During our worship service on Sunday, May 17, we experienced technical difficulties due to a worldwide Zoom outage. As a result, the service failed to record on video. Below is the text of Rev. Mandy's sermon and the reading from the service.
This is the original work of the Reverend Mandy Beal (firstname.lastname@example.org), unless otherwise attributed.
As the months and weeks of the COVID pandemic wear on, I’ve realized something about myself. I’ve been saying that we’re in this for the long haul, but I’m not sure I ever really believed it. I’ve been telling myself that I know this isn’t a snow day. I’ve been talking about creating schedules and a sense of normalcy, some of you might recall I once suggested wearing shoes around the house. I’ve explored my grief and processed my anger, sorrow, and resentment. I’m realizing, now, that I’ve used every tool in my toolbox for working through discomfort. But I’ve found it lacking. What I’ve come to realize is the reason that I’m out of tools, but not feeling any better, is that I’m using the wrong tools. What I’m dealing with now isn’t discomfort, it’s pain. And I don’t think I’m alone in that. When I was really into yoga, we talked a lot about the difference between pain and discomfort. I was taught that we push into our discomfort and we back off from pain. The difference is the ability to breathe. In discomfort, we can still breathe smoothly and naturally, but pain causes a ragged or halting breath. And that litmus test is considered accurate for physical and spiritual experiences in a yoga practice. So, if I could breathe smoothly and slowly, I would continue in a pose. And if I couldn’t breathe normally, I would back out. Except not always because I’m stubborn and I knew it was going to be over in just a little bit if I could just hang in there. I don’t recommend doing that, in fact, please don’t do that. I’ve realized that during the past two months of staying home, saturated in stress and bad news, completely overwhelmed by everything, I’m not as OK as I thought I was. I’m not in discomfort, I’m in pain. And this isn’t a short-lived yoga pose where I can pretend I’m doing better than I am. I can’t feel like this throughout this whole thing, so I need to adjust to a more sustainable posture that supports me rather than what I’ve been doing, which is damaging me. A lot of us keep calling this an extraordinary time. And it is. But it isn’t. Can we really call something that’s gone on this long and could labor on for months, or more, extraordinary any more? When does something pass from extraordinary to ordinary? And what’s so extraordinary about it, anyway? Sure, we’re facing some new challenges, but what we’re struggling with the most was already here. Economic and medical disparity, a crumbling infrastructure, fragile supply systems, internet filter bubbles, elected leaders that use a crisis for personal and political gain. These were already here and the pandemic has magnified them. And on a personal scale, the challenges to our coping skills are also magnified. I’ve come to realize that I’ve been thinking in terms of “when we’re back to normal” way more than I should. The unknown future has always been hard for me, and through the magnifying lens of the pandemic, that discomfort with that has become pain. There’s nothing new here, it’s just 100 times bigger than it was. This time is not extraordinary so much as it is incredibly hard and upsetting. What I’ve come to realize is that thinking of this experience as a time out of time, an era that has a beginning and a presumed end, has kept me from coming to terms with life as it is now. I don’t mean to sound fatalistic or like there’s nothing that can be done. What I’m saying is that living like this isn’t supposed to be happening is preventing me from really living while it is happening. I’ve been missing out on the simple and profound things of everyday life. Steven, Abha, and I have been talking for a few weeks about shifting our focus from COVID to anything else because life is still happening. We don’t want to be singularly focused on COVID. And yet, I can’t seem to turn that corner, and here we are again. I hope this is the service that gets me around the bend and on to other things. And here’s why. I think I’ve been missing out. There are other things in life than COVID and quarantine. We can’t pretend that our current circumstances don’t exist. Good church happens in the context of current events. But good church isn’t only the news of the day. We’re here to process the news of the day through the lens of Unitarian Universalism. We call our lives holy. And that means we value our lived experience, which is vast and kaleidoscopic. And in my attempt to emotionally manage and push myself through the pandemic, rather than experience it, I have missed the fullness and complexity of life during this time. It’s a bit of a paradox to consider the fullness of a life in a world made smaller. We’ve touched on this some in previous weeks, but I still don’t think I’ve hit quite the right note here, and it’s been gnawing at me. A few weeks ago in the weekly “Coffee with the Minister” meeting, it clicked for me. Sookie Darlington, long time BUCer, was talking about her experience with cancer and the many plans that she has for her life, all juxtaposed with the pandemic. I thought of Mary Oliver’s “one wild and precious life.” As I was turning this over in my mind, Sookie said “time’s a-wastin'.’” Sometimes a person says something and something inside of you shifts, and you know you’ll remember it for the rest of your life. It was a profound moment for such a regularly used phrase. Her point was that she has things to do and she’s going to figure out how to do them within the context of our reality, rather than wait for things to change. We can’t limit the fullness of our lives because there are limitations on our activities. Please hear me - I’m not telling you to ignore the advice of the CDC or the restrictions from our state and local governments. Stay at home, be safe, wear a mask, wash your hands, all of that. But the restrictions on what we can do and where we can go does not equal shutting down our hearts or walling off our souls. We have to be serious about following precautions and limiting our activities. And we’re afraid, of course we’re afraid and sad and frustrated and all the rest. But, we can’t put our lives on hold until things are different. This is the way things are. We only have this moment. We know what the limitations are, and now we have to figure out how to live life all the way within those limitations. My thoughts on this have really deepened in the past few days. There was an announcement from UUA president Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray on Thursday that just shook me. For those of you that didn’t see it, UU churches have been advised not to gather for onsite worship services until May of 2021. A year from now. It hit me, and I imagine a lot of you, like a ton of bricks. I’ve been taking a wait and see approach, planning to decide on a quarterly basis, but I’ve been increasingly suspicious that it would be a year from now before we are together again. But seeing that recommendation in black and white, from someone I truly trust and admire, was a lot to absorb. It felt different. More concrete. This isn’t something extraordinary, an anomaly, or a blip on the timeline. This is our reality. It’s real, like really real. A year is a long time, two months is a long time. I can’t afford to put off living my life any longer; I have to figure out how to life in the fullness and sacredness of life as it is, restrictions and all. Because time’s a-wastin'. Our reading this morning reminded us that if we opt out of any part of life, we miss the opportunity to know the fullness of the Universe. If we don’t learn how to live our lives right here, right now, we will miss so much. This is the life we have, whether or not we want it to be this way, this is what we’ve got. Again, referring to our reading, these days are as grace-given as any others. We are always on borrowed time and it’s up to us to do something with that, constricted and sad and overwhelmed as we might be. If we’re going to unlock these hearts, we have to give in to the world as it is and not try to force it to be what we wanted. This is not a mere shard of the life we were meant to have; this is it. This perfect imperfection is life in its totality. There is beauty and grace all around us, still and always. This time isn’t “wrong” or “extraordinary” or “not the way it’s supposed to be.” Time has no moral valence. This is the time that we have. Bidden or unbidden, this is the sacred moment that has been dealt to us. It’s up to us to spend it in a way that is meaningful and fulfilling. This is it, this is all we have and resisting this reality, or only focusing on one aspect of this reality, will keep us from living our lives as fully and as well as we can. It’s time to consider, truly consider, the fullness of life and all that is available to us, right here, right now. I don’t want to miss another moment of my life because I’m waiting for it to start again when the time is right. There is no right time or better time or time when things are normal again. There’s only now. And putting off our lives for another day never led to anything good. We’re not visitors here, we live here. And one day, we’ll live somewhere else, but for now, we live here. Let’s make the most of it.
"If We Do Not Venture Out" By Marni Harmony If, on a starlit night, with the moon brightly shimmering, we stay inside and do not venture out, the evening universe remains a part of life we shall not know. If, on a cloudy day, with grayness infusing all and rain dancing rivers in the grass, we stay inside and do not venture out, the stormy, threatening energy of the universe remains a part of life we shall not know. If, on a frosty morning, dreading the chilling air before the sunrise, we stay inside and do not venture out, the awesome cold, quiet, and stillness of the dawn universe remains a part of life we shall not know. If, throughout these grace-given days of ours, surrounded as we are by green life and brown death, hot pink joy and cold gray pain and miracles—always miracles— if we stay inside ourselves and do not venture out then the Fullness of the universe shall be unknown to us and our locked hearts shall never feel the rush of worship.