Ours to Hold
Rev. Fiona Heath Presented on Zoom September 19th, 2021
It is good to be all in one place this morning. After our beautiful water ceremony last Sunday I have been sitting with the image of the self nourished by water, filled by tenderness, pouring out help and hope to the world.
And then I read the news and soon find I have sprung a leak and the water is trickling away; the world feels full of out of control fires – literally and metaphorically – and I am out of water.
I only have so much water in my bucket at any one time, if my bucket tips out in too many directions I am empty too soon and the fires continue to smolder. My bucket does drain easily these days – which only frustrates me more – I have been taking a lot of deep breaths this week, to call forth the healing waters.
I’ve taken comfort in holding these questions from United Methodist educator Suzanne Stabile: What’s MINE to do, and what’s NOT mine to do? What’s MINE to say and what’s NOT mine to say? And What’s MINE to care about and what’s NOT mine to care about? From The Corners by Nadia Bolz-Weber, August 17, 2021
The question of what is mine to do reminds me that it’s not all about me, that I don’t have to do it all. What’s mine to say reminds me to be aware of when my opinion is wanted and when it is just me liking the sound of my own voice.
Reading the news I ask myself the final question: What’s MINE to care about? I can only care about so much in any one day.
My bucket drains too quickly if I try to care about everything. Better for me to focus on issues that matter to me and where I have avenues for action. This isn’t say all the fires currently going on aren’t important, all fires should matter to somebody, just that no one person can care about them all.
And the truth is I may even have to choose between the issues I do care about. It’s an on-going discernment.
Most people are carrying a heavier burden these days, making our buckets drain a little faster, and making it more important then ever to make judgements about our time and energy. It’s more then okay to keep your focus limited.
By letting go of the need to respond – or even the need to know – you can give more of the water in your bucket to meaningful issues – you might even help put out a fire.
It’s not just about self care, although it’s good to prioritize what your body or mind or spirit needs to be refreshed. Keeping the bucket full keeps my heart kind.
As my internal bucket drains I also lose my patience, easily finding fault with others, becoming a moral superior. How can other people be so stupid?
This moral superiority attitude is a tricky feeling for me – because I like feeling superior. It feels good – to be smug, secure, sure of my righteousness. Doubt fades away and certainty keeps me strong.
But as UUs we don’t live in a world of certainty and superiority. We’ve chosen the world of entanglement and doubt and many sides.
While at times this is a source of regret – because I am certain I am right about so many many things – most of the time I am glad.
I like the interdependent web much more then any hierarchy of beings with rich white people on top. I like life that is complex and full of nuance that takes time to understand. To be inclusive we have to be mindful. To not “other” anybody.
I was reminded in a conversation with colleagues about vaccine passports that our religion is a religion of dissent, that we have pledged to have an anti-racism lens, that we claim to treat everyone with respect.
It was a good reminder that I don’t know everyone’s stories. Not every person hesitant to get a vaccine is alt-right. People who arrive here as refugees, black and indigenous people all have good reason to distrust authority. Others choose natural health approaches.
I don’t get to judge or dismiss them.
I need to keep my bucket of water replenished and refreshed so that I can hold onto compassion, remember that while I may disagree with someone I can do so with respect. That there are always nuances to understand.
I know this isn’t easy, especially when the conversation are heated. Sometimes we just can’t listen. But I do know that relationships fray when managed with judgement and condemnation. Relationships grow when managed with compassion.
What is mine to do?
What is mine to say?
What is mine to care about?
Answering these helps me keep my bucket filled.
This is where I find myself. Wanting to be good and wanting to be right. To have all the answers and so have control. It’s a particular challenge for religious folks.
I know I can sometimes veer into being a warrior for good, so sure I’m right that I become a blunt force. I don’t always see that I missing the complexity. That my right may not be right for someone else.
Keeping my internal bucket full helps, but that isn’t always possible. No one is well grounded and calm and compassionate ALL the time. Even my loving and contented dog goes into a frenzy when he sees the skunk in the backyard.
We need self care but we also need community care. We need each other to call us back into community, to remember we are entangled and everything is complicated and connected.
Living in an interdependent web means that thinking in patterns of right and wrong is too limited. It’s the wrong approach to life, however appealing it may be.
I really do like being right. But it’s more important that I remember we are all in this together. Community care helps me shift out of my righteous goodness and back into relationship.
That doesn’t mean that decisions can’t be made or actions taken, and difficult conversations spoken, but to do so with care.
Having a community care approach keeps us connected. Community care at its most simple is about being there for one another, being willing to reach out when you see someone struggling. Sending a text or picking up some groceries for an ill neighbour.
Community care is especially important in marginalized groups who may face greater limitations on their access to personal supports.
Our Pathway Breakfast Club team has been practicing community care through out the pandemic. When the morning breakfast for the kids in the apartment building had to be shutdown, the Pathway team offered groceries delivered to the door instead. We also have many UCM folks working with the Compass Food Bank in Port Credit, redistributing resources to those in need.
Some concrete ways to provide community care are so simple: Check in with people – if you haven’t seen a friend in a while, reach out.
Make a specific offer. If you know someone who is having a hard time, don’t just offer to help – name what you can do – drive them to an appointment or take them out for a coffee and walk.
Empathize. We all want to be seen and heard. Empathy is understanding and feeling what someone else is feeling. It’s a way to validate a person. This one takes time and can be challenging when there is difference. https://www.healthline.com/health/when-self-care-becomes-community-care#We-need-community,-too
A core truth of Unitarian Universalism is that community care is as vital as self care: we need both to live well on this interdependent planet. Here at UCM prioritizing community care means that we check in at the start of meetings. As people feel comfortable sharing how they are really feeling – trust builds and we know each other better. It is only a small thing, but it can be invaluable to someone having a bad day – to be able to name it out loud in a circle of care.
I know it can be frustrating for those used to meetings that are ONLY about the work to be done, and can make people feel vulnerable, but check ins help us be a chalice community. As well checking in, helping, and empathy, community care includes affirming one another.
Storyteller Dan Yashinky tells a story about Bernard, a resident at Baycrest Health Sciences in Toronto, who had had a terrible stroke. Bernard could no longer talk or walk but every day he wore a beautiful sweater, thanks to his wife Susan. Susan made sure Bernard was dressed as the handsome, sweet tempered man she knew and told the staff stories of Bernard so that they knew him too.
Sitting together one day, Dan talked about Bernard’s sweaters being banners of love, signalling Susan’s care for her husband. Then another staff member spoke of how wonderful it was to see Susan coming everyday to be with Bernard. Another said the same thing.
Dan asked Susan what it felt like to know that many of the staff had noticed her loving care of Bernard and honoured her for it.
“It feels good”, she said. “Very good.” https://www.storycare.ca/a-story-about-love-and-sweaters/
We all like to be appreciated. Community care includes affirming one another.
This is obvious, simple and difficult to live. We can’t always help each other, we can’t always be present and empathic. We forget to offer praise and appreciation. But perhaps someone else can when we can’t.
We don’t have to do it all ourselves, we can trust that the community holds us all as we are, that others will manage when we can’t.
At UCM we are beginning this fall in a bit of disarray. Over the pandemic lockdown our systems have slipped, key positions are open, and there are gaps.
It’s normal, so many of us are exhausted, we’ve lost dear members who gave us so much,and we are a little disconnected from one another despite our best efforts on zoom. And we are still a healthy and thriving chalice community.
Now that we can spend more time together in person, we are regenerating – good energy is buzzing in several places – we are being intentional about process – new activities are arising. We are doing well and it is all thanks to all of you.
All of you who have kept showing up on Zoom over and over again. All of you taking care of the building and property. All of you taking care of one another and the larger community. All of you keep this chalice community whole.
It is an honour and a privilege to be your minister.
I hope you all feel affirmed in this community.
May we continue to be a community of care – checking in, helping out, offering empathy, and affirming one another.
So Say We All.