Opening words from Artist and Vibe Curator Eso Tolson:
I don’t know who needs to hear this but rest is not a reward. You don’t have to earn rest. You need rest. You deserve rest. You are worthy of rest simply because you are a living being. And don’t ever feel guilty for taking time to rest.
As I write this message in mid-November, peering beyond the upcoming National Day of Mourning (alternatively known as “Thanksgiving”) and toward the turn of our calendar into the season of Holy Days (as every season is, really), and pulling up my chair to jot down a thousand or so words to share for the December newsletter (whose deadline is a week earlier this month because of the aforementioned holidays), my phone, laptop, and radio feed me stories that tell me it’s been more than 600 days of quarantine time, and that four of the six New England states remain in the bright red High Risk zone today, the COP 26 conference closed with a less ambitious climate plan, and white tail deer will keep passing Covid-19 back to humans forever.
Really, white tail deer??
If all of that sounds like a jumble of a run-on-sentence, there’s a reason for that, friends. We are 600-something days into the global covid pandemic and this is not where we thought we’d be. Remember when all the people leaned out their windows at dusk and cheered for nurses and doctors on the front line? It’s such a foggy memory now. That was hundreds of days ago. So far away from this current November full of wondering whether we dare attend an in-person feast or not. Will our Christmas pageant be online again this year, or should we dust off the old costumes? Will we light solstice candles in the dark together, passing the flame one to the next, or will we once again see each other’s candles through dozens of tiny zoom boxes?
It’s still taking a toll; we were not made for times like this. We were made to be together, to see each other’s faces, hear each other's voices, feel the press of palm against palm, of arm around shoulders. From our work-from-home desks, my colleagues and I hear how hard it all is in your congregations. We hear stories from your board leaders, and from your staff teams - weary stories of struggle, but also stories of faithful discoveries you are making together.
The poet Muriel Rukeyser wrote, “The universe is made of stories, not of atoms,” and we bear witness to a universe full of your collective stories. Some weeks they zoom past like shooting stars, and I just want to say, Slow down! so I can pay proper attention to each one.
“Tempers are short; people are unhappy meeting virtually / meeting in person”
“What if all three of our congregations just hired the same minister??”
“OWL!!! WE MISSED OWL LAST YEAR!!! SCHEDULE OWL NOWWWWWWW!!!”
Slow down; breathe.
We aren’t where we hoped we would be at this moment. Things are better than they were 600 days ago - not great, not ‘normal,’ - but better.
We are still struggling, a lot of us, but maybe not as much. We aren’t okay, but we are better.
Dark Decembers in New England, with all of our holiday traditions invite us into a season of stories. Let us invite you to actively slow down and pay attention to the stories all around you.
When I need to slow down and listen better, I sometimes remember to lean into one of the practices of Spiritual Leadership. We understand spiritual leadership to be a birthright, something available to each and every one of us. It is the way in which we each navigate between our power and our powerlessness, and something we can deepen and develop with practice.
So when I learn that tempers are short and conflict is cropping up, I lean in to find the stories. What is the root of the conflict, really? On the surface, it may be that Chris wants to meet in person and Dana wants to use Zoom. But really? Dana cares for their housemate, who is taking chemotherapy; and Chris lives alone, hundreds of miles from any family members, and is craving the company of community. As they plan for holiday worship services, how might they lean into their practices of covenant to remember it’s about so much more than just where and how we meet?
When I learn that increasingly our congregations are turning to each other for wisdom, for support, and for ways to collaborate to magnify their ministries, I invite them to slow down and listen for the stories. Collaboration isn’t all about cost sharing and economies of scale. It’s about what has never been possible before the coming together. Invite the stories that exemplify the unique gifts of your people. Attend closely to the stories that center the gifts of your neighbors. What new thing might be possible when those gifts are able to be in conversation together?
I have so much compassion for all of us who want our daily lives to be back to something like ‘normal,’ I hear this in the desires of parents who want their teenagers to receive the gift of the Our Whole Lives curriculum - the need is great; the time feels short. I have such empathy for our religious professionals making tough decisions about gathering safely in person, about the need for (and lack of) trained facilitators, about the readiness for their youth to participate in their full selves. I remember the practice of doing our inner work to recognize the inherent goodness, worth, the inherent somebodiness of each beautiful soul in this story. We may not have power over the timeline, but we can find ways to equip our parents, our youth, our facilitators, and our staff to understand each others’ stories and find a way forward - even if it looks different or takes longer than we might wish.
In the Before Times, December was always one of the most hectic, over-busy months of the church year, with so many claims on our time and other resources. So many expectations. For congregational staff and lay volunteers, so many balls to keep juggling and plates to keep spinning. But the darkened days of New England December can also invite us into a time of Holy Slowly. A time to just be still. To create space for new stories to emerge. For new ways of honoring what matters most in our old traditions.
This month, may you share and receive all manner of stories. Slow-down stories; speed-up stories; neighbor stories; holy stories; ancient stories; surprising stories; how-are-you -- no really, how are you? stories. Find resilience stories among the keep going on stories, because we will keep going on together, rested for our journeys, one holy-slowly step at a time.
Close out this reading with some music:
- Resilient (YouTube, 5min) by Rising Appalachia (YouTube)
- Keep going on song (YouTube, 6min) by the Bengsons (YouTube)
- Watch Goeke/Staton-Marrero perform The Bengsons The Keep Going Song (YouTube)