What a unique opportunity we had this last Sunday to experience elements of a Jewish prayer service led by members of our community (Diane & Dave Levy) who were able to offer insight and explanation into the various parts of the service! And then to have Noe Cantu share some of his journey as a gay man and his experience of feeling welcomed in our congregation. We are so very fortunate to have people with gifts, experience and expertise who are willing to share them!
During the last couple of weeks of my parental leave, I was invited to do some reflecting on three words: Breathe, Push and Transition. You can watch a clip of a few of my reflections HERE (they begin at minute 4:40). These words were drawn from chapter titles in Valerie Kaur's book "See No Stranger." Now, I have yet to read the book, but I've been listening to Valerie Kaur speak about revolutionary love, and I've been thinking about these three words for myself, especially since they are intimately connected with birthing.
Breath is the grounding of it all -- the most basic activity that connects us to all living things and is itself life. We've talked some about how the Hebrew word ruach means breath, wind and spirit. Breathing is one of the first things babies do after being born (and then they usually let out a good old holler!). Its' something we do without thinking and yet, when we do think about our breath, we find that this is a way to connect with our spirits. After all, many practices of meditation are simply paying attention to the breath. So breath grounds us, sustains us, and connects us.
For me, transition comes next. In birthing, this is the part between the active part of labor and the part when pushing begins, when the birthing REALLY happens. Most people giving birth find that their fear hits them the hardest here in the liminal phase of transition. This seems apt for life in general -- transitions and change frighten us. They come with grief and loss and endings even when we long for whatever will be beginning on the other end of the transition, for whatever will be birthed.
Transitions are hard for communities, for churches. It's hard to move from what we've been to what God is calling us to be. There is often a great deal of fear that accompanies change, and sometimes this fear can actually stop us mid-stride. Sometimes our fear of scarcity or loss, our fear of the uncertainty of what happens on the other side, stops us from going through with the change. Two moments in the Bible that capture transition beautifully are when Jesus is at Lazarus's home and weeping with Lazarus's sisters Mary and Martha (John 11:35). Jesus' weeping comes just before the miracle of Lazarus being raised from the dead. The weeping comes just before resurrection. Another beautiful example of this is when Jesus calls out from the cross: "My God, my God why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46). Again, this is a moment of fear, even terror and utter despair as Jesus is about to die. Again, this moment precedes a death that is required for resurrection.
The final word is "Push." And for me, the pushing is the act of birthing. It is the movement from fear and grief into action. It requires courage and trust. For most of us, we cannot move through a transition into the pushing stage without others. We need to know that we are beloved, that we are not alone, that there are powers stronger than us alone that empower us.
As a congregation right now, we are moving towards or through some major transitions. One of them is our embarking into hybrid worship that engages people remotely and in person. Another is our ongoing discernment around Open and Affirming. We are also part of the transition that is happening across the country as we begin to emerge from this pandemic. It brings with it questions about what is most important to us, how we spend our time and resources and who we want to be individually and collectively.
What sustains us through all this? What practices? What activities that we might already be doing that will connect us to our spirits if we do them with more intention and attention? How do we breathe our way through this? What fears are arising in the midst of these transitions and who stands beside us? Where do we find strength and courage to stick with it through the fear? And where do we need to do some pushing? Some hard work that might be painful, that surely will be exhausting, but that also promises new life at the end?
These are the questions that are sitting with me during this season. And I know that my faith and my connections to community will offer wisdom, guidance and strength in this time.