“Slow Down To Feel”
Rev Taryn Strauss
UU Congregation of Atlanta
Jan. 24, 2021
Everyone is talking about dreaming. Can you feel it in the atmosphere? I don’t know about you, but these last few weeks, people are telling me their dreams more than any time I can remember.
Perhaps because it is the deepest hour of winter, or because we long to escape into imagination, to be in a different time of comfort and warmth. Or perhaps because we are in so many ways at the precipice of a new year, and a new era, this is a time for deep dreaming.
Maybe we have felt too terrorized, too restless and worried to allow dreams to enter our slumber. Or haggard from dreams that became nightmares.
This last year, we have slept at least sometimes, but we have not rested.
Now, we are in a season of deep dreams.
We feel fragile, handle us with care as we crawl out of the trauma of the last four years and especially the deeper trauma of this past year.
We long to hope, to future plan, to heal and repair all the relationships that have broken down, all the structures that have crumbled under the stress of a hapless demagogue.
I see already the inner critics are coming for this next administration- the hot takes, the analysis. In my own extended family, on the evening of January 20, some were expressing their disappointment with the new administration, just four hours in.
Our outrage stands at attention, ready to be deployed.
Our reaction time has decreased to almost no time at all, just a hair between action and reaction.
This is one way we have learned to preserve our own power: with our strong reactions, presented like shields for all the slings and arrows, disappointments and indiginities aimed at us.
For so many of us, the stress and fear of COVID-19 seeps into the new year. As one UUCA member said, she feels like she is sitting amidst the wreckage of the storm after it laid waste.
We long for a different moment. A moment of relief from as many of you have been saying it, the sword of Damocles hanging over our heads, hanging by a thread, living with the threat of danger at every second.
How can we plan for the future?
When the ground is shifting beneath your feet, when overwhelming transformation is happening, when conflict has crescendoed to an unbearable point-
Be slow to respond. Still even.
I know many of us have family members or loved ones who may have dug into their own version of a reality, believing against all evidence the lie that this election was somehow rigged or falsified.
To quote Pete Seeger, they have waded too far into the deep muddy, and the big fool said to push on. Their egos will not allow reality to be spoken in their presence, even with love. In our need to react quickly, we strategize and worry and wonder how to stay true to ourselves and keep the relationship, or wondering if that is the right answer.
Let us learn from the bear, the woodchuck, the beaver and all who hibernate.
This is a time for dreaming, this midwinter quiet time.
Find the quiet centerpoint. The breath before the movement. We are taking the breath before leaping off the diving board, taking a holy pause.
This is a time for chi qong, to learn from the dancer Martha Eddy, who teaches somatic movement, a slow and centering movement for times of stress and recovery.
“I call it slowing down to feel,” she said. “Related to that is going into the breath, and related to that is releasing tension. Sometimes I separate those two and sometimes I keep them together: releasing tension and breathing.”
We pause to grieve our losses and mourn the lives lost. To give them their own moment and honor.
We pause to take stock of our fears and anxieties we carry around like oversized backpacks.
But it also takes work to remain still. Yoga teacher Kassandra Reinhardt can ease the memory of any miserable day, and so can yin yoga, which isn’t about stretching muscles, but relaxing into them in order to release ligaments, joints, bones and fascia. Poses are held for at least two minutes and usually longer.
Some of them feel good; others feel like death. “We’re slowly breaking down physical tension that we might have been carrying for years,” she said. “Maybe you just have it from the run that you did earlier that day, but maybe this is decades worth of tightness and tension that you’re now consciously releasing.”
We pause to read up on the history, to remember how as a nation we got here.
We pause to find our own quiet center, and root down into what we know is true.
This is one of those sermons I am preaching to myself. I am often too quick to respond, wanting to come up with the wise answer that can heal all wounds and make all people comfortable again.
But I cannot close the gap between us with such haste.
I’m reminded of the dance floor at the youth group church basement dance, where the chaperone walks between couples scolding, “make room for Jesus.”
When you are locked into conflict, not seeing the way forward but eager to fill the chasm with something, anything to make it better, it is time to pause and make room for Mystery.
With humility, feel your own powerlessness for a moment, and remember there is something greater at hand. You need not know all the answers.
This is a warning: I may employ awkward silence as a tool to remind us all of this humility, this mystery that is working in all things.
This is how we can stay in our own knowing, in the holy present. Knowing ourselves deeply, deepening insight and awareness can be one way to fully listen to what is happening, and plan our next response carefully.
I’ve been returning once again to the work of the great science fiction writer Octavia Butler, whose most famous books are set in a dystopian America, only a few years into the future. Her books The Parable of the Sower and the Parable of the Talents should be required reading for 2020. In 2000 she published an essay in Essence magazine titled, SO DO YOU REALLY believe that in the future we’re going to have the kind of trouble you write about in your books?” a student asked me as I was signing books after a talk. The young man was referring to the troubles I’d described in Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents, novels that take place in a near future of increasing drug addiction and illiteracy, marked by the popularity of prisons and the unpopularity of public schools, the vast and growing gap between the rich and everyone else, and the whole nasty family of problems brought on by global warming.“I didn’t make up the problems,” I pointed out. ‘All I did was look around at the problems we’re neglecting now and give them about 30 years to grow into full-fledged disasters.’
“Okay,” the young man challenged. “So what’s the answer?”
“There isn’t one,” I told him.
“No answer? You mean we’re just doomed?” He smiled as though he thought this might be a joke.
“No,” I said. “I mean there’s no single answer that will solve all of our future problems. There’s no magic bullet. Instead there are thousands of answers–at least. You can be one of them if you choose to be.”
Several days later, by mail, I received a copy of the young man’s story in his college newspaper. He mentioned my talk, listed some of my books and the future problems they dealt with. Then he quoted his own question: “What’s the answer?” The article ended with the first three words of my reply, wrongly left standing alone: “There isn’t one.”
It’s sadly easy to reverse meaning, in fact, to tell a lie, by offering an accurate but incomplete quote. In this case, it was frustrating because the one thing that I and my main characters never do when contemplating the future is give up hope. In fact, the very act of trying to look ahead to discern possibilities and offer warnings is in itself an act of hope.
His rush to his own conclusion clouded the deeper truth of what she was telling him. Her message, there isn’t one solution, was lost in his reactionary stance, rushing to hopelessness.
This is our moment to pause, and truly listen for the hope within.
I think of this as the mysterious journey of self knowing.
When you know your core values, you can enter a conflict knowing your deepest commitments. You can judge an article not on its headline, but its content.
To quote Rev. Dr. William Barber, this is not about right and left, this is about right at wrong.
If your beliefs are rooted in love, inclusion, diversity, and dignity, then breath into your own knowing. Know your core commitments, and keep true to them. Stay open to change when it leads you towards deeper inclusion, love, diversity and dignity.
This requires stillness. We are finding our quiet centerpoint at the cusp of great transformation.
The poet Amanda Gorman spoke to us so powerfully this week, assuring us:
We will rebuild, reconcile and recover
and every known nook of our nation and
every corner called our country,
our people diverse and beautiful will emerge,
battered and beautiful
When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid
The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it
Gather our bravery and our humility in equal measure as we seek a quiet centerpoint. May we slow down to feel, may we feel our way toward healing, and in our healing, repair all that is broken.
“A Few Rules For Predicting The Future” By Octavia Butler. Published originally in Essence Magazine in 2000, COPYRIGHT 2000 Essence Communications, Inc