Midweek Faith Lift
October 21, 2020
Finding Joy in the Midst of Turmoil
Rev. Deb Hill-Davis
Last Sunday, the Des Moines Register and the Ames Tribune along with 7 other newspapers across Iowa published the names and one sentence each about the 1400+ Iowans who have died due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The special section also contained stories of a number of everyday Iowans who have been lost in this pandemic. I felt so grateful for that because what has been sorely lacking is a public acknowledgement of our collective grief as a state and as a nation. It is essential to our human spirit that in times like this we take time to mourn, to share in the collective losses and to feel the grief and sorrow of these losses.
Our theme today is about finding joy in the midst of turmoil and so we begin by taking a moment of silence to honor all those who have died from this pandemic. Dear ones, we hold you in our hearts and we pray for your families and loved ones as they continue in this life journey without you. We are so grateful for the gifts you have given to your families, your communities and to all of us and we bless you in your great ongoing. And as your numbers continue to increase in our state and in our country, we also bless and hold you all in love and prayer. Amen.
The issues of grief and loss are a part of the human story, a part of our journey through these times of such significant stress and it is critical to honor this part of our passage. When this all began last March, we had such a strong resolve to work together to “flatten the curve” and stop the spread of the virus. We are in a much different place now in terms of our collective responses. Researchers at Harvard Medical School have identified 4 stages to crisis response: Heroic Stage, Honeymoon Stage, Disillusionment Stage and Fatigue Stage, from an article by Susan Nienabor in Congregational Consulting Group, October 9, 2020. From what the article said, we are in the Fatigue stage at this point.
The best image or metaphor for this is that of being on a long staircase and we really don’t know if we are going up or going down! We don’t even know where we are on that staircase or where it takes us in either direction. Have we hit bottom yet? We really don’t know! We are just on this long staircase and feeling emotionally exhausted and mentally fatigued. We want to cultivate compassion and that mental immunity that we talked about last week, but day- to-day, it seems like a steep climb up and a hard fall down, doesn’t it?
The Dalai Lama speaks of his great grief at losing his dear teacher of many years and that his path out of the grief was to translate his sadness into even more determination to fulfill the wishes and ideals of his teacher. He says it this way
If the one you have lost could see you, and you are determined and full of hope, they would be happy. With the great sadness of the loss, one can live an even more meaningful life. p. 112, The Book of Joy
He also tells the famous Buddhist story of a woman so distraught over the death of her child that she carries the body throughout the land begging for someone to heal the child. The Buddha agrees to help and instructs her to seek mustard seeds for the cure. However, the seeds must come from a house that has not been touched by death. Finding no house like that, she is finally able to let go as she realizes she is not alone, and bury her child.
We cannot find our joy until we are able to move out of our grief and chronic state of fear and outrage. In The Book of Joy, there is a whole chapter entitled “Despair: The World is in Such Turmoil” which was written in 2016 before the pandemic hit in 2019-2020. Archbishop Tutu and the Dalai Lama review all the issues that faced us before our current time and there were many. The references were to 9-11, the Ebola virus, the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, the concern for the effects of climate change and the Paris Climate Accord, world hunger, unbalanced distribution of the world’s wealth as well as political and social oppression and injustice everywhere. And now, in 2020 we can add the global pandemic, overt racism, sexism, and all the other “isms” of this age. Whew! What a mess!
And yet, and yet….both the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu could cite example after example of human courage, bravery, compassion, forgiveness and kindness. These acts of courage, compassion, bravery and kindness happen each and every day, throughout the day with little or no recognition. There is also a Buddhist practice of tonglen, which literally means giving and taking. It is a breathing practice whereby one breathes in and carries the suffering of another and breathes out, sending them ease and peace and forgiveness. It is a powerful, concentrated practice that holds the suffering without taking it on and it builds your compassion muscle.
It is worth noting that neither of these spiritual giants was interested in denying the existence of suffering and evil in the world. But as Archbishop Tutu states on page 120:
We’ve always got to be recognizing that despite the aberrations, the fundamental thing about humanity, about humankind, about people, is that they are good, they were made good, and they really want to be good.
Wow, that is very much in accord with our first Unity Priniciple, isn’t it? There is only One Presence and One Power in the Universe and we are a part of that Presence and Power, a part of that Goodness that is God. But interestingly, the Archbishop did not want to encourage people to espouse optimism but rather to hold fast to hope. Like pessimism, optimism is linked to external circumstances and can be quite superficial. Hope is something much deeper and is anchored in the spiritual power of Faith.
Charles Fillmore anchors the spiritual Power of Faith in the Christian Scripture in the Paul’s letter to the Hebrews:
The Meaning of Faith
11 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (NRSV)
And Archbishop Tutu loves the prophet Jeremiah from the Hebrew Scriptures
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. (NRSV)
So there we have it, faith as our assurance of what we hope for and our conviction of what we have not yet seen. And we have the assurance of the Lord to the Jewish people that theirs is a future with hope. Take heart dear ones for we have the promises of Love to those who walk faithfully in that energy of love.
In this age of what seem like monumental obstacles to joy, we chose hope and faith. As Archbishop Desmund Tutu says, “ To choose hope is to step firmly forward into the howling wind, baring one’s chest to the elements, knowing that, in time, the storm will pass.” Hope requires faith in the persistence of life to find a way. Despair turns us inward and hope sends us into the arms of others. Hope pushes us toward love, out of our own self-absorption into that place of care and compassion for our shared human life. So we choose brave joy, fierce love and active hope with intentional appreciation for each other as we walk this path together.
Another aspect of this journey of faith into hope is the quality of trust. In building energetic and emotional connections with each other, the bridge of trust is a critical element. And there are three aspects to trust, the trust between people that tells us we can count on each other, especially in times of great stress. Then there is trust in Life itself, in that Power of Goodness that holds us all together on this earth. And finally, there is trust in ourselves that we can and will show up in the way that we truly want to be. With that sense of self-trust comes true humility that can admit when we fall short and when we know better, we will do better.
There is a powerful symmetry in life in that our time here on earth in these bodies is limited. We have a birth date and a deadline. When we pause to contemplate that reality, it focuses us quite powerfully on what is here in our awareness in this present moment. In real time, it can move me away from “awful-izing” about what might be, feeling wistful for what was and regretful about what might have been. If we are going to cultivate that deep well of joy, it is going to be in this now moment, in the present moment. It is going to be an energy that is present within each of us that is visible and felt in every now moment, regardless of what else is there.
The Buddhist practice is that of equanimity, evenness of mind that allows whatever is there to just be there. Jesus spoke of the same energy in a different way many different times. He spoke of the lilies of the field, who neither toil nor spin, noting that not even Solomon in all his glory was as beautiful as the lilies. He counseled Martha and Mary, two sisters, one a “doer” and one a “quiet listener” who could just be. He recommended that we be a Mary rather than a Martha, the doer! In the end and at the end what matters is not what we did or didn’t do but the energy of love we brought forth into the world.
In the words of the French philosopher, Albert Camus who witnessed the atrocities of WWII:
"In the midst of hate, I found there was, within me, an invincible love.
In the midst of tears, I found there was, within me, an invincible smile.
In the midst of chaos, I found there was, within me, an invincible calm.
I realized, through it all, that…
In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.
And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back."
French-Algerian philosopher, author, and journalist
May we always, always listen to what pushes back…..it is from the heart, it is love.
Blessings on the Path,