“Breathe In, Breathe Out: Riding the Waves of Change”
By Rev. Jenny M. Rankin, Interim Minister
First Universalist Society in Franklin
April 9, 2017
Outside, the world turns
The light comes earlier in the morning
Stays longer at night
The rivers rise
The birds come back
The crocus blooms,
Purple and consoling
Near my back door.
Outside, the world turns–
Chemical weapons, missiles, war and rumors of war
Immigrants rounded up, transgender teens attacked, Supreme Court justice appointed
And in our Unitarian Universalist world, news of resignations and changes at headquarters that keep on coming
You’ve told me you feel distracted–
At work, in the grocery store–
Checking the news on cell phone or tablet
Revving up or numbing out, by turns.
You’ve told me you find your eyes welling up in the car as you drive.
Some of you tell me you feel like you are just keeping your head above water
Just trying to ride the waves.
And so, we return to this sanctuary.
Some of us, week after week.
Some of us, now and again.
We come for many reasons but above all perhaps
As Howard Thurman, the African American theologian and activist once wrote
We come to “center down”
To return to spiritual practice
To return to ancient ways that have been nourishing women and men
in the deep places of their being for centuries
There are all kinds of different practices of course but many of them involve getting quiet
Listening for the still small voice within
Creating space, spaciousness, for the sacred–
Whether for you, it is walking, singing, meditation, prayer, yoga, tai chi, chi gong
Making music or listening to music
Seeking out beauty in the natural world
There are as many spiritual practices as there are people in this room and then many more.
But each one of us,
In our own time,
Finds the practice that suits us best,
Or at least we try to keep on looking.
Each one of us
In our own sometimes stumbling and faltering way
We need them now more than ever, don’t we
As headlines rain down
Whether today we come here,
feeling buffeted by the outside world
Or by events in our own lives
Or by the meanderings of our own “monkey minds”
Or a bit of all 3
However we come here today
Whatever it is we bring in our hearts–
How do we ride the waves
Those waves that just keep coming at us
In this great journey of life?
Unitarian Universalists draw on many sources–Earth-centered, humanism, Judao-Christian. This week is a big one in both Judaism and Christianity. And in both, the idea of “journey” is central. Today, in Christian churches around the world, it is Palm Sunday and people will tell the story of Jesus’ journey into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey to celebrate the Passover feast.
In Judaism, there is a story of a journey as well, the story of Exodus, the journey of the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt and into liberation. The end of one chapter for them and the beginning of another. A great saga of wandering in the wilderness where they would grumble against God and quarrel with one another, experience hunger and thirst and all manner of trial and tribulation.
In both Judaism and Christianity, all around the world today, the metaphor of the journey is front and central. I was thinking about that this week, and thinking about you.—You are a community in the midst of a journey, of course, this journey from partnership with one settled minister to another.
As an interim minister, it’s part of my job to observe communities that are moving through a transition. Not just to observe, but to accompany, to try and be a kind of guide. To try and lift up what I see, to encourage you—the people—to get curious and look around at your community and lift up what you see as you go through this time.
And so, this week I turned back to a book that has become a kind of classic on this subject. It’s by William Bridges and it’s on transition. Bridges wrote the first edition of his book when he was around 40 and to his astonishment, it became a best seller. Thirty years later, at age 70, he put out a new edition. He says he looks at things a bit differently at 70 than he did at 40 and he’s tried to put some of that perspective in the new version.
His book is called “Transitions Making Sense of Life’s Changes,” with a subtitle, “Strategies for Coping with the Difficult, Painful, and Confusing Times in Your Life.” It’s an unusual title, not super upbeat. But it tells it like it is and maybe that’s why people are still buying it, still reading it.
One of his main points is pretty straightforward:
“We need to remember, he says, that all transitions…
Big and small…
Have a beginning, a middle (neutral zone) and an ending….
We need to pay attention to each one.
Trying to skip over any one of these can get us into trouble.
Let’s take the beginning phase of a transition. Every beginning phase has an “ending” buried somewhere in it, even if it’s hard to see. It involves a letting go of what came before. Now if the transition involves loss, the death of someone we love, divorce, losing a job.–Some event which is sad or unfortunate, we’re more in touch with what it is we are letting go of.
But think of a transition that’s more positive—the birth of a baby, a promotion at work, moving to a bigger house.—There’s still a letting go.
Bridges tells the story about a new mother who came to one of his groups on transition. She was feeling disoriented, and can’t account for why she feels so “at sea.”
Bridges asked her what the “ending” was–
She couldn’t answer. “There’s no ending,” she said. “I have a new baby, everything’s good, I should be happy.” But as she and the group kept talking, she found herself talking about the “old life” she’d had with her husband. Time alone, travel, hobbies. All of that was now gone, she realized. There was an “ending,” even in a happy life event like the birth of a new child. There was a “letting go” that needed to happen. …Before she could move forward.
We need to attend to each phase of the transition carefully. The beginning. What is the ending we need to mark? What do we need to let go of? Letting go can be terribly hard.
In my family, my birth mother died soon after I was born It was a terrible thing for my dad. He remarried after a couple of years and went on to have a long happy marriage with my mother. But growing up, there were no photos of my birth mother in our house. –Her name was never mentioned.–It was kind of taboo. It was hard for my family to acknowledge and name the “ending” that had happened.
And so in some ways, it made it difficult to move through the transition. Grief that is not acknowledged, not expressed, can get complicated and can be more long-lasting as a result.
The Middle Part
Then there is the middle part of the transition. Bridges calls this “the neutral zone.” Often, people are tempted to move through this phase quickly. Because there is discomfort, anxiety, in transition and they just want to get through it.
We want to DO, GO, lots of activity and bustle and noise. We want to move fast but Bridges says we need to do the opposite. We need to be like a child at a school cross walk. “Stop, look and listen” are the watch words.
Be curious. Look around you. See what you discover in the neutral zone. About yourself. About what you love. What you don’t love. It’s a time to take inventory. A time to explore. A time to learn. Maybe a time to let go of some things we used to do and take up some new things.
This is true for an individual, it’s true for a community. So I wonder, as you think about yourself as a community, where are you in this transition? Still in the beginning part of it? Still trying to come to terms with the “ending,” that is embedded in the beginning of every transition? With letting go, of Carol and that chapter of your life as a community?
Have you been able to adequately name that part of the journey, let go and move on? Have you been able to grieve as you need to or is the grief complicated? Or are you in the the middle part of the transition? That wonderful neutal zone, that fallow time, when you try not to act too much or too quickly but simply try to “stop, look and listen.”
Seeing what bubbles up, what you turn to naturally,
See where the new learning and creativity might lead you …
See where alertness and curiosity and open-heartedness might beckon.
I don’t know where you are along the road of this transition.
Only you can really answer that question and given the fact you are all Unitarian Universalists, I bet there’s a 100 different opinions on that! But it’s OK, you are on a journey, you are moving through it.
You are showing up. You are engaged. You’ve been generous in your pledge campaign. You’re putting in nominations for the search committee. You’re showing up for worship, choir, classes, pancake breakfasts and more!
Thank you for being here
For bringing your body here, your spirit here
Your presence here, your spirit, your ideas — they really matter.
Your ideas about this community, its unique identity, your vision for its future—all of that matters.
Stop, look and listen.
In the springtime,
In the town where I live,
The rivers rise.
Some years, they rise a little.
Other years, they rise a lot.
This familiar landscape—
Where I drive my kids to school, buy my groceries, walk my dog
This familiar landscape is changed, almost overnight.
I go to walk my dog in a field near my house
It’s a lovely great stretch of land
Wide sky over head
I go to walk my dog in the field,
Past ground that is muddy and wet now but in a few months will yield green and corn
I head towards the path that leads down to the river
But when I get there, I see there is no path
The river has come up so far it has completely flooded the path.
The field is now a lake.
Still, I slog onwards
Wading through water
We find a higher path and make our way down to the familiar spot by the river’s edge, as close as we can.
Everything looks different.
There is water where yesterday there was land.
I see great fat tree trunks, up to their middle in water,
Geese and ducks squawking,
Water flowing fast.
It is beautiful on a spring-time evening
Beautiful and a little strange …
All familiar and yet all utterly new.
I wonder if sometimes when we are walking through a transition in our lives it can feel a little bit the same way. All is familiar and yet all is new, changed utterly.
For you here, the parking lot is the same, the sanctuary. There are familiar faces, and yet it is all different because Carol is not up front here as she was for so many years. Things are the same but they are also utterly changed.
The waves of life come and go
Sometimes calmer, sometimes rougher
They come at us, one rolling breaker at a time.
We swim on,
And we come here,
To this sanctiuary
We come here to find strength
To remember that we are not alone on this great journey of life
Though sometimes it can feel that way.
“Center down” say the Quakers.
“Breathe in,” say the Buddhists.
“Pray,” say the Muslims, turning their prayer mats and bodies in the direction of Mecca.
Breathe in and out,
ride the waves,
Be not afraid.
Blessed be, Jenny