WorshipWeb: Braver/Wiser: A Weekly Message of Courage and Compassion

Love in This Very Moment

By Sarah Pirtle

“It is essential to allow yourself to know what you know, instead of driving yourself to be”
—Grandmother Rita Pitka Blumenstein, Yup’ik Elder and first certified traditional doctor in Alaska

I washed my hands carefully before entering the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit where my newborn son fought for his life. He weighed only two pounds and was born three months early. I kept vigil by spending the whole day alongside him. He rested inside an isolette but I could extend my arms and contact him through two small holes. When I arrived and paused to wash my hands, I used that moment to pray and notice I was entering sacred ground.

An infant, lying on a bed and swaddled in a blanket, has their hand held by an adult. Their hands and part of their torso are all we see.

Machines whirred and brought air through tubes. The first day I'd watched parents trying to stroke their child's arm through the opening. It was too much. The baby flared in self-protection, and they felt pushed away. How could I do this differently?

As I extended my hands into his isolate, I sensed what kind of touch he could receive. It changed from moment to moment. Could I cradle his head? Or was that too much. Could I offer a pinky finger for him to grip? Would it be helpful to scoop my hand and gently cup his feet? That kept his legs flexed. Some days any touch at all felt invasive so I listened closely to what he needed.

There was a phrase that I repeated to orient me: “What will say love to you today?”

One night he developed a raging infection. In grief, I waited for a new strong medicine to arrive at the hospital by truck from the airport. Standing helpless, I asked what would say love. Right then it meant to stay by his side late into the night. I spoke to him through the glass, “If you can, please choose to stay here. The medicine is coming soon.” He swiveled his head, and our eyes met.

That was back in 1984. Today he's a strong man in his thirties. Throughout his childhood, and still today, that same phrase travels with us. I've used it as a compass when I want to come through with real support—when he was a toddler in tears, during rocky times, even bringing him to college. It also comes up now in day to day living. If we're preparing to take a walk because there's something pressing on his mind, I want to get the right balance of listening while giving space. So I ask inwardly beforehand, "What will say love to you today?"


Spirit of Life, with my breath connect me to the Heart of the World and back to this very moment. Help my actions speak love. Self, what is the kindest thing you could hear at this moment? Dear ones close at hand, love is intended from my heart to yours. Dear world, how does love right now move me to action?

About the Author

Sarah Pirtle

Sarah Pirtle (she/her/hers) is a lifelong UU who grew up in the Beacon Church in Summit, NJ. She is a member of CLF, the Church of the Larger Fellowship, and for over forty years has been a guest minister at UU churches in eleven states. Her songs for children such as “My Roots Go Down” became...


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