Looking Glass World
Presented on August 23, 2020 on Zoom Rev. Fiona Heath
Summer for many of us is traditionally a time of vacations and family trips, patio drinks and exploring the city. A time to enjoy the beautiful weather and spend time with friends. And this year has been no different.
Sort of. Kind of.
The patios came back a few weeks ago. Cottages and campsites have been busy. We can even go to the movies again.
But it isn’t normal normal, is it?
Not with masks and endless squirts of hand sanitizer. Not with standing on the circle six feet apart and following the arrows. And all the plexiglass barriers keeping us separate.
It’s all a bit like climbing through Alice’s looking-glass and ending up in a world that is mostly like our own but just enough different to keep us off kilter.
Can we hug our friends? Who is in our social bubble? How do I calculate the risk of illness?
These can be hard decisions to make, and we all have different ideas about how much risk we are willing to take. So then we have to negotiate those differences too.
It’s tiring to be in unmapped territory. Everything takes longer in this strange new world.
I know that I did not accomplish the exercise program I had in mind for the summer!
And the garden was created slowly and far later then planned – I may have fresh tomatoes in October if the weather holds.
Nor have I even once baked a loaf of sourdough bread.
When you are in uncharted territory, it’s natural to be disoriented. To be off our game, to do less but it feels like so much more.
I am getting used to the looking glass world – there is always a cloth mask or two in my purse and hand sanitizer in the car – but it’s exhausting.
And deep down it still feels strange and wrong and isolating. Anxiety and grief are always near by.
I want to go back to normal.
And I have had glimpses of the old normal over the summer, having been fortunate to be gifted a week at a cottage with family and friends. Socializing with a small group in person was wonderful and felt so good after so much isolation.
Waking up to sun shining on the water, surrounded by trees was a balm for my spirit.
Of all our sources, you will not be surprised to know that the sixth source is the one I turn to most often for solace.
Not just the teachings of earth-centred traditions but the experience of living within the rhythms of nature helps me come back to me – restores me to myself.
Wendell Berry’s poem, The Peace of Wild Things, explains it best.
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light.
For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Sitting beside water, under green trees, listening to the wind and the insects and loons calling, I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Life waits with its light – life is still beautiful, still a gift, and still all around us going on as it has through out all time, hundreds of thousands of years.
I needed to experience that ineffable connection with the living earth – a reminder that the looking glass world has shifted our social norms but has not changed everything.
The grace of the world is still present.
My hope for all of you is that you find a place or a time or experience which replenishes your spirit – bringing you peace or whatever it is you need most.
Unitarian Universalism has six sources to strengthen the spirit – this may be through embodied experience, or engaging your intellectual or connecting emotionally.
Find which source and which mode of transmission works for you right now.
It might be grounding yourself in the rhythms of nature or direct transcendent experience of the mystery. Or maybe it is the humanist source of science and reason or engaging with prophetic people seeking justice. Or the global ancient wisdom from all religions, or our judeo-christian ancestry of love which replenishes your spirit.
Which source offers you grace? Where do you find hope? What reminds you that life is still good and filled with possibilities?
I encourage you to spend time during these end days of summer engaging with the source which best nourishes your spirit.
We will need spiritual sustenance in the year to come.
The challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic is that the way out is not yet visible.
Without a confirmed vaccine, and on-going surges in cases as economies re-open means that masks and social distance and virtual life are here to stay.
It may take another year or two for the pandemic to play out completely. The Spanish Flu pandemic of a century ago took two years.
We have all been dragged through the looking glass and that glass has shattered behind us. We are living in the looking glass world for the months to come.
As Unitarian Universalists we heed the science, we hear the truth, however unpalatable it is.
And that’s a hard truth – that we are stuck in this shifting strange looking glass world for the time being.
But facing that truth means we know what we don’t know – when this will be over – and we know what we do know – that our precautions are working –and begin from the firm foundation of truth.
COVID-19 is a global pandemic.
While we have contained it successfully for the moment, other places are struggling and the global death toll has reached 800,000 – the population of our city has died from COVID in the past six months.
That’s huge and hard. It could have been us.
We are lucky with the precautions taken, with the strength of our health care system, the dedication of front line workers.
But we don’t know what the fall will bring. A surge of cases or no surge. Children will go back to school or not or some of the time or mostly on-line.
People will try to work on-line or going back to the office some of the time or all of the time or none of the time.
Those in nursing and retirement homes may get more freedoms or go back under lockdown.
We just don’t know yet and that’s tough, especially for middle class people of privilege. We usually have control of our lives and get to plan our future, living in predictable and steady ways.
Not knowing what comes next is hard – and can be overwhelming. Even more so in this strange looking glass land of almost normal but not.
But as Kathleen spoke about in the story an unpredictable future is one that can be shaped by us. As we learn to accept the weirdness of the looking glass land, we can look for opportunities to do new things – just look at how quickly we all become Zoom pros.
It’s a time where we can explore and do things differently.
Any crisis can be an opportunity if we can keep our spirits strong and manage our feelings. That can be a challenge as it is easy to get overwhelmed with all the unknowns, with the health risks, with the weight of it all.
Writer Anne Lamott tells a story about her ten year old brother who has had three months to write a report for school on birds but like many kids, has left it to the last night to write.
Her brother sits at the kitchen table surrounded by paper and pencils and big unopened books about birds, immobile and overwhelmed, close to tears.
The task is too big.
Anne’s father sits beside his son, puts his arm around the boy’s shoulder and says “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” (Lamott, A. Bird by Bird, pg 19).
It’s good advice. Bird by bird.
As we face this unknown fall with maybe school and maybe more opening up and maybe more closures and maybe maybe maybe – take it bird by bird.
And know that we are taking it bird by bird together.
Anne’s brother wasn’t alone in his struggle to finish his report. It was his work to do, but his family stayed with him as he did the work.
And you are not alone. If you need help, reach out. If you are in despair, reach out.
Reach out to your family and friends. Reach out to one another. Reach out to me.
If you are mostly doing well, mostly adjusted to looking glass land, be generous and check on friends and family and neighbours.
None of know what the fall will bring. Some of it will be good and some of it will be difficult.
As we keep our spirits strong and care for our feelings, we will face it together and bird by bird, step by step, find our way through.
So Say We All.