A conversation about the interdependence of individual development and the health of a society. What choices can we see as we meet the Times of
UNITARIAN CHURCH SERVICE
10 FEBRUARY 2019
BARBARA A. MEYERS, LICSW
We live within a great circle – a circle of time, a circle of seasons, an ever-expanding circle of community that eventually encompasses all that lives on this planet and then moves to the farthest reaches of the cosmos. I wish to honor the Circle of Life this morning and call in the powers of the East – the place of the sunrise, the home of Spring, the place of inspiration and new beginnings, and the home of eagle. Then I call in the powers of the South – the place of midday, the home of Summer, the place of childhood, the place of innocence and trust, and the home of little mouse. Next I Invite the powers of the West – the place of the sunset, the home of Fall, the place of adolescence, the place of the darkness and looking within, and the home of bear. Lastly, I invite the powers of the North –the place of the night, the home of Winter, the place of adulthood, the place of bringing our gifts into community, the home of the ancestors and those yet to be born, and the home of snowy owl. May this Circle of Life come to hold us in sacred time and space as we gather this morning.
LIGHTING THE CANDLE
I light this candle for all lost in the darkness. May it join with the light of others to offer hope in the face of despair, courage in the face of fear, and love in the face of hate.
WORDS FOR REFLECTION
Civilizations come to birth and proceed to grow by successively responding to successive challenges. They break down and go to pieces if and when a challenge confronts them that they fail to meet. Arnold Toynbee
TIMES OF TROUBLES
These are “Times of Troubles.” When I look around,
- I see leaders who put the childhood egoic “me” before the “we” of adulthood and society;
- I see people choosing to talk only with those with whom they agree thus adding further to an already polarized society;
- I see a willingness to demonize others, be they of a different opinion, a different race, color, religion, and/or gender without any acknowledgement that these “others” merely seek the same privileges we cherish – a sustainable income, a safe environment, and freedom of choice;
- I see real face-to-face conversations replaced by Twitter, Facebook, iPhones, and other technologies all in the service of not showing ourselves and further isolating us from the vulnerability of human relationships;
- I see rampant consumerism without regard to the impact on the environment and the planet as a whole living being;
- I see denial of the scientific research relative to global warming and our actual experiences of rising water, hotter years, more natural disasters and an unwillingness to alter our behaviors;
- I see an ongoing struggle for affordable healthcare for all including parity for mental health.
When I consider these and many other “troubles,” I am having to remind myself that I and you are part of this madness thus share responsibility for not only our own well-being but also for the well-being of our society and the world beyond. Over the history of civilizations there is clear anecdotal evidence of a direct link between individual psychic-emotional development and the health of a society. We have to look no further for this evidence than to ask how a healthy society could have elected our present leader. Unless we are willing to undertake our ongoing growth and development individually, there is no hope that society will be able to deal with the “troubles” confronting us all.
It is all too easy to judge, to blame, and to point the finger when, at heart, the challenge is to turn that pointing finger from the other to the self and ask, “How am I contributing to the “troubles” I see around me?” And to further reflect upon those places in my life in which I have been less than my fully human self? I must be willing to look inside me, to confront my fears, to risk vulnerability, and to be curious about those places in which I hide myself from the truth. This is not easy work and undertaking this journey reflects both one’s willingness to be responsible for the self and responsible to that which is greater than “me”, the “we” of society. If we cannot or choose not to do our individual psychic-emotional work then as a society we will never be able to atone for our actions towards indigenous people here and around the world, or towards women, or the LGBTQ community or anyone else we have sought to make “other.” It is simply not OK for us to be finger pointing. Each of us needs to be curious and committed to confronting our own demons and continuing to grow the self. This is what it means to be a responsible citizen.
Each of us is part of the fabric of the whole. When societies fall apart, it is easy to see the societal schisms and much harder to see the psychological schisms within us and reflected in the loss of creative inspiration, escape into polarities, withdrawal, detachment, cynicism, helplessness, and despair both individually and societally. I ask, “How does that serve the self and how does that serve society?” I wish to offer some alternatives reflecting ways to grow ourselves during “times of troubles.”
- First, keep your soul alive. There is beauty and hope all around us. Take time to be in the natural world and ask it to teach you about what it knows about moving beyond the “times of troubles.” Dare to ask a tree how it survives and what it knows about being part of a community. Its answer might surprise you. Pursue something that pleases you and feeds your soul. Spend time in the presence of children and let their curiosity, their hope and joy, and their willingness to embrace life remind you that these same traits still live within you. Each week I am privileged to work with children and their families. Each week I am lifted by the pure joy these children bring to life despite their circumstances.
- Second, stay true to your moral compass. Allow every experience, whether of the mundane or the sacred, be a teaching of what it means to be human. Let it teach you about both your light and your darkness. Ask yourself, “What will I learn about myself today as I meet here? What will be my successes? Where will I have fallen short and how will I do it differently next time?”
- Three, confront your anxieties and fears for these are merely portals to discovery. They bring us face to face with our foibles – our need to be in control, our greed, our violence to oneself and others. Every day we have the opportunity to risk doing something differently – start small and let it grow.
- Four, trust yourself. Trust is much less about trusting others and more about daring to trust the self to remain centered in one’s truth, to not give one’s power away to others, and to act in ways that respect both the self and others. So often we give ourselves away because we fear the judgments of others. Can I have the same fearless commitment to my own truth as those who have been willing to challenge the status quo and refused to give up their seats on the bus, or declared their sexual preference or have added their voices to the MeToo movement?
All these have the potential to grow the self. It is not easy work. Life is a journey and the process is as important as the goal. When we undertake and commit to this on-going internal work then we can begin to bring our gifts of being to a society that desperately needs adults to lead us. So I now offer some thoughts about what each us needs to do out in the world.
- First, speak your truth in ways that others can hear what you have to say. Be curious. Ask yourself, “If I were standing in that person’s shoes, how would I want to hear this message so that we may remain in dialog?” Allow your own vulnerability to guide you.
- Second, live your truth. Become more conscious of the principles and beliefs which guide you and see where your actions in the world are not consonant with your beliefs. I hate it when what I believe meets the reality of a situation and I find myself acting in ways that belie my beliefs. Then I must remind myself to receive this information without judgment but instead with a curiosity that will lead me to a new understanding of myself and a renewed commitment to change.
- Third, look for places that your judgments and projections get in the way of your truth. When you find yourself being reactive and judgmental, stop and ask yourself, “What is this person mirroring back to me that I must look at within me?”
- Fourth, continue to bring your gifts forward. As I look around, I see elders. We have experience, knowledge, and wisdom. Our society and the world needs us. Find ways to bring your wisdom, your tolerance for ambiguity, and your willingness to hold the center into community. Dare to step into the unknown to lead us.
- Fifth, support diversity. In your actions, dare to welcome those who walk to the beat of a different drummer. Do not be afraid. Work to celebrate our differences. Work to learn from that differentness.
- Sixth, begin conversations with others with whom you may not agree. Listen, reflect, dialog. Look for the common ground. Be the change you wish to see in the world. Confront your own “isms” at a deeper and deeper level. You can do that right here in your fellowship. Learn how to dialog on issues on which you do not agree – God, guns, abortion, gender identity.
- Lastly, as you take yourself out into the world, remember to stay centered. Each of us is forever weaving and interweaving the internal self with the self we bring into the world. It is as easy to be caught up in the egotistical self as it is to put the self in servitude to others – neither serves the self nor society well.
Since its founding, our country has lived through many troubled times. And we have lived through troubled times in our own lifetimes – Hitler and World War II, the threat of communism, civil rights, Vietnam, Watergate, unjust wars and the demonization of an entire religion. Now we are faced with situations that will test the validity of our democracy while also facing the planet-wide effects of global warming.
We must not give up, withdraw, become cynical, or leave it to others to do the heavy lifting. We must be willing to grow our lives fully and share our many gifts with others. We are here together and we still have much to learn about ourselves and about living together on a fragile planet.
I would like to close this morning with two quotes:
It’s easy to be a naïve idealist
It’s easy to be a cynical realist
It’s quite another thing to have no illusions
And still hold the inner flame.
Marie-Louise von Franz
As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle the light in the darkness of mere being. Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.
May we each kindle the inner flame. May we allow others to mirror back to us what we must look at and change within ourselves. May we all seek the common ground of living together on this earth. I release the Circle. Go in Peace.