Turn, Turn, Turn

May 2, 2021

Sermon by Reverend Rebecca Bryan

“We’re returning! Isn’t it great!?”

People everywhere are talking about how wonderful this time of reemerging from the pandemic is. We hear how they’ve longed for connection and face-to-face time with their loved ones. I hear it multiple times a day, and I agree. Yet, I was not a fast returner. I was, and am, a bumbling returner.

Last Friday is a good example, when I had decided to go to church in person for the day. It was the first time I had done this in over a year, and I bumbled even before I got out of the house. I had trouble making my lunch and realized that I needed to shower before my first meeting and that I hadn’t factored travel time into my schedule. I kept asking myself how had I done all this before. It seemed too much.

I got to church only to realize I had forgotten my lunch which I had made so diligently. I was freezing as the heat in my office wasn’t set at a temperature for a person to be there. The internet was unstable as I tried to log onto my first Zoom meeting, there was nothing on my desk to elevate my computer to the proper Zoom height, and I had to use hymnals to prop it up. Most of all, I missed Plum Island Roasters and my daughter, both of whom were there the last time I was.

Just as it took me time to reorient when the pandemic took hold last March, it’s taking me time to transition back from pandemic, though it is getting easier. Over the last year, I developed rituals, routines, and a way of living I have come to appreciate, even as I missed our pre-pandemic world.

I know I am not alone.

We are living in communal liminality. The world as we knew it before the pandemic took hold is over. The world that is yet to come is not yet here. We are sure it will be different than it was before the pandemic, though we’re not yet sure exactly how.  We are living in the in-between time, what sociologists and theologians call liminality. It exemplifies the Buddhist teachings of impermanence. It is a scary and exciting season of vulnerability, full of possibilities, if we give it the space it needs.

To everything

Turn, turn, turn

There is a season

Turn, turn, turn

A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late.

Unitarian Universalist Pete Seeger wrote that song in the late 1950s in all of fifteen minutes, as a response to a heated exchange he had with his publisher. It was subsequently sung by several artists including Judy Collins, whose rendition Justin played this morning, and The Byrds who sang it in 1965 when the United States was beginning to divide over the Vietnam War.

It is one of the few songs that includes a Biblical text in its entirety, in this case from the Book of Ecclesiastes. The only things Seeger added were the opening words “Turn, turn, turn” and the closing lyric “A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late.” How apropos it seems for these times.

It turns out I’m not the only one who is a bit disorientated right now. Several of you mentioned to me Adam Grant’s recent column in The New York Times, in which he wrote about this time we are in. His column focused on the mental state of languishing, in which a person is not depressed, but not happy, not burnt out, but not energized. Grant describes feeling “somewhat joyless and aimless”[1] with “dulled motivation” and difficulty concentrating, similar to how we can feel during times of liminality, transition, and change.

So, what do we do when we find ourselves, or someone we love, living in this state of being? One thing we can do is make a pact with ourselves to be kind, honest, and patient. We can pause, name what is happening, try not to leap over it, and remind ourselves that everything is going to be okay. Let me say that again: everything is going to be okay.

If you’re afraid, if you’re ecstatic, if you’re some combination of both, it’s okay. You’re not alone. Everything is going to be okay.

After pausing, you can take stock. You can think about what you’ve learned about yourself and life because of this pandemic. You can make a note of those things. Despite all the challenges, there have been gifts. We have the right to claim them and make them our own. Ask yourself, what do I not want to return to? What do I want to be sure to continue?

For example, I realized I don’t like night meetings or being on electronic devices past eight o’clock. I prefer reading, being with my partner, and watching my newly discovered sitcom. I adore walking outside, spending significant time doing my daily spiritual practices. We all realized we can have church online and in person, which we will continue doing forevermore or until the next technological advancement comes along.

When reflecting over the past year, you’ll likely discover things you regret too. These might be the things you didn’t do, like finishing the book or organizing those old photographs. Your regrets may also include things you did, perhaps gain a little weight, become more solitary or more cranky with your housemates. Everything is going to be okay. Forgive yourself and forgive others for the things they did and didn’t do in their humanity.

After pausing and taking stock, you can commit to new habits, a frame of mind, and a value that will guide your way through this transition and beyond. Fortunately, none of us need do this alone, for we are all part of this beloved community, and we can turn to each other.

I’ll share a few things that may support you in your journey of transition. Exploring Elderhood just finished a wonderful series focused on grief post-pandemic. This is an amazing group, open to any who want to join. They explore different topics all the time.

Wendy Ford wrote a book entitled Normalcy. It is the story of her husband’s battle with cancer and how they got through it and what she learned. One of the things they did was make a commitment to a state of mind they would hold throughout the experience. For them it was normalcy. What is yours? Normalcy is a beautiful book, full of gems, especially for a liminal time. Wendy has made the book available as a gift to anyone in the congregation. We have a link in the chat, and it will be in the next Steeple.

I’m also offering a two-part online gathering for the next two Fridays from 5-6pm during which time we will do some of what I’m describing together – pausing, taking stock, and committing.  No one will force you to share anything you don’t want to. Again, you can sign up using the link in the chat or in the Steeple.

In his column about reentry, Adam Grant recommends we use the term languishing. He suggests that when people ask how you are, instead of saying fine, say I’m languishing if it fits. Or you could say I’m in transition or I’m living in liminality.

The more I reflect on the importance of how we transition out of the pandemic, the more grateful I am that our church buildings will wait and open in the fall. I now realize that perhaps it’s good, for our mental health as well as our physical wellbeing. We are modeling healthy transitions, allowing space for our beloved church community to pause, take stock, and commit to how we want to move forward. We are allowing ourselves the time necessary to grieve the losses of this time and then commit to carrying forward its gifts.

Amen and blessed be.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/19/well/mind/covid-mental-health-languishing.html

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