State of Emergence-y

When I came back from sabbatical last fall, I carried with me this one poem as a guiding light, and grounding. It’s by Pablo Neruda, called Keeping Quiet. It’s a poem about the wisdom of stillness – the healing we could find in a collective stillness….

Now we will count to twelve
And we will all keep still.
 For once on the face of the earth,
Let’s not speak in any language
Let’s stop for one second
And not move our arms so much.
It would be an exotic moment
Without rush, without engines;
We would all be together
In a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
Would not harm whales
And the man gathering salt
Would look at his hurt hands.
Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.
What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about.
I want no truck with death.
 If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.

Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive. 
 Now I’ll count to twelve
And you keep quiet and I will go. 

This idea of the healing possible in a collective stillness was what I had on my mind and in my heart as I returned in August –it was what my time away meant, and what I hoped to bring into my ministry as I returned.  And yet….the good work of the church and the call of life had other plans.

There has been so much good, amazing ministry we’ve accomplished these last few months – all of your generosity in the campaign, the connections made through the visits – and there have been moments of silence together, many breaths of collective stillness – but that sense of collective stillness and deep listening that I imagined – not so much.

And yet here we are. The noise of cars and planes slowing down, stopping, all across the world.  The rush to the next class or meeting set aside. The sitting down around tables to play board games or do puzzles suddenly the major task of the day.  I sent my friend who lives in Seattle a text message for his birthday yesterday and asked if he wanted to have a drink – I figured, he and I could get together as easily now as either of us could with anyone else.

I said, it’s like, far is the new close.   We’re getting “together” later today.  

Now we will count to twelve
And we will all keep still.

far is the new closeI don’t mean to say in any way that this global pandemic is somehow actually good.  That’s not our theology.   Just more: there are gifts here, too.

Rebecca Solnit writes about what happens after disasters and emergencies.  She tells these terrible stories.  And also, she tells these beautiful stories.  Because what she discovers is that each time someone tells about these catastrophes, there is often a moment when their face is just overcome with joy, and gratitude.

Because in all of them, there’s an experience where people are so overwhelmingly kind, compassionate, generous, creative – in ways that they just aren’t all the time.

But in these moments of emergency, it all comes to the surface. Who we can be comes to the surface in these times.  And who we are – it’s all on display – in the most uncertain of times, in crisis, in danger.

Or at least, who we are, who we can be comes to the surface when we actively engage the anxiety and fear that arise in these same moments.  Anxiety and fear call into action our amygdala – the lizard brain – which makes empathy and compassion – the selves we can be and actually are – really hard to access.

Fear and anxiety are a natural reaction to what we’re experiencing right now. It would be strange not to be afraid. There’s a lot of uncertainty, a lot unknown, a lot of emergency – and a lot emerging.  So we need to tend to that fear and anxiety, not just try to act like it isn’t there, like we can push it away.

And also, we need to keep turning to the gifts of this time, the beauty, and to the breath. So that we don’t let fear have the last word. We need to ground ourselves in this moment, here and now.  In what really matters, as Neruda says:

Life is what it is about.                                                                                                          

So that we can emerge in this emergency into the life we are meant for, a life of connection and community – a life held close, even when we are for now, far apart.

About Rev. Gretchen Haley

Gretchen Haley is relentlessly curious about most things, especially the big stuff of theology, the beauty of creation, the magic of collaboration, and the great joy of pop culture (reflected in this blog by random posts on Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Scandal, Orphan Black, or the latest Marvel movie). She has an audacious ambition for the liberal church, believing in its capacity to transform lives and our world by way of hyper-local relationships and partnerships that inspire the unleashing of courageous love. She's all in on adrienne maree brown's emergent strategy, and finds solace in the trails in and around Fort Collins Colorado where she serves with the brilliant Rev. Sean Neil-Barron as one of the ministers of the Foothills Unitarian Church. She and her amazing partner of over 20 years, Carri, have 2 children, Gracie (14) and Josef (12) who both relish and resent being PKs, and who keep her grounded, frustrated, inspired, and humbled, everyday. She is basically obsessed with her puppy, a large sized mutt, Charlie.
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