It’s been a hard fall.
We made it through a virtual summer after our very first all-virtual General Assembly last June and here we are already anticipating another all-virtual GA in June of 2021. The election season was both astonishing and surreal. As I write this, many of us are preparing for a very different (quieter, lonelier) Thanksgiving. It’s been a hard fall for so many of us.
Last November, my social media feeds were full of daily gratitudes. This year, instead of counting gratitudes, the lists of losses feel more present. We are missing our loved ones in other states, in assisted care facilities, in self-quarantine. We miss sending kids to the school bus. We miss our routines. Our kids are missing recess, chorus, dance classes, track meets, after school clubs, and school plays. We miss our friends and favorite restaurants. We miss going to movies and barbershops and parades.
I missyou, my fellow faithful UUs across New England. When Covid19 stopped us in our tracks last March, I had been planning nine different congregational visits in four New England states over seven weekends. I missed you then. I miss you now, having come back to work after a sabbatical that was planned long before the pandemic was even imagined. As soon as I returned, I felt lost. I am not sure I know how to do this work anymore.
That is what I told myself. And also what I told one of my New England Region (NER) colleagues as we met over Zoom last week: I don’t know how to do this work anymore. I cannot make sacred space online. I’m the wrong person to lead this conversation. I’m not good at this. I am insufficient. There’s been a terrible mistake; I don’t belong here.
My colleague was generous in her listening, and both kind and clear in her response: this thinking isn’t serving you; it’s not serving our team; it’s not serving our people or the values and mission that I know matter to you.
When our meeting ended, I went downstairs to the bookshelf that held my summer reading, including the book,The Healing Wisdom of Africa, by Malidoma Somé. In it I had underlined these words that also appear in our team’sThe Practices of Spiritual Leadership:
…there are two things that people crave: the full realization of their innate gifts, and to have these gifts approved, acknowledged, and confirmed...
I remembered that our team spent all of 2019 trying to faithfully engage the practice of Centering in Gifts in our shared work. At the staff meeting closest to our birthdays that year, our teammates came prepared to name our gifts and reflect them back to us. I flipped through a couple of old notebooks until I found the one with my notes for our June 2019 staff meeting, the one in which my colleagues focused their attention on naming the gifts they saw in me. I lit my home chalice and re-read the words I heard that day: courage; humility; a tender of heart-stories; willing to say and do hard things, even though they come at a cost.
I don’t share these to boast; because of our practices, I believe the greater sin would be to forget that I have gifts (and so do you!) that the world needs. I share them because I remember now that understanding and claiming my own gifts helps me to know what is mine to do.
I share this because it reminds me of the role—indeed, the unique responsibility—of our spiritual communities: to do what Malidoma Somé reminds us that every person craves. Our congregations and communities of faith are the places where our gifts can be named, affirmed, and received. They are the place we can return to when we forget that we are needed, even now, when so much is so hard. Our spiritual homes are where we are given the privilege of naming the spiritual gifts we see in each other and reminding ourselves to remember our own collective power.
Next Sunday, when you join your congregation’s Zoom worship, I invite you to bring a sense of curiosity as each person’s image pops on the screen.What is that person’s spiritual gift? How have I witnessed her act out of that giftedness? What would they say if I told them I saw their gift? Who might you ask to reflect your own gifts back to you when you feel insufficient?
So much remains out of our control this terrible, hard fall. Let’s not forget that even now we each have gifts that are needed. The better, more just, more loving world we know is possible gets closer when we are willing to claim them, to use them humbly and in service of a greater Love, and when we call one another to the practices that encourage every blessed being to live into their own spiritual leadership.
May it be so.
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