to what we are doing in the moment.  He writes: “We often suppose that the meaning of our life is somewhere else.  But life only happens in this place where we are.  Don’t hold back and wait for things to settle down.

Shrink your field of attention.  Appreciate the people in your life.  Give yourself to the moment.

Simple tips - yes?   I so often live in the opposite way.  Busy, distracted, trying to do three or four things, in six or seven places, all at the same time.  I used to be better able to do that than I am now.  At least that’s what I tell myself.  It wasn’t good for me then, either.

Some of you sent pictures of what grounds you.  Pets.  Your garden.  The natural world.  

Trees, water, and woods ground me.  As does solitude.  Solitude is different from isolation.  Sometimes I find it even on my front step, with cars and people going by.  Solitude grounds me.  It allows me to narrow my field of attention and quiet the mind’s chatter for a while.  

Earlier in the day, on that same Wednesday I sat on my steps, I had a conversation with Lynne Marie Wanamaker.  Lynne Marie is on our worship committee, and she is one of the people who preside over our annual hymn sing, the Sunday between Christmas and the New Year.  At the beginning of the service people in attendance submit requests for their favorite hymns.  This is a form of ranked choice voting in which, Lynne Marie tells me, a substantial percentage of the results are known well in advance, without any reliance on polling.  

Selections are made.  The congregation sings.  How do we recapture some of the community spirit of the hymn sing this year - when people will be unable to gather?  Lynne Marie has some ideas.  We moved on to talk about how we - all of us - are caring about and caring for each other.  

What else helps keep me grounded?

You do.

You give me many opportunities to appreciate people in my life.  This past week has offered gifts of conversation and connection for many of us, one-on-one, or in small groups and connection circles and drop-ins.  We have shared what we have been learning about the latest developments AND we have opened our hearts to one another.

Opening our hearts and just being there for  each other is another way to help ground ourselves.  We are hoping to form another connection circle specifically for people who have children of all ages at home, and who are facing  different challenges from those of us who don’t have children, or whose children are grown and out of the house.  You can let Jessica or me know if you’re interested.

Teresa Amabile also sent me a post this week.  It was from her sister-in-law’s rabbi, who quotes a verse from the prophet Zechariah,

Return to the stronghold, you prisoners of hope

He writes: “We are prisoners to hope.  We have no choice. It’s built into the system. It’s the only way to live. We’re locked into that spiritual mindset because we might otherwise abandon it for the more alluring and sometimes logical alternative: resignation and despair.”

This is a time for hope, and for fortitude.  For grounding ourselves and taking care of ourselves.  And as we do that, we will put on our shoes and go back to work, in whatever ways we can.