The Soul Matters theme for the month of April is “Wholeness; the practice of repairing what is broken and knowing we are enough.” But what happens when we can’t or we’re not? Join us for an exploration into the rich realm of “Doing What We Can.”
“Doing What We Can”
A Sermon Offered t All Souls Church
April 28, 2019
Rev. Shayna Appel
Reading #1: “Meditation on Broken Hearts” By Thomas Rhodes
[From “Becoming: A Spiritual Guide for Adults”]
Let us enter into a time of meditation, contemplation, and prayer.
Feel the earth beneath your feet as it supports you.
Feel the love of this community as it surrounds and enfolds you.
Feel your breath as it flows in and out of your body.
Listen to your heartbeat.
Listen to your heart . . .
And how is it with your heart?
Does your heart feel whole, shielded by intellect, cocooned by reason, closed to feeling? Or is it broken, fragile to the touch, brimming with the pain of loss? Or has your heart been broken and healed so many times that it now lies open to the world, knowing that true growth comes not without pain, that tears may wear down barriers, that we may carry the hearts of others even when our own is too heavy for us to bear.
None of us has an unblemished heart, not one.
For such perfection can be found only in death, and we who are alive still have much to heal.
So let us give thanks for the broken places in our hearts, and in our lives. For it is only through such brokenness that we may truly touch one another and only through touching one another that the world may be healed.
Let us give then thanks for the brokenness that we share.
Reading #2: Anonymous, shared by Victoria Safford
Forget about enlightenment,
Sit down wherever you are,
and listen to the wind that is singing in your veins.
Feel the longing, the fear, the love in your bones.
Open your heart to who you are, right now,
not who you’d like to be,
not the saint you’re striving to become,
but the being right here before you, inside you… All of you is holy.
You’re already more and less
Than whatever you can know.
Sermon: Doing What We Can
Our Soul Matters theme for the month of April is “Wholeness.” According to the Soul Matters curriculum, “wholeness” is the practice of repairing what is broken and knowing we are enough.” To some extent, this makes sense. The dictionary defines “wholeness” as “the state of forming a complete and harmonious whole; unity.” But the dictionary also defines “wholeness” as “the state of being unbroken or undamaged.”
This got me to thinking, what happens when we are broken, when we are truly damaged? Or, what happens when we break something we cannot directly repair? It’s hard to feel like we are “enough” when we find ourselves in that place. But, maybe, even in that place, there is something we can do to move back towards “wholeness,” and maybe, just maybe, we ARE enough to do that.
Let me offer the following example.
I went to the drugstore this past week to fill a prescription. There are two check-out kiosks at the pharmacy counter and they are located right next to each other. There was a woman at one of the kiosks and she had a shopping cart between herself and the kiosk I was attempting to use. When it came time for me to swipe my credit card, I asked her if I could move her cart just a bit so I could get to the credit card machine. She said, “That’s OK.” Then she took her cart and went and had a seat over in the waiting area. Problem solved, thought I. I completed my transaction.
When I started to leave she said, “Excuse me, I don’t think my cart was in your way.”
I told her it was just in the way of the credit card machine. “No, it wasn’t,” she replied.
Honestly, there was a whole lot that went through my mind at that moment. Gratefully, none of it came out of my mouth. I simply said to her, “Have a nice day mam,” and I walked out of the drugstore.
Now, I don’t know this woman. I don’t know what kind of day she was having before our encounter. I don’t know if she bears the burden of larger issues that cause her to engage the world from a place of paranoia. I was just trying to get through my own list of errands and I was pretty certain that, whatever her issues were, I wasn’t going to be able to fix them in that moment. We had a bit of a breakdown in human relations, this woman and I, and in the moment I saw nothing else to do but avoid an escalation.
I left the drugstore feeling unsettled. Maybe because I was working on this sermon and the topic of “powerlessness” was on my mind anyhow. I felt powerless in the situation in the drugstore to repair what was so obviously broken, and that irked me! It also irks me that so often, when I begin preparing for a sermon, my life decides to provide me with what it thinks would be useful material, but we’ll save that thought for another sermon!
Anyhow, as I said, I left the drugstore feeling unsettled. I was carrying the encounter with me. I got home, made lunch, and sat down to eat with the March issue of Quest, the publication put out by the UU’s Church of the Larger Fellowship. The issue’s focus was “Restoration” and I was reading it in preparation for this sermon. The first article was by Rev. Gretchen Haley, and was entitled “How It Might Have Gone.” (Did I mention how annoying it is when my life mimics my art?)
The article is a reflection on the Kavanaugh hearings, particularly as regards the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford. Rev. Haley is pondering how these hearings might have gone had an ounce of compassion in service to restoration entered the room. In the process of considering all of this, Rev. Haley lifts up a process of restoration she calls the Five R’s. It’s a multi-step process and it goes like this:
- Recognize yourself in ways you have not been willing to know yourself before. Recognize the injury. Study it. Not just from your own life perspective, but also from an empathetic view that imagines how someone else might have seen it. Recognize your role, without excuses or explanations. Accept responsibility.
- Remorse comes naturally after a full recognition. Remorse is more than regret. Remorse means we know ourselves as the one who has caused another pain.
- It’s this real remorse that inspires our Refusal to ever repeat the same mistake again. Without this commitment, all the other steps are meaning ess.
- It’s not always possible to Repair the damage that was done, but trying matters too. Do whatever you can to put the pieces back together. Repay the money. Restore the reputation.
- And finally, it requires Revelation. As in, your own out-loud utterance of every other R—out loud to the person you injured, out loud to the surrounding community. Out loud to God, the universe. Bring what has been previously hidden and secret into the open so that it can be accountable.
In our second reading for this morning we hear that we should, “Forget about enlightenment.” We should, “sit down wherever [we] are, and listen to the wind that is singing in [our] veins.” It may have been wind singing in my veins, or just my blood starting to boil, but I decided I’d apply Rev. Haley’s five ‘R’s’ to my drugstore encounter and see what happened.
- In recognizing the situation from an empathic perspective I realized that it didn’t matter if the woman I encountered was right or wrong about needing to move her cart. It also didn’t matter if I was. In the interest of restoration, all that mattered was that my request – regardless of how reasonable it was – sourced some sort of upset for her.
- Haley says that remorse naturally follows full recognition. And I have to say, at least in this case, it did. I mean, my God, I was just trying to check out of the drug store. The last thing I wanted was to be the source of someone’s discomfort, someone’s pain.
- What could I do then to insure I would not repeat the same mistake in the future. The step Haley calls refusal…as in, we refuse to repeat the mistake. Well, I was beginning that process by thinking over the situation and thinking of how I could have handled it differently. It occurred to me that I could have simply noted her upset and apologized for having sourced it. Perhaps what I could have said was something like, “You seem upset by my request. I’m sorry. It was not my intention for you to be upset. I hope you can forgive me.”
- Which brings us to step four, repair. Haley notes that this isn’t always possible. It wasn’t going to be possible here, at least with this woman. But wait! There’s more!
- Step five is the step of revelation! As in, [our] own out-loud utterance of every other R—out loud to the person [we] injured, out loud to the surrounding community. Out loud to God, the universe. Bring what has been previously hidden and secret into the open so that it can be accountable.
That’s what I’m doing here today. I’m sharing my revelation with you. I’m telling you about a time when I totally blew it. I’m unpacking the other four ‘R’s’ publicly both in order to model that you too can do this and not die, but also in an effort to do what I can to restore what was broken. Maybe I cannot restore peace with the woman who was offended – we cannot always make direct amends – but I can still engage this process. I can recognize my short-coming, allow remorse to work its magic, refuse to repeat the behavior, and articulate my revelation even if I cannot directly repair what it is I broke…even when I am not at fault for the hurt.
Watch this, because this is where we move from being junior varsity restoration players to the big league.
In the incident in the drugstore, I was not at fault for the woman’s upset. We never cause another’s upset…or anger, or joy, or any other feeling in the world. Primarily because we are not that powerful! If I have the power to make you feel something, cause you upset for example, then it would follow that I have the power to un-upset you. “Abra-cadabra…be un-upset.” That probably would not only not work, it would probably really infuriate the person who’s already upset!
Also, I’m sure you can readily see that what is upsetting to one person is not to another. If I asked another person in the drug store to move their cart, they’d likely have apologized for it being in the way in the first place, and I’d have said, “Oh no, it’s really no problem.” And then we’d have gone on to talk happily about the weather or something.
In this case, as in all cases, “upset” dwelled within the one who demonstrated it. But I kicked over the hornets nest. I didn’t meant to. I didn’t know it was there, whatever “it” was. Was this woman bullied as a child, did she experience hard core rejection from someone important, was she somehow lead to believe she was marginalized – living at the edge of in, but never quite invited in? Perhaps. And none of that is my fault.
But in the matter of creating restoration, fault isn’t important. What is important is our choice to take responsibility for it anyhow. What would we do that? Well, because if we don’t take on responsibility, we can’t begin to fix it. If we don’t take responsibility for having been at cause in the matter of another upset, then it’s simply not our problem, the woman’s obviously a nut-job, end of story…except for the hurt that’s been caused and I think we can all agree that there is more than enough of that in the world today.
I was the source of discomfort for the woman at the pharmacy. My asking if she would mind moving her shopping cart just a bit so I could reach the credit card kiosk somehow struck a nerve. And I am a person who can have compassion for someone who exists in this world in such a raw state that such a simple request could unwind their day. So despite the fact that I was not at fault for her upset – I didn’t cause it – I can still take responsibility for having sourced her upset and this allows me to move back into a place of agency. I can take responsibility for what was mine – the request – and apologize for any discomfort it may have caused.
Would it have worked? Who knows? Maybe the woman in question really is a nut-job. But I want to be better than that in the world. Because if the nut-jobs and haters and fear mongers in this world start driving our behavior…well, that won’t be a good thing!
“None of us has an unblemished heart, not one,” writes Thomas Rhodes in our opening reading for today. “For such perfection can be found only in death,
and we who are alive still have much to heal. So let us give thanks for the broken places in our hearts, and in our lives. For it is only through such brokenness that we may truly touch one another and only through touching one another that the world may be healed.”
Forget about enlightenment, sit down wherever you are, and listen to the wind that is singing in your veins….
Maybe we cannot fix all that is broken in the world. Maybe we cannot even restore what we alone may break. What we can do is own what is ours and work towards restoration.
We are already more and less than what we can ever know.
(Anonymous, Reading #2
Doing what we can is enough to begin restoring our world! One drugstore encounter at a time!
1Haley, Rev. Gretchen. “How It Might Have Gone.” Quest