Sunday, September 5, 2021

Renewal and Rebirth


The title for the August 22nd message that I wrote back in July for the August Newsletter was “Renewal and Rebirth:  After the Pandemic.”  Of course, at the time, we really thought that this would be “after the Pandemic.”  But someone failed to send a memo to Miss Delta.  And she’s come roaring in, taking advantage of regions with high vaccine resistors, and bringing all our post pandemic messages, celebrations, and now our in-person services to a halt.

So, I deleted the “after the pandemic part.”  This message is simply entitled, “Renewal and Rebirth.”

Has anyone ever asked you, “Are you born again?”  What has been your response? Mine has changed through the years.  I walked down the aisle of the Baptist church during a revival when I was nine years old, shook the pastor’s hand, told him I was ready to be saved and born again, and had the experience of being dunked under the water and brought back up as a representation of my rebirth.  As an adult, I was more likely to question “what in the world people meant by that” – and to question my own self as to whether I could give a positive response to that question.  Now as a Unitarian Universalist, I respond with a joyful YES, I’ve been born again, ….and again, and again, and again.  I am still Jane – but I’m not the same person I was at 9, or 29, or even 59.  Sometimes the changes have been gradual, and sometimes they have been through some enlightenment I received through my reading or dreaming or by the grace of lived experiences, including losing loved ones and welcoming new life.   And along the way, my faith has been subdued, and renewed, realigned, and refined.  I imagine that many of you have had similar experiences.

Now we know that we don’t have the same bodies we had when we were children or younger adults.  Did you know that the body's cells largely replace themselves every 7 to 10 years? In other words, old cells mostly die and are replaced by new ones during this time span. The cell renewal process happens more quickly in certain parts of the body, but head-to-toe rejuvenation can take up to a decade or so.

You may wonder why if we have this renewal, some of us are getting old.  Well, we’re all getting old if we live long enough – it’s just that some of us are ahead in that game.  But that cell renewal slows down as you get older.  That renewal button doesn’t get pushed as often.  And I’ve got some places in my body that I think have forgotten how to renew. 

I haven’t found that to be the case for my psyche, though.  The person I am continues to change.  And how does that happen?  Our body changes are affected by what we eat.  When I was a child, I used to love reading the poems in my Childcraft book.  One of my favorites was the one you heard earlier in the service by Poet Walter de la Mare about Miss T.  The lines at the beginning and end remind us that “Whatever Miss T eats, turns into Miss T.” 

 And whatever Jane eats turns into Jane – and makes Jane a Healthy Jane or an Unhealthy Jane.

 I think the same is true of our psyches and souls.  What we take in, stimulates a new model of ourselves.  We are renewed – and some may say reborn. 

 I’ve shared with you all before that my old high school classmates sometimes ask me what happened to me – to make me so different (and some have even said weird) – and I just say, “I read.”  

 I’ve wondered recently how our experiences with this pandemic have affected who we are.  Are you different in any way that you were before?

 I asked my Facebook friends to help me with my sermon by responding to that question and got quite an array of responses.  I’ll read some excerpts of some of the responses to you. And I’d like for you to see if some of these reflect your own changes in who you have become– or not.

 One Said:

Spending so much time at home has been trying, but it's been a chance to go into a safe cocoon and do a lot of healing like a caterpillar morphing gradually into a butterfly. It has been a lot of becoming.

 Another wrote:

It's been a liminal space for me - a time of reconsidering and evaluating and preparing (and hanging out with the fur babies). I'm getting ready to walk into the classroom next week with no mask mandate and with no vaccine requirement for students (or faculty/staff) and I'm trying to do this without it being from a place of fear. I AM different, though. I have learned more about personal boundaries - when to set them, when to take them down; I have become more centered; I have become more observant (I think); and I've also realized how much time I waste doing some things when I could be doing more productive things (Ohhh, FB..... lol).

 Another response was:

I’m Less extroverted. I’m less in shape. My concentration and attention span are both greatly reduced.

And here’s one more that’s more positive:

he pandemic reaffirmed the connectedness of all people. I now feel more responsibility in being a good citizen.

Someone who had a tough battle with COVID responded:

Well before I had Covid-19 with Pneumonia, I was going through the stages of life, get up, go to work, pay rent and go back to sleep. But now I see life a little bit better. I no longer think that life is short. I think of it as an adventure, and just because I'm not where I want to be yet, I’m at a better place then I was before. I always told myself that the best years of my life are coming soon and yes, they are. But like the song goes "You know you have to go through hell before you get to heaven." And that is because you appreciate the rewards that you are given.

Another shared what they had learned:

The pandemic has taught me the importance of being "the change." If I want to live in a less chaotic and harsh world, I need to focus on showing kindness and empathy to all.

Another learner said:

I learned to cook so many new things! I changed my diet and lost weight and have been staying at home with my kids. My spiritual practice has been to make a home and to learn to be patient as I manage my second son's early intervention therapies.

Here’s another honest reaction:

I’ve lost much of my belief in people innately caring for one another. The selfish responses to protecting others by wearing masks, getting vaccinated or even simply distancing has made a strong impact on how I view the community and country.

One of our members shared:

I wonder if my parents would have been able move out of their home of 40 years were it not for the gripping impact of the pandemic on the economy. The lowered interest rates on loans seemed to be an economic impetus for the community of folks edging to make the move to the next chapter in their lives.

 Another shared:

There is no more "normal" in my life. I'm so thrilled that I made it through one more e admitted:

I'm pissed a lot of the time. Does that count? It's not what I think of as good sermon content, but there it is.  (This comment got more likes than any others)

 My colleague David Messner wrote:

I see beauty in the smallest places, kindness is now the main touchstone of my practice. My sense of joy and power of creativity have just opened up!

      Then replied -- No not really, I am cranky, achy, and exhausted.

 A 55-year-old said:

I am more in touch with the possibility of my mortality. Hearing and knowing of others my age or younger losing their lives because of the ugly attack of covid on their body is terrifying…. This heightened awareness of immortality has caused me a great deal of anxiety and increased depression. So, for me, the pandemic has caused this 55-year-old human a great deal of personal turmoil.

 Another shared:

I am so very tired from the anxiety and isolation…

Children in daycare or school are getting sick, that means they return home. Parents will lose work. There is zero financial back up. I feel the weight and anxiety of the people doing the right thing crushing my bones. And I feel for our medical system.

 And finally – one person summed up what some others were implying.

I’ve Lost faith in humanity. I’m Angry A LOT.

These mixed messages – some brutally honest about their more negative outlooks – are not what I wanted to preach about when I chose the topic of Renewal and Rebirth.  I wanted sunshine and rainbows – not storm clouds and tornados.  But here we are.  And these experiences have affected us and our psyches and souls. 

Maybe that’s a good thing.  In order for birth to take place, there’s usually labor and pain.  As one of my respondents shared, “You might have to go through hell to appreciate heaven.”  But I do think we have to look for the heaven – for the paradise – in our lives, even in difficult times, and work together to bring that more loving, peaceful, healthier world to others.  That’s one reason to come to worship services, to be with others in community who are also working for that beloved community.

When I chose the topic of Renewal and Rebirth – I did not just want to look at our personal journeys, I thought that our “after the pandemic” time might be a great time to think of how we might work to renew our congregation – rebirth it – not just bring it back to the way it was before the pandemic, but to bring back something better because of the pandemic.  And I still have that hope for us, even as we’ve had to move back to online only services.  We don’t have to be back in our building to push our renew buttons for this congregation.  How can we labor now for the birth of something even better?

COVID-19 has highlighted the interdependence of all people and the natural world. The pandemic's disruption presents an opportunity to rebuild a congregation, a community, indeed, a world in which the whole of society is considered in what we do – not just our tribe or family.  Our seventh principle lifts this up.  We say that we affirm and support Respect for the Interdependent Web of All Existence of Which We Are a Part. 

This pandemic has highlighted that we can’t just do this by singing songs and lighting candles.  I believe we have to have a more radical response.  A Radical Love.  If Unitarian Universalists can’t do this – then I fear for the world.  We must renew our own spirits and the spirit of this congregation – and we may have to do it from a distance from one another, but we can’t wait till we can all gather in the same building. 

Because of the effects of this pandemic and others that will follow – and climate change which already is devastating many places, foreign and domestic terrorism, and the resulting physical and mental health crises that are a result of all these possibilities, we must renew ourselves and encourage one another.

One way we can do this is by recognizing all these crises, while also being intentional about looking for the joy, the beauty, and the love all around us.  It is there.  It is healing.  And just as we must pay attention to the problems, for our own health and that of our congregation, the community, and the world, we must also pay great attention to the goodness, the connections, the love in the world. 

I encourage you to think of three people you will reach out to today and express your appreciation and love for them.  It matters.  It pushes their renewal buttons and yours too.  And we could all use a little renewal. 

There will be other ideas and possibilities we can explore as we go forward.  But just for today – let’s connect, care, and share.  The butterfly will come out of the cocoon, the rainbow will appear after the storm, and we will shout Hallelujah with each renewal and rebirth, again, and again, again.

May it be so!


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