Rev. Fiona Heath presented March 20th, 2022
Two years ago the path of the world on took a sharp turn and descended into a deep valley surrounded by high hills with limited sunlight. Ontario shut down, schools closed, shops shut, traffic stilled, and we all had to learn Zoom.
We stayed inside, scrolling endlessly on our phones, shocked at freezer trucks full of the dead in New York City, horrified by outbreaks in local nursing homes, fearful of this unknown virus.
We celebrated health care workers and waved at our loved ones through the window. We worried – briefly – about toilet paper supplies and began to say “you’re on mute” twenty times a day.
We have been down in the valley ever since, a valley never as narrow as in the first days, in time it began to widen and the sky grew larger and we came out of our homes and enjoyed the company of others.
We took a few deep breaths and then we put on masks and kept them on. We saw cases surge and surge again. The valley deepened as we returned to a shutdown of schools and stores again.
Vaccines brought hope and waiting lists. We got in line for the vaccine, hoping for Pfizer. We got our first shot and then our second shot and breathed a little easier.
The valley widened and the sky grew larger and we came out of our homes and sat on patios and took trips when we could. Traffic came back. We came back.
New variants arose and we got back in line for a booster. We shut down – sort of – and stayed home again – sort of. Most of us kept our masks on.
Two years on, the path seems to be rising out of the valley and back into our familiar landscape.
I am not sure we are at the end yet, but I do hope we are at the beginning of the end.
Some of us can not wait to get out of the valley, longing for open plains and endless possibility, eager to get to all the deferred activity. The valley’s horizon has been too limited, we’ve missed big crowds and new places.
Some of us found we kind of liked valley living. Nestled into home, enjoying a slower pace. We set aside some responsibilities and found our souls expanded with the extra room.
Life got better the less time we spent in cars. We found out just how good tv shows had gotten.
Some of us find ourselves diminished by all the isolation, the time lost, the people lost. Longing for human touch. We are less than what we were.
While we have all been down in the valley together, we have not all had the same pandemic.
We’ve been through it together, but together at a distance, each in our own little zoom screen, so much unseen by the camera.
Each of us has our own story to tell of living in the valley.
For some COVID brought new challenges, learning to be adaptable and flexible to meet ever changing scenarios.
It’s been an exciting time out of time, having to re-imagine how we spend our days. having to do things differently, forced out of our routines. But all these challenges and changes take their toll, the one thing I have heard over and over during the pandemic is that people are tired.
The pandemic has been exhausting, most especially for health care and other front line workers, but for all of us at some level.
As much as we like challenge and change, people also crave routine and habits. Things staying the same creates security, allows us to get comfortable and take things for granted, to direct our energy where we want.
For most of us, the pandemic has brought two years of uncertainty. Like the rain of the past few days, uncertainty sets us on boggy ground, it’s a slog to get through it, every step an effort.
Never knowing if the kids were going to be in-person or at home for school, going months without hugging a friend, anxiously watching the number of hospitalizations, has meant that at times just getting through each boggy, soggy day is a triumph of the will.
And we’ve done it and kept on doing it throughout the last two years.
No wonder we are exhausted – not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually too.
We have found the limits of ourselves – of our principles that we hold so dear. I’ve seen with sorrow that it is easy to be kind when my life is relatively stress free, but so much harder under stress.
I’ve struggled with compassion fatigue, with the effort of being open to understanding people concerned about vaccines, with truly hearing the fears of the protest convoy.
I’ve had my share of “othering” people who refuse to accept facts, who fall prey to manipulation. It’s been easy to dismiss, to disparage, to even hate those who think differently then me.
It’s been a hard lesson for me to learn, to see how easy it is – when I’m tired, scared, uncertain – how easy it is to find someone to blame.
I’ve had to have to work so hard at keeping my heart open, to be respectful while holding boundaries, to channel my anxiety without harm, try and hear the grains of truth in the words of those I oppose.
What are some of the hard truths you’ve learnt these past two years?
We are not the same as we were before the pandemic. We’ve grown and changed because time did not stand still. So as we come back into a society with no restrictions it’s an adjustment, trying to bring our lives back into alignment, figuring out what can stay on Zoom and what needs to be in person, seeing how far ahead we can reliably plan.
We need to let all of our being catch up, Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. Each of us in our own way.
For me, as I wait for my brain to accept the update, I turn to self compassion, letting good enough be good enough, and keeping my focus on the essentials.
Being here helps me, soothing my spirit as the chalice flame flares with the light of all of you. I take strength knowing that this is a vital spiritual community, that our principles, our values matter, possibly more now then ever.
I hope being part of this community helps you too.
It has been hard to have so many losses while being together but apart on Zoom.
The pandemic has cost us a great deal – illness and death, isolation and loneliness, learning the limitations of ourselves. It’s been a long exhausting time and we are still recovering.
But no time is all bleak, these past two years have also brought gifts. good and wonderful things have also happened, with generous kindness appearing all over.
The convoy protests not withstanding, our death rate in Canada from COVID is less than a third of the United States, because we have stayed home, worn masks, and gotten vaccinated.
We did that to take care of one another We chose to look out for the vulnerable. This is a great gift.
There have been many smaller, more personal gifts. Many parents have – mostly – loved the increased time with their children. More people have pets now, enjoying the loving energy of animals.
Some of you have discovered how resilient you are, how well you cope when faced with great change. We all learned Zoom.
I know for me the pandemic has brought some clarity – a sense of what really matters most. There’s been the gift of deeper connection with loved ones. The gift of creativity, born out of necessity.
These are all good spiritual values – clarity, love, creativity. I’m grateful to have them.
I am even grateful to have learned the limits of my compassion, to know now what I need to do to maintain my sense of the inherent worth of all beings.
May you cherish the gifts that have appeared for you.
It is the pandemiversary of our first service on Zoom. It’s fitting that today we have JoAnne here as she was also playing that first service on-line as we arrived fearful and confused to this new way of connecting.
Now we are here in person and on-line, in this new multi-platform world. Sometimes still fearful and confused, but together, caring for one another.
I looked back at that service, when I had no idea what to say, still in shock by the shift into pandemic life. I suggested we use spiritual practices to ground ourselves, that we hold fast to our UU principles, and lean into the light.
As we head into a world altered by the pandemic, facing a war in Europe, these words still fit:
We can stabilize through spiritual practices and living our values.
Look for ways to help,
lift up beauty,
look for the hope.
When it’s dark, lean into the light….
…there [is] grief and suffering, yes.
And it is also spring – a time of life beginning a new, of that irresistible flush of green growth and longer days.
Spring has come again as it has for thousands and thousands of years and will for thousands more.
Life is long and we will find our way through the troubles together.
This chalice community will be here for you.
Let spring enter your heart and carry you into the light.
Tend to your spirit.
Live your UU principles.
Lean in toward the light.
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