Singing a New Song
Psalm 98; Excerpts from Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers by Anne Lamott and John 15:9-17
Good morning and thank you again for worshiping with us today, on what it is in our tradition the sixth Sunday of Easter.
As we arrive to this time in the service, I invite you to let yourself breathe, to notice your heartbeat, and to open your heart so you can hear whatever word there is for you from the Holy today. And as you are so moved, I invite you to join me in a spirit of prayer and centering from Psalm 19. God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O God our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
I have heard many of you reflect on how the virus has reminded us that we human beings aren’t actually in control. We have put a lot of distance between ourselves and this truth since the Industrial Revolution, but the fact is, we are merely human. We have agency yes and power yes and the chance to shape some of what becomes, yes. But this year, perhaps more than any other lesson, the Universe has taught us, that we are yet one part of a bigger creation. In spite of the billions spent on keeping us safe, a virus, something measured in nanometers stopped the world as we knew it. Reminding us that we are a part of a biosphere that is complex and precious and also fragile. Between the virus and the groans of Mother Earth, what has also felt more fragile than ever now, is life- just the sense that the things that give us meaning and joy will be there, like getting to see one another weekly and sing and pray in proximity, like hugs with friends and a concert at Red Rocks, like grocery shopping without fear or feeling hope about a good tomorrow. Before I was paying attention to climate and before the pandemic and before the massacre, I admit I lived with this illusion that tomorrow will be like today. And then quite suddenly, now in multiple layers, it wasn’t and it isn’t.
Even though we have all made new commitments together that lift me up and that I believe are in fact making the world better, from dismantling racism, to more silent prayer, to more money we have shared, beyond us, even though all of this is glorious and good, I admit I find myself grieving. Because I am realizing there are just some things that will never be the same in life again. Maybe you feel that too.
Some of us have already laughed about smaller things like salad bars and handshakes- things we might never see again.
But there is a sense in a big way, an existential way, that things won’t be the same. I sense the need to fly less given what I know about its carbon footprint. I sense that supply strains in some areas might be here to stay, which makes me want to learn things I didn’t think I would need, like sewing and plumbing or growing more of our food … I sense the need to listen patiently
None of this stuff is bad really, it’s just different.
I have this new presence of a fragility.
And I have heard something like this from others of you too. The ongoing part is the grief, but it seems to include the acceptance of what is. What was can no longer be and that is painful and hard, but it can also be sacred.
I have found myself reading more on trauma and grief and all of us on staff are learning more in this time so we can support you and our community and all of us. We will continue to creatively offer you chances to transform the trauma of this year, including really big things so stay tuned for our breakout today!
One of the things I am learning about grief, in addition to the fact that we need to create healthy ways to discharge our pain and transform our trauma or it comes out in unhealthy ways, is that our sense of who we are, can also change as part of that grieving process. Those of you who have been through other big times of grief might already understand this or have experienced this. We change because we have to, so we can adjust and survive the fact that our whole world has changed.
As I shared last week, many people have found themselves doing a life review or rethink over these last twelve months. And many people have made big and small changes as a result of this.
This can be a healthy part of grieving, which is about letting ourselves move beyond denial, accepting what is and then allowing space and grace to let things emerge, new things, even that which might be unfamiliar.
Making space and giving grace to grief takes time. And it goes in fits and starts. And it takes a lot of energy. And it takes moving beyond hopelessness, eventually.
And I am learning that moving beyond hopelessness, might have to include a willingness to be open to new ways of doing and being, treading beyond what is comfortable.
Some of this is because we are forced to and some of this is simply about a willingness to leave space, an inner place, for different and new possibilities.
As we heard from the words of brilliant writer Anne Lamott, “Life is eruptions, spasms, just as in our families. If you keep your heart open, these traumas beat you down. But against all odds, something emerges from the wreckage in our hearts, so we can bear witness…”
The words from Psalm 98 that you heard Andy read earlier are part of a hymn of praise about how our God of love is faithful, about how God is an energy present with us, even when threatened, even when we are down or feel in fear of being defeated. Scholar Carolyn Sharp wrote that, “In the spiritual imagination of Israel, God as the commander of heavenly armies has defeated all threats, whether posed by mythic foes at the dawn of creation or by militaristic enemy nations across the centuries.” And therefore O sing to the Lord a new song!
Some say this is one of the most popular phrases in the Bible.
And I wonder if it is in part because, if we want to keep going with our hearts unhardened, we have to be willing to keep learning and singing new songs. We have to be willing to let love rise from the ground through us, allowing space and grace to let some thing or many things emerge that we might not recognize at first.
Not long ago, I came home exhausted but exhilarated from our Sunday worship services. I put my briefcase down and said something out loud I had never said before. For most of my ministry, I have worn a black dress, grey, black, brown or navy blue suit or even so boring as a beige suit for Sunday worship, but over the course of the pandemic I had been doing something I didn’t even realize, until that day. I had been wearing more “me” things. Vintage and bright colors. And that Sunday, I had adorned one of my much loved bright and bold colored tops from India. Jeremy looked at me and I said out loud, “Maybe I don’t have to be someone who always wears suits on Sundays.” This might seem silly. But for much of my life I have had to regulate my appearance, especially in certain contexts. Being too bold or too bright is sometimes seen as a threat. In order to get here, in order to do what I have done, I have had to do a lot of modifying, in the hope that my ideas will be taken seriously. In an effort to be seen as the intellectual and the theologian that I am and to which I have given my mind and heart.
In order to have the world receive me productively, so to speak, I have been told not to wear dangly earrings or to let my hair down literally and figuratively. And because of that, I have worn beige suits. But I need to tell you something that you probably already know after nearly 2 ½ years among you, I am not beige.
And as I grieve this year, I realize I want to not just accept what has been lost, but to double down on and celebrate and love what is. I am finding sometimes this means letting go of tired melodies with lyrics that no longer have meaning, when maybe they would have still carried us here, but it’s a song that is no longer ours. I want all of you to sing your sing, your song that is loud and true.
And this takes time. It comes up in fits and starts. There is energy for different things than before.
I am saying all of this today, not because I am on the other side, but because I am right here in the middle of learning and hitting the wrong notes with you, figuring it out as we go, praying and pondering, sharing life, as we discern together where God is leading...
As I accept that some of what will be, will never be again, in my grief, I also commit to singing new songs with you. And I wonder where you feel inspired, called, summoned to sing a song that might be brewing within you, waiting to come out? Where do you feel the need to let go of a melody that is heavy?
And maybe as a church we are being called to sing new songs in our grieving? Maybe we too have been regulating or modifying? Maybe there are places where we have felt we had to be beige instead of bold?
I admit it feels frightening at times to let these new songs come out. Will we be taken seriously since we haven’t done it like this before? It feels scary to have huge conversations in our church and in our community about how we might respond to the pain in the world beyond thoughts and prayers, beyond what can more easily be polished and safe. But I am also finding that being willing to let go and taking risks individually and collectively, allows us to do something like creating new choruses, daring for compositions that require orchestras, doing things bigger than we could ever do on our own. It is of course messier and dissonant in sound of course at points. But this is where the Spirit is.
When a colleague asked about what we were up to in response to the massacre here in Boulder and about our walk through this week with Boulder law enforcement and RawTools of Colorado Springs, I said that it was the kind of thing that was so big we could only do it with God. We are not in control, but we have power and we have a voice!
“If you keep your heart open, these traumas beat you down. But against all odds, something emerges from the wreckage…”
Maybe it’s bold prints and bold action. Maybe it’s being willing to hit wrong notes and laughing our way through the rehearsal.
O sing to the Lord a new song! May it be so. Amen.