In the Interim: Reverend Terry Sweetser

In February we celebrate what it means to be a people of perseverance. We ask ourselves what we dare and how we can help each other, to live the love we wish we could. Perseverance is about, and this is my message for the month, Perseverance is about holding on and jumping in to do what needs to be done for love.

What Does It Mean To Be A People of Perseverance?

“People cry not because they are weak. It’s because they’ve been strong too long.” - Shane Koyczan

"I have been pondering a nearly forgotten lesson I learned in high school music. Sometimes in band or choir, music requires players or singers to hold a note longer than they actually can hold a note. In those cases, we were taught to mindfully stagger when we took a breath so the sound appeared uninterrupted. Everyone got to breathe, and the music stayed strong and vibrant… So let's remember the advice of music: Take a breath. The rest of the chorus will sing. The rest of the band will play. Rejoin so others can breathe. Together, we can sustain a very long, beautiful song for a very, very long time. You don’t have to do it all, but you must add your voice to the song.” - Michael Moore

So, have you been strong too long? It’s not the usual question when tackling the topic of perseverance. Most often, we’re asked, “Are you ready to be strong?” The standard recipe is well known: Buck up! Grin and bear it! Keep pushing! Keep moving forward! Dig deep; you are stronger than you know!

But maybe Koyczan is right. Maybe this typical roadmap isn’t the path to perseverance; maybe it’s just the path to breakdown. And when we combine Koyczan’s quote with Moore’s invitation to breath, we suddenly see that balance plays a bigger role in perseverance than we often assume.

As a people of perseverance, we are being called not just to grit and strong wills, but to gentleness and self-care. Constantly pushing ourselves without also giving ourselves the gift of pause gets us nowhere. Digging deeper without making time to deepen and fill our wells is a recipe for self-inflicted pain.

All of which is to say that maybe vulnerability is the real secret to perseverance. Maybe admitting you’re tired and asking for help is the real strength that gets us through.

That dominant myth of Sisyphus pushing his rock up that endless hill hasn’t done us any favors. We assume that Sisyphus is suffering because his work is endless, but maybe it’s his isolation and lack of a place to rest that is his true torment.

So, friends, this month, let’s not torment ourselves. We don’t have to give up those pep talks about digging deep and being stronger than we know. But right alongside that, let’s make sure we’re also doing the more tender work of propping each other up and reminding each other to breathe.

Rabbi David Wolf tells a story that we all should carry with us this month: A boy and his father were walking along a road when they came across a large stone. “Do you think if I use all of my strength, I can move this rock?” the child asked. His father answered, “If you use all of your strength, I am sure you can do it.” The boy began to push the rock. Exerting himself as much as he could, he pushed and pushed. The rock did not move. Discouraged, he said to his father, “You were wrong. I can’t do it.” His father put his arm around the boy’s shoulder and said, “No son. You didn’t use all your strength – you didn’t ask me to help.”

What a gift to remember that perseverance isn’t a solo act. May that be the gift this month gives us all.

Companion Pieces and Resources for Personal Exploration & Reflection to help get your thinking started, and open you to new ways of thinking about what it means to be part of a people of Perseverance:

Word Roots While perseverance literally comes from Latin per (thoroughly) + severus (severe), we could also turn to sustain, from the Latin roots sub (up from below) + tenere (to hold) or persist per (thoroughly) + sistere (to stand).

Wise Words

To sustain a stay in a dry and barren desert, it is necessary to be about something great enough to be worth a lifetime of unrewarded effort. There are simply some divine cravings in life—the liberation of the poor, the equality of women, the humanity of the entire human race—that are worth striving for, living for, dying for, finished or unfinished, for as long as it takes to achieve them.

No single capital campaign will do the trick. No one speech will change the climate. No single law will undo eons of damage. It will take a million lives dedicated to the long haul and heaped on top of one another. That’s why the Zen saying “O snail, climb Mount Fuji, but slowly, slowly,” is so important.

If we are to persevere for the long haul, we must not overdrive our souls. We must immerse ourselves in good music, good reading, great beauty and peace so that everything good in us can rise again and lead us on beyond disappointment, beyond boredom, beyond criticism, beyond loss. Then life has vision again; then going on seems both possible and necessary. - Joan Chittister

I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended. - Nelson Mandela

Success is a little like wrestling a gorilla. You don't quit when you're tired. You quit when the gorilla is tired. - Robert Strauss

If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito. - The Dalai Lama

She stood in the storm, & when the wind did not blow her away, she adjusted her sails. - Elizabeth Edwards

The universe always falls in love with a stubborn heart. - Anon

Big shots are only little shots who kept shooting. - Christopher Morley

The road to success is dotted with many tempting parking places. - Unknown

Still I Rise Maya Angelou
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise…

Maya Angelou turned forty on April 4, 1968. She had planned a big party in Harlem, with many of the day’s black intellectual elite among the guests. History had other ideas; Dr. King’s assassination sent Angelou into a weeks-long depression. It was fellow writer James Baldwin who helped her dig out of it. Angelou recalls Baldwin’s assistance in her book A Song Flung Up to Heaven, where she writes that laughter and ancestral guidance got her through:

“There was very little serious conversation. The times were so solemn and the daily news so somber that we snatched mirth from unlikely places and gave servings of it to one another with both hands... I told Jimmy I was so glad to laugh. Jimmy said, “We survived slavery. . . . You know how we survived? We put surviving into our poems and into our songs. We put it into our folk tales. We danced surviving in Congo Square in New Orleans and put it in our pots when we cooked pinto beans."

 . . . [W]e knew, if we wanted to survive, we had better lift our own spirits. So we laughed whenever we got the chance.” - Kenny Wiley, from Nights Can Be Tough

“Heartbreak is how we mature; yet we use the word heartbreak as if it only occurs when things have gone wrong: an unrequited love, a shattered dream, a child lost before their time. Heartbreak, we hope, is something we hope we can avoid; something to guard against, a chasm to be carefully looked for and then walked around; the hope is to find a way to place our feet where the elemental forces of life will keep us in the manner to which we want to be accustomed and which will keep us from the losses that all other human beings have experienced without exception since the beginning of conscious time. But heartbreak may be the very essence of being human, of being on the journey from here to there, and of coming to care deeply for what we find along the way... If heartbreak is inevitable and inescapable, it might be asking us to look for it and make friends with it, to see it as our constant and instructive companion, and even perhaps, in the depth of its impact as well as in its hindsight, to see it as its own reward. Heartbreak asks us not to look for an alternative path, because there is no alternative path. It is a deeper introduction to what we love and have loved, an inescapable and often beautiful question, something or someone who has been with us all along, asking us to be ready for the last letting go.” - David Whyte

Optimism

More and more I have come to admire resilience. Not the simple resistance of a pillow, whose foam returns over and over to the same shape, but the sinuous tenacity of a tree: finding the light newly blocked on one side, it turns in another. A blind intelligence, true. But out of such persistence arose turtles, rivers, mitochondria, figs -- all this resinous, unretractable earth. -  Jane Hirshfield 

Long-Haul People Rev. Rudy Nemser, UU minister

You find them in churches when you’re lucky;
other places too, though I mostly only know ecclesiastical varieties.

Long haul people upon whose shoulders (and pocketbooks and casseroles and daylight/nighttime hours)a church is built and maintained after the brass is tarnished and cushions need re-stitching.

They pay their pledges full and on time even when the music’s modern;
support each canvass though the sermons aren’t always short;
mow lawns and come to suppers;
teach Sunday School when there’s no one else and they’ll miss the service.

Asked what they think of the minister, or plans for the kitchen renovation, or the choral anthem, or Christmas pageant, or color of the bathroom paint, they’ll reply: individuals and fashions arrive and pass.

 The church—their church—will be here, steady and hale.

 For a long, long time. It will. For long haul people bless a church with a very special blessing.

See you at worship, Sundays at 10:30!

Reverend Terry Sweetser
UUSWH Interim Senior Minister