Finding Resilience for Times Like These

How do we find resilience to counter the daily newsfeed of mass shootings, sexual assaults, political wrangling, and health care and environmental disasters amid a world awash with racism, sexism, bigotry and hatred? What will it take to move us past despair and endless debate to bold action that affirms our Unitarian Universalist Principles? Join our guest, Rev. Karen Scrivo who will help us explore these questions.

Rev. Karen Lee Scrivo is a community minister focusing on justice issues. She received her master of divinity degree from the Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, Calif. in 2015, and completed her ministerial internship working for Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of Maryland. Karen and her husband, Ken Shilling, are members of the Goodloe Memorial Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Bowie, Maryland.

Karen Scrivo photo

 

 

Reading — Hope Rises
(Adapted from Rev. John Buehrens and Rev. Rebecca Ann Parker, Lifting Our Voices: Readings in the Living Tradition, UUA, Boston, 2015)

Hope rises.

It rises from the heart of life, here and
now, beating with joy and sorrow.

Hope longs.

It longs for good to be affirmed, for
justice and love to prevail, for
suffering to be alleviated, and for
life to flourish in peace.

Hope remembers.

It remembers the dreams of those who
have gone before and reaches for
connection with them across
the boundary of death.

Hope acts.

It acts to bless, to protect, and to repair.

 


 

I found myself turning to this reading in the wake of the disturbing news of the past couple of weeks. A period which included:

• The Senate passing a massive tax bill that could end health care for some 13 million families due to a large increase in insurance premiums.

• New revelations about Russian attempts to influence last year’s U.S. presidential election and foreign policy.

• More women coming forward with stories of sexual harassment and abuse by their male bosses.

• A terrorist attack on Sufi mosque in Egypt late last month just as people were gathering for Friday prayers – killing 309 people, 27 of which were children; and injuring 128 other people.

• And on October 1, a man opening fire on a crowd of concert goers in Las Vegas – killing 58 people, injuring 546

Where do we find hope to counter the daily newsfeed of mass shootings, sexual assaults, political wrangling, health care and environmental disasters amid a world awash with racism, sexism, bigotry and hatred? How can we be resilient in times like these? What will help us move past despair and endless discussion to bold action that affirms our Unitarian Universalist Principles?

Hope Rises
It rises from the heart of life, here and
now, beating with joy and sorrow.

Yes — the heart of life – is a good place to start.

I often tell youth working on their personal credos for Coming of Age services to start with that which they give their heart to. When we get in touch with that, we discover the values that shape and guide our lives. We strip down to the bare essentials of our beings. It is only then we can begin to articulate what values and principles guide our lives. And find ways to live with more intention and authenticity.

This is not a “once and done” kind of thing. It is the on-going work of a lifetime since we are ever-evolving beings on a spiritual journey. My own long and winding path has taken me from the Catholic and Protestant Pentecostal churches of my childhood to Unitarian Universalism, seasoned with my experiences of Buddhism, Judaism, Sufism, Hinduism and Earth-Based Spirituality.

As part of that on-going work, I know I must regularly tend to my spiritual garden for it to grow and thrive. For me, this means having a regular spiritual practice. I encourage you to sample some of the many spiritual practices and see what works for you.

I gave up on meditation because sitting in silence for 45 minutes each day didn’t work for me. Fortunately, a teacher introduced me to other forms of meditation such as guided meditation and walking meditation as well as other spiritual practices such as singing, yoga, dancing and coloring mandalas.

Now my daily spiritual practices include 15-minute meditations, reading sacred texts and journaling. I also regularly draw on other practices such as singing, labyrinth walking, dancing, time in nature, coloring mandalas and retreats and pilgrimages to sacred places.

While I had done these sporadically in the past, I noticed a difference in my life and my work when I made spiritual practice a daily part of my life. I am much more centered, grounded and able to better weather the ups and downs of my work. And I feel more connected and in touch with something greater than myself that I call the Spirit of Life and the Holy.

I know my practice has changed over time – and you may find yours does too. What is important is that you prioritize this sacred time with yourself. And if you miss a session or cannot stick to a regular schedule, do what you can in whatever way you can.

Hope Rises in the Here and Now

Being in the here and now. This can be a struggle for me. My monkey mind often jumps ahead to the future or ruminates on the past. Buddhist teachers such as Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh remind us to live happily in the present moment, and sees it as the only way to truly develop peace, both within ourselves and in the world.

A good place to start is by noticing our breath. The simple act of breathing in and out. Many ancient traditions as well as contemporary teachers see focusing on the breath as a way of being truly present and aware in this moment.

In my own life, I’ve noticed that even a couple minutes of mindful breathing can make a difference. Mindfulness gives me more space, helps me acknowledge my feelings and be more comfortable with being in life’s uncomfortable situations.

Our breath can serve as anchor and help us recognize moments of stress and become more aware in the moment. This improves our ability to choose our actions and interrupts the cycle of stress and unhelpful automatic responses.

We can do this in as little as three minutes by:
• First – Checking In — stopping and asking: What is my experience right now?
• Second – Breathing –taking some slow, deep breaths
• Third – Expanding – bringing our awareness to this time & space.

It also helps to be gentle with ourselves and others when it comes to our flaws and mistakes. They too are part of us and can even be used for good.

Hope Rises in Joys and Sorrows

Part of being in the present moment is noticing the joys and sorrows that we are experiencing. It can mean noticing the beauty that surrounds me – a painted sky, a towering tree, birds in flight, the glimpse of a deer, geese landing on a pond, unexpected flowers or my breath on a frosty morning. And being grateful daily for the many blessings in my life even amid life’s disappointments and pain.

It also involves naming and being with the sorrows. Not trying to change things but just being with them. How can we avoid becoming overwhelmed by the hardship, pain and trauma we see daily in our lives and the world?

Laura van Dernoot Lipsky – in her book –Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others – says the first step is acknowledging the effects we may experience as a result of witnessing or experiencing trauma. Repeated exposure to trauma can lead to burnout, compassion fatigue or secondary trauma.

It’s critical – she says — that we evaluate our response to trauma. How it impacts us in the present can directly affect our future and our experiences with others.

Being aware of this is important for what she calls healthy “trauma stewardship.” Our responses are generally natural human responses to witnessing or experiencing traumatic events. But without our awareness, they can lead to – feeling helpless or hopeless, hyper-vigilance, physical ailments, anger, fear, cynicism and numbness.

When we do experience these, how do we find a healing path?

Ms. Lipsky sees spirituality as helping us recognize and better manage the impact of trauma on our lives. This involves loving and taking care of ourselves, being present in the moment, and developing regular spiritual practices. These are what can keep us centered and grounded and sustain us and our work over the long haul.

Hope Longs.

It longs for good to be affirmed, for
justice and love to prevail, for
suffering to be alleviated, and for
life to flourish in peace.

Our Unitarian Universalist Principles call us to build a world of peace, liberty and justice for all. And remind us of the worth and dignity of each person, and that we are all connected to each other and the Earth we share.

As UUA President Susan Frederick-Gray wrote recently in UU World, “As Unitarian Universalists, we are being called to deepen our practice and commitment to the beloved community. This is no time for a casual faith.”

Indeed, this is no time for a casual faith – in the face of today’s heartbreak, fear and anger. And at a time when many individuals and communities are experiencing very real losses – especially those of color, immigrants, trans people, people living with disabilities, children and families facing the loss of health care. Many people continue to deal with losses of homes, businesses and work as a result of hurricanes and other natural disasters caused by climate change.

In times like these, Rev. Frederick-Gray reminds us, we need “strong and healthy religious communities where we can bring our heartbreak and our anger – beloved communities of connection and ritual that help us build resiliency and courage. Strengthening our commitment to our communities,” she says, “builds a foundation for brave and loving ministry and action in this time.”

Hope remembers.

It remembers the dreams of those who
have gone before and reaches for
connection with them across
the boundary of death.

We are not alone in this work. We remember the many past Unitarians and Universalists and other people of faith and good will who struggled for social, political and spiritual change and transformation. Who worked to draw the circle of love wider to include those whose rights have been denied.

We draw inspiration and strength from their shining examples and vow to carry on their work – which is now our work to do. Work that we do not just as individuals or congregations – but work we do in partnership and collaboration with communities most impacted by injustice.

Hope acts.

It acts to bless, to protect, and to repair.

In the end, hope is a verb. It calls us to act. Not throwing up our hands in despair in the face of enormity of the challenges we see. Not hiding behind endless debating and discussing issues. But taking action.

As 19th century Unitarian minister Edward Everett Hale reminds us:

“I am only only one
But still I am one
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything
I will not refuse to do the
something that I can do.”
Find that injustice that calls to you, stirs your soul and find that place where you put your hands and heart to work.

Discover the work already being done by people and organizations that are led by those bearing the brunt of injustices and follow their lead. Find ways to be active and committed partners with these groups for the long haul.

Start somewhere. Discover the one thing you can do. And do it. And keep on doing it. And when you make mistakes – which we all do — apologize, and begin again in love.

May we each find ways to resist and find a community in which to do it with joy, hope, courage and resilience. And may we work to build communities that sustain us and others through the difficulties and heartbreaks as well as bring us joy, love and laughter. And connect us with each other and the Spirit of Life and Love.

Amen – and let the congregation say Amen!

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For Further Reading:

Takiyah Amin, Robin Bartlett, Ranwa Hammany, Paul Rasor, Marilyn Sewell, Pamela Wat, Christopher Walton, Kenney Wiley, “Do You Have to be an Activist to be a Unitarian Universalist,” UU World, Winter 2017
https://www.uuworld.org/articles/activism-unitarian-universalist

Frederick-Gray, Susan, “The Practice of Faith,” UU World, Winter 2017
https://www.uuworld.org/articles/practice-our-faith

Lappé, Frances Moore and Eichen, Adam, Daring Democracy: Igniting Power, meaning and Connection for the America We Want, Beacon Press, Boston, 2017.

Lipsky, Laura van Dernoot, Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco, 2009

Palmer, Parker, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 2014.

 

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