Reflection from Rev. Catie Scudera
March 15th, 2020 First Parish in Needham
Today was Rev Catie’s Sunday off for this month, and we on staff insisted she honor that, as she and Cole continue to prepare for the arrival of their daughter. Rev. Catie, in turn, insisted on at least sending in her own message for today’s worship service. Here are Rev. Catie’s words for us this morning. She writes:
I am very grateful to all of you who have tuned in this morning. I am holding all of you in my heart and prayers and we navigate this incredibly difficult and frightening time: living through a pandemic, physically separated from our beloved community for the safety of our beloved community. This is brave and good work for us to stay physically separated from each other at this time; it is a gift to those with the most vulnerable health among us, and a gift to all first responders who hope and pray our hospitals will not become overwhelmed with patients.
Some of you may remember that when I was a ministerial intern, I served at the Arlington Street Church in downtown Boston. Near the end of my first year there, a great tragedy befell our Back Bay neighborhood with heartbreak and fear rippling out around the world: the Boston Marathon bombings, which went off mere blocks from our church building.
An excerpt from twentieth-century Irish poet William Butler Yeats’s “The Second Coming”:
“Turning and turning in the widening gyre,
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity.”
That Marathon Monday, I was very afraid. I remember feeling like, indeed, things were falling apart, the centre could not hold, the blood-dimmed tide was loosed. In fact, I was so afraid and stressed that I nearly lived at Arlington Street Church the week after the bombings, responding to pastoral requests and media requests, as though by overworking, I alone could hold together the centre that felt lost. I skipped meals and ignored supportive phone calls. By the end of that week, I had literally given myself an esophageal ulcer from stress and lack of self-care.
Looking back at that week, my overwork and foolhardy attempt at control were not healthy responses to the crisis. I fell for a Yeats-mentality, that “the centre cannot hold.” I was very wrong about the centre, because the centre was not within me, was not within my control. The centre was the community: the church community, the Back Bay community, the Greater Boston and global community. That centre had been holding all along: more than a thousand people gathered at Arlington Street Church the day after the Marathon in vigil, in grief, and in hope; strangers left prayers and tokens of peace and memory at the Copley Square barricades and at our church fence; and, my friends and family locally and out of state kept in touch with me, even though I was making it difficult for them with my overworking. The real centre of it all, the centre of love and interconnection, was holding me.
In this present time of potential fear, panic, and disconnection, I would recommend that you learn from my mistakes after the Marathon bombing: do not neglect yourself and your self-care; do not disengage from your friends and family; do not give into a Yeats-mentality; do not give yourself an ulcer from the stress.
Instead, as we all stay home more than we might like, I implore you to remember your interdependent communities, and I implore you to practice self-care and self-awareness: enough awareness to know when you are becoming over-stressed and practicing unskillful, anxious habits — like hoarding supplies or keeping the news on and refreshed all day long — and enough self-care to calm yourself again. Take time to make a new, positive routine for yourself and your family. Take time to move your body and to be outside, feeling the sun or rain on your skin and touching the earth with mindfulness and gratitude. Take time to call or text your family members and friends. Take time to engage with spiritual, emotional, and physical habits that will boost your spirit and fill up your cup. Above all, take time to give yourself a break from the crisis, through games, books, music, hobbies, even some meaningless television!
Let’s breathe deeply together as we hear an excerpt of the poem “Remember” by Muskoke-Creek songwriter and current U.S. poet laureate Joy Harjo:
“Remember the sky that you were born under, know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is. Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the strongest point of time. Remember sundown and the giving away to night…
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them, listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.
Remember all is in motion, and we are all interconnected with all of the earth, all of humanity, of all the universe — even when we can’t draw together physically. Again, you are all in my heart, and I hope you will stay in touch. Be well, blessed be, and amen.
Part 2 Reflection, March 15, 2020
by Sally Fritsche
Not everyone will react the same way to this period of change and anxiety. Some will panic, and disappear into overwork and obsessive preparation. But others will disengage, dismiss the grim and ever-escalating predictions of doom, and will want to go on with life as usual. My 71 year old father-in-law is still going to the gym. My parents are still traveling across-country for Spring Break. And I love them so much. I love their tenacity and strength and their commitment to the lives and communities they’ve built. But I wish they would stay put, stay still, stay home.
Please know this: when we cancel church, when we ask you to stay home, it is not because we think you are fragile, or weak, or too old. It is because we don’t want to lose anyone in this beloved community.
No matter if you feel all these cancelations are necessary or not, there is a natural grief and resentment about losing so much. There are weddings and funerals being canceled, brand new grandbabies being met over facetime instead of in person, once-in-a-lifetime trips being called off, opening nights and artists’ debuts quietly disappearing into indefinite postponement.
It is strange and sad to see this empty sanctuary, and I won’t pretend otherwise. For many of us, this weekly gathering is the only chance to see our friends, to exchange hugs and handshakes and warm eye contact. I will miss you, dearly, during these weeks
And if you feel healthy and young and invincible, that’s awesome! Truly, I am so glad you are feeling hale and hearty. But all this “social distancing” is about more than you, about more than any one of us and our individual wellbeing. This virus has made our interconnectedness SO very visible. And we owe it those more vulnerable to take this seriously. The risks we take are not our own.
Many who contract this virus will recover without needing extraordinary medical intervention, but many WILL need an extended hospital stay to recover. And there are only so many hospital beds. If data is what will convince you, you can find data online, but changing our behavior usually comes down to something beyond data. So I am making an appeal from my heart.
When we stay home – When ALL of us (who can) stay home, elders and kids alike, workers and church goers and students – when we cancel our travel and greet our neighbors from 6 feet away as we pass on the sidewalk, we are participating in a vast, unprecedented, communal act of love. We are doing the best thing we know, to slow the spread of something that threatens the people we care about. People who are relying on a global network of strangers to hold them in safety. Every incremental slowing of this pandemic lessens the spike of pressure placed on our healthcare system. Every day of distance saves lives. This is what we know, this is why we are being asked to disrupt our lives so profoundly.
Maybe you are still skeptical of these predictions. There is a lot of misinformation and unhelpful response from our news media, and our elected leaders. Your suspicion makes perfect sense. And yet, and yet, please hear me when I say that I do not want to lose any of us. If we believe in the scientific method, if we can trust the voices of informed experts, then we can know this is not a phantom threat. And we can do what is in our power.
So I am here today to hold up all the frustration and inconvenience and boredom and lost connections. The fear about lost paychecks and uncertain futures. It’s okay to be resentful, or skeptical, or frustrated.
For so long we at First Parish have dedicated ourselves to closeness, to showing up, reaching out, to living our beliefs through ACTION and care for this world. It is hard, so hard, to re-teach ourselves that right now love looks like inaction. Right now, love looks like an empty sanctuary. Love looks like stopping, staying put, holding the space between us.
There will come another season after this one. Things might, eventually and if we are careful, be ‘normal’ again. But these aren’t normal days, and this is not the time to pretend that they are.
So we will stay put, we will slow down, we will keep our distance. Because we owe it, to each other. And through it all, we will continue to be the beloved community we have always been. Through it all, we will look for the helpers, we will carry each other’s joys and sorrows, and we will love one another. And godwilling we will all be here for each other when this is over.
May it be so, and amen.
Part 3 Reflection, March 15th
by Roberta Altamari
One of the challenges of being a Unitarian Universalist, particularly of the atheist, agnostic, humanist variety is not believing in a parental God who is taking care of us when we are sick or have lost a loved one. Seeing how comforted my Catholic friends and family are by prayer and knowing their “father in heaven” is there looking out for them during life’s most challenging times has made me wonder what I have as a UU. I happened on Facebook to see a memory from almost five years ago. It was me wearing a vintage UMASS Amherst sweatshirt a friend had given me in honor of my older daughter’s decision to go to school there. Seeing the picture of my long hair reminded me that it was taken right before my battle with breast cancer. Months of chemotherapy followed by surgery followed by six weeks of daily radiation treatments … all while starting a new job and continuing to parent my two teenage daughters while launching the older one off to college. And yet having cancer also became the most transformative chapter of my life. It gave me the answer to my existential UU question. What we have is community. We have each other. And it really makes a difference! People we know and people who care who we haven’t met. Learning to accept the love and kindness of others changed me.
Oh, and believe me, and I know you all know, especially in the middle of this pandemic, life isn’t always easy. During moments of great vulnerability, we have to remember that it’s okay to struggle, and cry, and not feel okay. Of course, it’s not easy. Frankly, it can be downright awful. we can’t change our suffering and fear and hurt, but we can also recognize that others are also struggling to cope with similar or worse hardships. And helping one another can be the best medicine for ourselves. But living through my aforementioned breast cancer treatment taught me that what really matters is just simply being there for someone …. Watching my parents struggle not being able to fix my cancer for me and discovering how helping me with simple tasks really mattered and made a difference. Having people to hold my hand and hug me and make me laugh. Or proverbial version of holding their hand. Distracting me with a fun activity. Listening as i complained. Getting a favorite drink or dessert for me. Sometimes it can be the small, easy stuff that matters most … Being present with your love for someone is the best gift of all. As our neighborhood struggles with this pandemic, let us each choose love.
Like Mr. Rogers said, “when the gusty winds blow and shakes our lives, if we know that people care about us, we may bend with the wind … but we won’t break.” May each of us be one of those caring helpers that Mr. Rogers mom would tell him to look for when things were scary. As he later said, “I think we all can minister to others in this world by being compassionate and caring. I hope you will feel good enough about yourselves that you will want to minister to others, and that you will find your own unique ways to do that. Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky challenges us to consider highlighting the opposite of social distancing. He writes, “Every hand that we don’t shake must become a phone call that we place. Every embrace that we avoid must become a verbal expression of warmth and concern. Every inch and every foot that we physically place between ourselves and another must become a thought as to how might we be of help to that other.” In the coming days, weeks, and months, we may unfortunately find ourselves and the people we care about suffering from fear, anxiety, isolation, and possible illness. May we all remember to do our best to support each other through our fear and shock and vulnerability and triggers that may come with these changes to our lives … so that each of us can do our best to practice unconditional loving support for ourselves and one another. During this time when we can’t physically wrap our arms around one another, let us find ways to be the loving embrace of this community for one another. Amen and blessed be.