Welcome to the thematic ministry month of “covenants”. I will be talking about covenants at during a Lane Lyceum on 3/24, but while I have your attention … I’m eager to start talking about it now. First of all, I wonder how much you have contemplated the subject of covenants. I previously thought of it as a religious term and commitment, but I have been inspired by what I have learned about covenants from Unitarian Universalists. I now think of covenants as “an agreement that is based on our ideals for how we want to treat each other that includes guidance for how to begin again in relationship when mistakes are made.” I love this intention of moving beyond fact-based contracts to idealistic value-inspired agreements? I particularly appreciate that covenants can guide us to “begin again in love” more often and help more couples, families, and groups navigate conflict resolution. When the Spirited Conversations group chatted about this, we realized that we are sometimes using the spirit of covenants without naming it. We rarely call it this and were surprised to see that the dictionary definition is not as religious as our perceptions of the term. So how do we covenant with one another? I believe this begins with understanding each others’ deep wants and staying open-minded enough to search for systems that honor the emotional/spiritual well-being of all involved. Going deeper than we thought possible exploring each others emotional and spiritual selves can be awakening and open paths to covenants in which both parties feel honored. This isn’t easy work, but i find it to be very much worth our effort.
Throughout the (spoken or unspoken) covenant process, we often discover some hurts that we must lovingly navigate together. It’s important throughout the process to honor when we have hurt others regardless of our good intentions. We can so often get swept up our intentions and get defensive knowing what our good intent was without slowing down to realize that the impact of our words or actions was hurt for someone else. Covenanting can help us hear each other’s hurts and respond in a way that helps promote healing. This can apply to the big hurts as well as all of the tiny, small, and medium ones as well (as hurts of any size can become cumulative and damage the relationship). During my time here at First Parish, I have learned about some hurts that some of you are coping with. We have often been told that the best thing we can do is listen, but it often takes more than just being heard to truly heal from hurt. Recently, my transition team talked about how to support First Parish folks in telling their stories about past hurts. We explored together that how people heal from hurt varies person to person with some people wanting to tell their story and be affirmed, some people want some type of restitution, some people want assurance that the same hurt won’t happen again, and some people want forgiveness for their guilt for their role in the story (no matter how small). In my experience, I believe that in addition to their healing preference, people also really appreciate what I call “positive energy restoration”. We can talk about the hurts and say sorry and affirm one another, but after that, what helps everyone move along is some happy times!
I first learned this when I volunteered a Camp Erin, a bereavement camp for children who have lost a family member. What was incredibly successful for these youth is that the camp experience included about 10% activities that honored the deceased loved one combined with 90% activities that were just good, old-fashioned, fun camp adventures like swimming and dancing and camp fires. In the four summers that I volunteered there, year after year, the kids (ages 6 to 17) reported that they learned that they weren’t alone and had a lot more fun than they expected. What if we apply this lesson to our daily lives? I tried it here with our Religious Exploration Committee. As we attempt to move on from some unhealthy systems in the R.E. office, I invited the members of the R.E. Committee to share their stories and honor any hurts they may be feeling. After some intentional time for story sharing and affirming one another, we began to plan a committee retreat. The group brainstormed and decided to go to an “escape room” and dinner together. The experience was transformative. The fabulous evening out in an escape room and passing the good energy forward (as we gave our 8 “gift card” prizes to kids in the arcade) did not erase the challenges we had all lived through, but the listening and affirmations combined with our collaborating for shared “positive energy restoration” felt like a change in the spirit of our committee relationship.
This felt like an important part of covenanting even though we didn’t call it that. I often think of covenants as focusing on talking about what our wants are, what the wants of others are, and how can we creatively and resourcefully meet the wants of of all involved. And while those are key steps of the covenanting process, so is beginning and ending with positive energy and love. Beginning with loving exchanges or activities gives us more positive energy to work with during the process. Ending a covenant discussion with loving exchanges or activities gives us hope that our agreements will be more successful. Or at least, that when they aren’t, we will feel more positive energy to engage in covenant review and beginning again. I wonder if the best covenant processes begin with naming what words and activities serve as “positive energy restoration” for the individuals involved.
In our Red Tent spirit circle for women on 3/28, I will introduce the idea of “covenants for ourselves”. We all know that we must practice self-care before we can care for others. Like the metaphor of the airplane safety telling parents to put their own oxygen on before they help their children, it is actually a responsibility to our relationships to intentionally take good care of ourselves. And yet, we far too often hear what we should be doing for others, so we are sometimes unsure of how best to practice self-care. As we talk about covenanting, may we all remember to covenant with ourselves. What are our own emotional and spiritual needs? What makes us feel good, positive, and inspired? This information can be vital to being in healthy covenants and relationships with ourselves, our loved ones, and our community here at First Parish. But before you ask yourself these wondering questions, do something that you know will make you feel good!