And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love…. (Eph 3:17)
At a church I attend, the pastor is going on Sabbatical for the summer months. During his sermon on his last Sunday before his leave taking, he asked the congregation to reflect on our hopes for this time of congregational renewal. Indeed, what does renewal look like on the other side of a Pandemic? Well, at this moment, I thought, I am burned out, crispy, fried and sauteed. My creativity has gone out the window.
I find myself rethinking a whole lot. As we begin to return to the workplace, to restaurants, and airplane travel, things feel strangely the same, and yet, not. What is this liminal hybrid space we are in? Do I even want to return to life as normal? While there is indeed relief and joy, I have felt a compelling distance between myself, church, and God. Is it grief? A shift in priorities, a changed self? I have heard from a few, that there is a new realization that the social group one cared so much about before the Pandemic, actually never really reciprocated the love. Another individual, who is a person of color, has expressed suicidal ideation regarding having to return to a racist workplace, and those subtle acts of exclusion. In this liminal space, I have reflected on my own past choices, and I have found myself re-assessing my priorities, values, and the integrity of social connections. More recently, I have wondered about my Ordination journey. What is my ministry in this brave new world?
And if we really want to pile it on, there are those looming climate concerns, and dystopian political happenings like criminal voter suppression laws. Where is our democracy heading? Can I add charred to the list? (Crispy, fried, sauteed, and charred!)
As you can likely tell, my spirits need a reboot. Yet, I also feel an energizing anger. God help me, I *will* emerge out of this pandemic having learned something.
What did I come up with regarding the pastor’s question for summertime intentions, you might wonder? In my notes that Sunday, I wrote, “rest, renewal, return of wise self, and betterment.” Betterment? What do I mean by this? I’m not entirely sure. But it may have to do with a desire to make a shift in how I live my life. For me, this is learning to set better boundaries on my workload, examining my friendships and social connections, rethinking my role at church. These may seem minor, but sometimes major change happens when we finally say no more of this. In the depth of my being, what is truly important?
Another dear minister I know spoke recently of the spiritual practice of relinquishment. Perhaps it is this concept that challenges me the most. What will I relinquish for the betterment of myself, for my community, and for the world? Of course, they are all inextricably linked. If I consider this question with deep honesty and integrity, particularly pertaining to my privilege, I know there will be moments of grief. And the hard-core reckoning that comes with the internal work of self. I will have to face the sometimes jarringly real imperfection within…a spiritual exercise that is both brutal and crucial.
Where to start on this quest for renewal and learning? When I have hit the bottom in the past or found myself in turmoil, I return to the base level.
My step one (and then some) as we re-emerge:
- Start at the beginning, the bare basics.
- Remember who I am, my faith, my humility….Dear God, help.
- Practice simple acts of prayer – in the silence, I seek God’s presence.
- Feel the breeze or gusty winds, swim in the cold clear water, listen to the brook, feel my way back into existence.
- Look closely at self and begin honest reflection, seek a new way of being that frees not just myself, but liberates others. Relinquish privilege and power with the help of God.
- Like myself again
- Experience and practice gratitude
- Share love
- Find belonging and re-connection on my own terms
It is in the dirt and mud of our human journeys, where we are met and nurtured by God. God meets us in the darkness and this extraordinary act of grace propels us into a new future, whatever that is.
What gets you there my friends? You who are rooted and eternally established in love. What deep spaces and places lead you to transformational growth? What keeps you in the game? What helps you regain your footing and balance? So that you might rise, and return to a changed landscape, feeling the strength and power of God’s deep love.
Jennifer Stuart is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. She serves as a community minister at First Church in Cambridge, MA, UCC. Jennifer, a clinical social worker specializing in psychological trauma, is a psychotherapist at the Danielsen Institute at Boston University.