Four people with taper candles light chalice framed by two rings

Moving Forward When You Cannot See

May 24, 2020

Last week I spoke of my experience, as a sailor, of having been becalmed…that experience of having the wind, upon which I relied entirely, stop blowing…of having found myself stuck, unable to move, forced to sit still, forced to wait.

I quoted Richard Bode from his book, First You Have to Row a Little Boat, who said, “It is perhaps an all-too-human frailty to suppose that a favorable wind will blow forever,” and that perhaps learning to be still, learning to be patient, is “an imperative of survival in a world [we] cannot control.” I shared Bode’s realization that while “The wind could shift an imperceptible compass point or two without pausing,” … “it couldn’t make a radical change – it couldn’t go from southwest to northeast – without first passing through a period of calm.” And together we reflected on the ways in which the experience of having to stay at home during this global pandemic might be like being becalmed. And we began, perhaps, to imagine ways in which our society might be preparing for a 180-degree shift…

This morning, I want to invite you to join me in reflecting on what might come next. What happens when the wind does start to pick up, even if only imperceptibly, and we can start moving again? If the way forward were clear, of course, we might pick up where we left off, keep moving forward through familiar waters toward familiar destinations, our hearts jubilant. But what if the wind starts blowing gently and yet conditions still remain uncertain, unclear, even perilous?

One of the people in my break-out room last week spoke of the experience of having been on a small boat in the fog, of not being able to see the way ahead, of having to be careful to not run aground. How do we decide, under those sorts of conditions, what to do? How do we decide which way to go? Maybe we have charts, maps, that can show us where the rocks and shallows are. But what if this new territory is uncharted? What if no one has ever traveled these waters before? Or what if, God forbid, the mapmakers are unreliable? What do we do then?

That feels a little bit like where we find ourselves this week. One authority-figure has declared that we should move full speed ahead, conditions be damned, because that is our right. Another has suggested, under significant pressure, that we can begin moving forward immediately, if we must, as long as we meet certain requirements, which are, quite frankly, intentionally designed to be cumbersome and which are not guaranteed to keep us safe.

What are we to do?

I have to tell you, every bone, every muscle fiber in my sailor’s body says, “Be patient. Plan to be out here for a while yet. And when you do move, for goodness’ sake, move slowly. Pay very close attention to current conditions and to your surroundings. Listen closely for the sound of waves on rocks and pilings. Watch the currents. Pay attention to the wind on your face, the subtle shifts, the smells carried on that wind. Pay attention, too, to your own compass, to your inner wisdom, your instinct, your intuition, to the deeply ingrained values that point toward your true north. Have faith in those things.” That is essentially the wisdom that our own denominational leaders have given us.

Of course, churches are essential, but church buildings are not. Churches are essential because you are the church, (remember?), no matter where you are, and you are essential. I’m reminded of David Frazier’s popular gospel song, “I Need You to Survive,” which begins…

I need you, you need me
We’re all a part of God’s body…

And continues…

…You are important to me,
I need you to survive
I pray for you
You pray for me
I love you
I need you to survive

The Parish Committee will be looking closely at all the recommendations, and at current conditions as they evolve. And, guided by our UU values, they will continue to make decisions that take everyone’s safety into consideration. All so that we might travel safely and, one day, return to our home at 35 Church Street.

In the meantime, there is a third thing we must do: We must do whatever we can to make our world more beautiful. After all, there are things we can do now that can help shape our collective future. What seeds will you plant as you wear your mask and walk about your neighborhood? Seeds of love? Seeds of kindness? Seeds of compassion? Seeds of generosity? Seeds of care? What seeds will you fling about as you engage with the wider world? As you write your politicians and send letters to encourage people to register and to vote…as you participate in local mutual aid societies? Seeds of justice? Seeds of inclusion? Seeds of connection? Seeds of change?

Sow those seeds. Fling handfuls of them everywhere you go. And trust. In Miss Rumphius, it was the birds and the wind that helped spread the lupine seeds, and both – birds and wind – are symbols of the Spirit that blows where it chooses. Do what you can, fling your handfuls of seeds with joyful abandon, and trust that the Spirit will help manifest the beauty you envision. Then, when the fog begins to lift, and the sun begins to shine through, and the way ahead finally becomes clear again, the world in which we travel could be truly glorious.

So may it be.

©2020 Rev. Wendy L. Bell

Reverend Wendy Bell
Interim Minister | + posts

Wendy Bell was appointed Interim Minister of First Parish of Watertown in August of 2019, and served a two year term while we searched for a new settled minister.

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