On November 12th, the US travel ban was lifted for incoming international flights. Did you know this? It kind of fluttered over me amid all the other news to keep up with, but it didn’t sink in until a colleague recently told me about his experience at Logan International Airport. This past week, for an entry price of $8.00, which is now what the parking rate is at Logan, he and his wife arrived at Terminal E to pick up her parents who had flown in from England. He had been bracing himself on the way there for the expected hell on earth that the airport normally offers up–particularly during this pandemic. But upon getting there was greeted with an entirely different scene. His words: “The Logan International Cathedral of Life Restored.”

And he went on to describe the waiting area at Terminal E as a sanctuary of light and song and laughter and tears. Balloons and flowers. Shouts and wails of joy and weeping. People completely unhinged from public restraint. Ignoring the Do Not Enter sign that normally cordons off those arriving from those waiting to greet them–running full steam pass those barriers into one another’s arms. Security guards not doing a thing. Damn the rules.

People who have not been together for two years, in some cases longer. For his family, exactly 872 days.

I went online to see some pictures and he’s right about this scene. It seems to be the only headline right now in papers that contains the word JOY in it: “Scenes of Joy as First Visitors Arrive”; “Intense Displays of Joy at Airports”; “Joyous Reunions as US Reopens”…

I don’t know about you but when I hear stories like this, I think all is not lost my friends. All is not lost.

This pandemic, and this unsteady time we as humans are living through, it can so easily warp us into all is lost thinking, right? And it can also illuminate the essentials that we need, as a people, to thrive. The essentials. What really matters in the face of this horror.

In a way, these essentials of thriving are on the tips of the world’s tongue right now. Can you feel it? Challenge and suffering have a way of doing this to us. I hate that this is the case, but it’s true. It’s one of those inconvenient human universals across time and history. Out of despair comes words like: The only thing that really matters is…Everything else became unimportant, except for…

Back in the spring of 2020–at the beginning of this thing–all of my attention turned to food and health and those I love and who love me. Period. Everything else fell away, right? My little family of four–we would spend dinners at the table naming these things. Lift up our gratitude. Every night was Thanksgiving. Clean water, full bellies, healthy bodies, a warm house, electricity, feeling safe, the suddenly new indescribable gift that was being able to hold hands with one another. Hug each other. Made clear by so many who were not able to touch anyone. And around and around and around we would go.

And some nights we cried. Mourned the losses. People we loved who were alone. Who were sick. Who did not have these essentials. Sometimes it was one of us. This pandemic has left no one untouched by loss. Great loss. And when I think back to those nights at the table, I become certain that the absence of that which we love, that which we hold most dear, that in its absence something essential is revealed. Who we are, what we need, what really matters. It all gets so very crystallized. Right? The absence makes us a captive audience.

In the Hebrew Bible, there is a sentence in Ezekial that has become a prayer of mine. I probably pray it at least once a week. A bit of a backdrop: The lands and towns are in ruins. The people have been exiled from their homes in Babylon and from their beloved temple in Jerusalem. The building is closed. These were dangerous times. And the Israelites became callous. Blaming. Hopeless. Despondent. And so, God says to the people of Israel, through the prophet Ezekial, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

That is my weekly prayer: Give me a new heart, put a new spirit in me; remove this heart of stone. Give me a heart of flesh.

It’s a holy heart transplant prayer.

I pray these words because the human heart, my heart, often wants to turn to stone. When this happens, I lose site of the essentials. I can get stuck in cynicism and scarcity–become brittle in spirit. Or just oblivious. I’ve talked about that before: autopilot or as Pink Floyd sings, Comfortably Numb. I’m not putting up thanks for much either when my heart is in a stony place.

Give me a new heart.

Social ethicist and professor of religion at one of our UU seminaries, Meadville Lombard, Susan Welch wrote a book about spirituality and ethics called Sweet Dreams in America, and her thesis is that: “The wellspring of moral action…is a deep affirmation of the joy, richness, and blessing that the world is….The ground of challenging injustice is gratitude, the heartfelt desire to honor the wonder of that which is, to cherish, to celebrate, to delight in the many gifts and joys of life.” The essentials.

Ezekial’s holy heart transplant invites us to partake in this! The wild and wondrous heartbreaking, heart-opening experience of being ALIVE and being a people longing for the essentials, and grateful for this alive-ness and longing, here at life’s kitchen table that our poet so beautifully writes about.

This unsteady time has helped a lot of people, me included, to put down the filler and fodder. Because it just doesn’t matter anymore. Many are calling it the Big Quit–millions of people from all walks of life around the world are not going back to the same life and job and routine as the days before this pandemic. Many are reimagining their lives, reexamining them, because something has become acutely distilled for folks. That which is essential has become known.

And maybe you are one of them. Or you are trying to carve out something new here. Or wake up to something in yourself. Asking yourself what it is you really need or want. I hope you are. I hope you are. Because this is a time of urgent invitation my friends. A time for holy heart transplants.

These past months together our themes have invited us to consider our faith, and our work in this world, our bodies and the bodies of our fellows, our hurt and pain; possibility and relationship and history. We’re making it right now! And I have to tell you, that the binding thread that weaves through all of this is most certainly the bare and beautiful essential, which is to genuinely belong to one another in this stuff. To matter to one another. To been seen and heard in all your wildness. In grief. In joy. Just as you are. Not pretzeled into any shapes–because that is exhausting. Here I am. And here you are. And together we are in this thing. Beating, broken hearts held out to one another. Here at this kitchen table called life. Breaking bread and being ourselves.

And this is how I approach Thanksgiving. A time to break bread, be myself, and lift up deep gratitude and honoring for the bounty of the Earth, the breath in my body, and for my blessed fellows in this world.  Bow my head in gratitude for the essentials. This is how I approach this day of Thanks-Giving.

And this day of thanks can also hold the losses. Of course it can. It should. For those who mourn. For those who are flattened out and suffering. For those who do not have what they need–the essentials. For your own broken-heartedness. And, as your minister, your pastor, I say to you don’t shut the door on any of this. Don’t go stony. Please don’t. I know our lives our complicated, and our families are complicated. And the world is so very complicated. All we can do, my God, all we can do is to find our way to one another’s humanity in it all. To our own. Look for it in yourself. In your own heart.

Damn the rules. Let Thanksgiving be about this. The Logan International Cathedral of Life and HEARTS Restored.

Let’s listen to some of Joy Harjo’s words again:

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.
We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human…
Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.
This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun…
At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.
Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

And so I say to you AMEN and thank you and blessed be.

Reverend Sophia Lyons
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Rev. Sophia is committed to radical welcome and spreading the good news that is our bold Unitarian Universalist faith. Some of her areas of interest include interfaith partnerships, addictions ministry, spiritual direction, and working towards collective liberation for all. Rev. Sophia aspires to live her life and fulfill her ministry guided by spiritual seeking, big love, and the seven principles of Unitarian Universalism.