The Art of Healing

September 18, 2016

We are called to use our lives to build the common good, but … the truth is,
we stumble through, we annoy, we flake out on one another…...
the reading that Bill shared is one I’ve been using a lot lately.
It speaks to both the covenant that this congregation will be considering today in a congregational meeting after worship, and
our theme of the month which is forgiveness.
Forgiveness is necessary if we choose to live among others or
do anything creative, try anything new.
I call this the Art of Healing.

A title I rather regretted this week,
as I pulled a muscle in my back,
got an eye infection, and
was diagnosed with a vitamin deficiency.
Writing this sermon became an exercise in what my husband called “irony” and what I feared, of course, was “hypocrisy.”
Let’s go with irony, this morning, shall we?

And, still, I know better. It’s neither hypocrisy nor irony.
In fact, my life this week simply decided to embody the theme of healing and reinforce my message: we are constantly healing.
The healing I meant to refer to was more metaphysical than physical, but
we are physical beings and it always does come back to our own lives,
our own bodies, our own communities.

Forgiveness is the form of healing which I intend to talk about this morning.
And ‘the art’ refers to both the way we heal, and
is a word play on the art we’re featuring this morning.
“Art is meant to move us,” said Chris Triola,
“to leave our rational mind and go to that place within us where we feel rather than think.” Art is the creative process,
the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination.
The embodiment of something new, never tried before.

When you try what has never been tried before, inevitably
the outcome is not known and
mistakes are made along the way to the beauty you seek.
Mistake and beauty both being in the eye of the beholder, you might say.

Forgiveness made more sense to me once I began to think of it as healing and
a feeling rather than a rational act or thought.
The way we heal a wound – be it between people, or within a person.
Forgiving myself this week for the ways I contributed to my own need for healing.

I was rather judgmental, I must confess, of candidate Hilary Clinton when
she didn’t admit her pneumonia and decided to just “power through” –
and was forced to take a break. Of course.
Because, as they say, “I resemble that remark.”
And we are often harshest on others about the things we judge most in ourselves.

Therefore we are saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.

This reminds me of a story about the 13th century teacher from Turkey known as Nasrudin.
So there was a philosopher who made an appointment to dispute with Nasrudin,
but when he called at the appointed hour, he was not at home.
Nasrudin had forgotten their plan and was in the teahouse playing table games and telling stories with his friends.
After waiting for some time, the philosopher grew angry.
Picking up a piece of chalk, he wrote “Stupid Oaf” on Nasrudin’s door and
left in a huff.
As soon as he got home and saw this,
Nasrudin rushed to the philosopher’s house.
“I had completely forgotten our appointment,” he said,
“I apologize for not having been home.
Of course, I remembered the appointment as soon as I saw that
you had left your name on my door.”

When we give up the resentment we carry from an offense or hurt, we are healing. Or when we give up the embarrassment from a mistake or misstep, we are healing. And healing is an art.
It requires compassion, self-compassion, self-knowledge, and inner emotional work.
That inner work which some might call “spiritual,”
which our society at large denigrates and dismisses as flakey, perhaps, or
flighty, not significant or weighty or real.
Action is what we should be doing.
Take action.
Move things around.
It’s easier to shift objects around us and see the result out there in the world than
do the hard inner work of reflection which
can lead to a change of heart, forgiveness, compassion, peace.
The inner work which leads to creativity and insight –
a new take on an age old problem.
Or the inner work of taking care of one’s body
when it is giving signs of fatigue and dis-ease.

That’s why war is easier than peace.
We shift objects in war – guns and missiles and bodies and such.
Peace requires a change of heart.
And that is oh, so much more difficult.
To shift from a wrong, an act of violence, an injustice, resulting resentment, hate, or anger, to forgiveness, something has to shift. And this is inner work.

“In the end, we can all try our best to live out our faith as Unitarian Universalists – …. We forgive ourselves and forgive others as we stumble through.” Writes Ibrahim.

We are stumbling through life, we are, the best of us.
We do our best, and we fall short again and again and again.
We can learn and do better, but then we fall short again, because
our expectations have now become even higher.
There is no way to get through life without needing to
forgive ourselves and others as we stumble through.
Which is why this is such an important theological theme: forgiveness.

And forgiveness is a great way to start out the new year:
To forgive our debts and our debtors.
To start anew, with a clean slate, unburdened by the resentments or hurts of the past. Let’s make new mistakes this year! Bold mistakes!
Not the same old ones that keep us back, but
new and different ones that move us forward.
Because we are stumbling through life, and community is messy and imperfect.

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, quite often begins in September.
But this year, it begins in October, the same evening, in fact,
that we dedicate this building, which just feels right –
to call in the new year as we dedicate this new building.
And a part of that new year tradition, for Jews at least, is to ask forgiveness for anything we might have said or done in the last year that hurt others.
Forgiveness is necessary if we choose to live among others or attempt the unknown. We do both here in this community.
We choose to be in community with each other, and we choose a creative path –
to live into the future with uncertainty and openness and imagination.

Fact – we are interdependent beings, whether or not we “choose” to live in community. But the delusion of independence and self-reliance runs strong in our culture and can be hard to pierce.
If you are temporarily able-bodied, if you have enough money to support yourself, you may be under the impression that you don’t need others.
And that, of course, is the big lie.
We are, all of us, mutually dependent for our survival on others.
In a covenanted community, such as ours, we articulate our agreements with one another, our promises, such that
we are reminded of our commitments to the group and our mutual interdependence.

“As we build beloved community here and in the wider world,
I will help cultivate a welcoming environment in this sacred space.
I will listen and speak with empathy and honesty, in times of agreement and disagreement.
I will strive to understand other viewpoints.
I promise to respect and nurture myself and others as we each pursue our life paths and spiritual journeys.”

There are many different ways this covenant can be articulated.
That is just the proposed language before the congregation at this time, and
frankly, the actual language is far less important than the fact that
we make a covenant with one another and
remind each other that we are interdependent:
each and every one of us matters, and
that we have responsibilities and commitments to one another in order to make this “imperfect” community function.

We choose to live among others, and when we so choose, we must,
from time to time, ask forgiveness.
Sometimes I will fail to listen with empathy or speak with honesty.
Sometimes I will forget to nurture myself as I nurture others, or
I will nurture myself to the neglect of others. It happens.
And the sooner we recognize it and name it and seek forgiveness,
the sooner we can return to the delicate balance of health and community.

The other reason that forgiveness is necessary is that we may create something new, that we may attempt the unknown. Again, I quote artist Chris Triola:
“ For the artist, the process is to take ordinary elements and transform them from an abstraction into a reality. It is an emotional journey beginning with the joy of discovery and moving passionately through the imagination
before entering the hard work phase. Transforming an idea into a material reality requires years of trial and effort before mastering the techniques needed to create desired results.”

When Chris refers to “years of trial and effort”
I assume many mistakes along the way.
Perhaps mistake is too strong a word, but
trial refers to an attempt that is discarded or left behind in favor of
another attempt which is better or closer to the pursuit of beauty or perfection.

And this reminds me of the years of trial and effort that this congregation spent seeking solutions the problems it faced in a building it owned on Grove Street in East Lansing.
The problems were clear when I was called to be your minister –
it was talked about the interviews I held with the search committee and the meetings with the congregation as you were deciding to call me as your minister. That was 14 years ago, and so it must have been discussed some years before that. But it required several more years of trial and effort,
decisions to remodel and decision to move, and
to consider this property or that property…
the way was not really clear, and the congregation was not of a single opinion.
But you did it!
And I hope you are struck by the beauty that welcomes you each Sunday as you enter the building into Atrium full of light and space and depth…

The next phase of congregational life proves even more creative and open –
now that we have a space that doesn’t hinder growth or
get in the way of our radical welcome,
we have the daunting task of joyfully discovering, uncovering,
creating a collective identity and mission.
Rather than supporting each and every effort that individuals pursue in a modest way,
we have the opportunity to create a shared collective purpose in a
bold and daring way –
a way that identifies this congregation in this community as
standing on the side of love, as
healing this world of systemic oppression while
building our own capacity to respond to situations of injustice from a sense of peace and compassion, shared humanity, and deep and abiding commitment.

Again, I love Chris Triola’s language, perhaps we discover
“That place where we leave the chaos of our ordinary lives and
experience a sense of rightness and wonder.”

Everything is changing right now.
Because we’ve moved, we have to learn everything again in a new way.
And, because we’ve moved, we get to try new and creative ways of being.
We don’t have to repeat our mistakes, we get to make new ones!

We find ourselves asking for forgiveness of one another for all the mistakes we are making, all the stumbling around we are doing,
as we figure out congregational life in Lansing.
But that’s what it’s like living in that messy and imperfect community.
Our choice is clear: Imperfect community or no community.

And we must remember that we’re never in control of the response of another.
We influence one another greatly,
but anyone who is raising a child knows that we are not in control!
We can call congress… but that doesn’t guarantee anything.
I can say “I’m sorry,”
but the other person may not forgive me.
Likewise, I can say, “I forgive you” but sometimes the other person is not sorry. and of course, it’s complicated by the fact that we can be offended by words or actions of another that are not intended to be offensive –
then where does that leave us? Is it my problem, or yours?

This all leads us back to Love and to Covenant.
Both Judaism and Unitarian Universalism are covenantal traditions –
traditions in which how we treat one another and the world is more important than what it is we say we believe.
We have a covenant with the world and one another to act out of love,
for the healing or betterment of the planet.
It makes sense to me to begin the new church year seeking and granting forgiveness, so we can begin again in love.

Depending on your personal theology, forgiveness will take a particular form.
For some, it is an entirely human endeavor –
a process of repairing relationships that have been broken, or
healing the hurt in oneself caused by a broken relationship.
For others, God is present in that healing, that moment of grace,
when we find the power to heal a longstanding or deep hurt.

However your personal theology informs your practice of forgiveness,
it is a practice worth practicing.
And life, I assure you, will continue to offer all of us plenty of opportunities to forgive and be forgiven. Life is bigger than our hurts.

Forgiveness is not just a personal matter,
between individuals who have hurt one another.
Forgiveness is an ongoing process that matters.
It matters at the smallest level, and it matters on a global level.

Maya Angelou said, “I think love is that condition in the human spirit so profound that it allows us to forgive and
it may be the energy which keeps the stars in the firmament, I’m not sure.”
I love that sentence. “I think love is that condition in the human spirit so profound that it allows us to forgive and
it may be the energy which keeps the stars in the firmament, I’m not sure.”

Forgiveness is about giving up resentment and
giving up the power to punish another for an injustice.
Forgiveness is about healing and restoration and love.
May we forgive ourselves and each other.
You are loved and may you know that always.