What if there was nothing wrong with this moment?
What if this congregation-wide,
physical isolation was our choice.
True, in the part of the world where we reside,
it is our choice whether or not we abide the CDC recommendations of physical isolation.
Thankfully, most are abiding and choosing to keep themselves and others safe with their choice of Sheltering in Place.
Even so, most if not all of us,
wish we did not have to choose to do so.
Many wish life could just go on as usual.
That we could come and go as we please,
to the places of business and places of worship
we are accustomed to.
That we could visit or travel to where
and with whom we wish,
at a moment’s notice or as previously scheduled.
And many if not most, have expressed
that there is no way this will be
the permanent “new normal.”
But, what if
even without there being a pandemic
without there being a reason
to be fearful of being in close
physical proximity to our friends,
our congregation members,
our neighbors and co-workers
What if we chose this period of time
all on our own
with the express intention
of not just physical isolation,
but of Intentional Being.
Being in solitude.
Being in the company
of only those we wish to share a home with.
What if every year
we determined that we would
rest in place.
What if every year we chose
to take a sabbatical
from the constructs of the material
and materialistic world
and how it functions.
What if we selected a period of time
each year where we opted to
not go shopping, or meet for lattes,
or attend in-person public gatherings and events?
What if we could work part of the year instead of all of it
and still have financial security?
What if much if not most
or even all of the time
we could work from home
with out having to extend resources on commuting?
What if our lives included
a season where we turn inward.
A contemplative time.
A season where we focus on the nurturing our souls
and of our closest relationships.
What if we decided to spend our time
exclusive, dedicated, intentional extended time
Sheltered in Place
Being in the company of only those dearest to us.
What if we had time to prepare for that.
as we went about the work of everyday life
throughout most of the year,
we were also planning and looking forward to
such a sabbatical time.
A few weeks ago such mode of living,
such a lifestyle would have perhaps been more
difficult to imagine.
Maybe even impossible to imagine.
Yet, now, with so many of us separated from family we love,
and with much stress about resources being depleted,
how much easier addressing the concerns of the virus
would have been, had we been already of the mindset of incorporating a sabbatical lifestyle.
That’s not say the whole world would shut down at once.
But rather, if enough of us were to determine
this kind of Season of Sabbatical
was important to include in our Wheel of the Year,
even necessary to include for our own wellbeing,
we could and would collaboratively
calendar in such time through out the year
in such a way where Essential Services were maintained,
and where Essential Personnel
seamlessly rotated into and out of
their work time and sabbatical time.
We would not be the first human tribe
to establish a time of rest into our schedule.
To varying degrees our ancestors and cultures each
assigned periods of rest.
And, to some extent still do.
For millennia Christian and Jewish traditions,
for example, kept and still keep the Sabbath,
a day of rest – every 7th day.
The concept of an extended sabbatical
dates back to Ancient agricultural peoples
who minded instructions to rest from working their fields
every seven years – for a whole year they rested.
To nurture the fields, and to nurture
their bodies, minds, and spirits.
They rested their fields;
They rested themselves.
Nowadays sabbaticals have become institutionalized
for the tenured and the elite.
Yet not, for the most part, the rest of the work force
who get at best two weeks vacation each year
if they take it.
By the time they are beginning to unwind,
just when their bodies are adjusting
to a more relaxed setting,
they are due to return to their hectic work schedules.
Some sophisticated modern-day companies
have researched and affirmed
the importance of extended time off from work
to ensure employees creativity and health.
Medical studies – and common sense – align with this.
Telling us that extended periods
of rest from work and from stress
result in lower blood pressure
and longevity of life.
And how much happier and healthier
we would be if we simplified
our lives in this way.
In her book,
“Reviving Our Indigenous Souls, How to Practice the Ancient to Bring in the New,” Unitarian Universalist Minister Rev. Cathie Stivers
explains the word “simplify”
– from its original root words and context –
literally means to put things together as one,
in a braided, folded way.
That to simplify
is to weave together similar things
into a fabric of one.
If in the fabric of our human lives
we built our organizations,
with the sentiment that we are indeed One,
we would begin to weave together lifestyles,
and ways of being that support,
and lift up,
nurture and nourish such Oneness.
We would install
extended times of rest and enrichment.
We would be ready to Shelter in Place
without anxiousness or restlessness.
We would practice physical isolation
from the world around us
as a Holy time,
a Sacred time.
For now, we are where we are.
Some of us are blessed to be
in climate controlled comfortable homes,
sharing our space with those we love
and who love us.
We have plenty of food, fresh water, needed supplies,
and we have access to replenish these as needed.
We have connection to the outside world
via internet audio and video technologies.
We have cell phones and televisions and radios
to keep us informed and entertained.
We have books and art in our homes.
We have music.
Here in Maine, with the vastness
and beauty of Nature all around us,
we have the privilege
of being able to access the outdoors.
We can travel down country lanes,
be still in our yards and parks,
hike in the woods.
All seasons of the year!
Some are able snowshoe and cross country ski.
And as Winter’s long season
catches up to Spring,
we will have access to
kayak and boat
in our lakes and rivers.
respecting the parameters around
the spaces of others
desiring to do the same.
We are indeed fortunate here.
Yes, some, hopefully many, of us are safe,
and happy, active,
socially if not physically connected,
and even grateful,
some of us deeply so,
for this extended time
of closeness together with those we love.
For this extended time
of spaciousness within our own lives.
Others are not in such comfortable,
loving, or safe environments.
Many in our region,
and throughout our country
and certainly around the world
are struggling financially, physically and emotionally.
Hourly workers are being laid off,
others are being furloughed,
or impacted by alternate
work schedule structures
businesses are implementing
to be able to stay afloat.
To be able to offer jobs at all.
Individuals and families are stressed
with little ones at home with them,
full time now.
There is little to no access to
the mental wellness practitioners and tools
to help guide them through these challenges.
Parents with young children
and those care-giving in their homes
for the elderly, parents, grandparents
Also those who may have special needs
or who are caring for those with special needs.
They are not getting sufficient rest
nor relief from duties.
People are homeless.
Children are confined in abusive homes.
Still others, are seeking to access the things
that make their daily life more tolerable, manageable,
that may be essential to them
but those items may not be on
the state-mandated “essential” list,
so access is difficult to access
if not impossible for the foreseeable future.
Increasing the stress.
Increasing the loneliness.
Even, and perhaps especially,
for those “Sheltered” in Place,
in a space that doesn’t feel like Shelter at all.
That is not a Haven,
but their own personal hell.
There is the face of loneliness.
There the most vulnerable among us reside.
For those of us who use the language of prayer,
that those who have fallen ill to the virus,
We pray many will never have this virus at all.
that those living in unsafe places
are kept safe.
that those have lost loved ones
are able to have measures of peace
in their hearts and minds
as they cope with their grief.
that cures are found
for that which cause suffering.
For those of us who do not use the language of prayer,
wish this were simply so.
We are in this together.
The illnesses that plague humankind,
the challenges Earth’s residence face.
These impact us all.
Especially in moments of uncertainty.
When we do not know the extent of the outcome,
nor how long this isolation it will last.
How do we get through it?
As one of my favorite author’s to quote,
Anne Lamott says,
“Bird by Bird.”
In her book of the same name, Bird by Bird,
Anne tells us the childhood story
of her brother who decades ago,
ten years old at the time,
was trying to complete
a written school report on birds.
It was due the next day.
He had had three months to prepare and write it.
She recalls they were at their family cabin,
and her brother close to tears,
sitting at their kitchen table.
He had his binder,
paper and pencils and piles of unopened books
about birds all around him.
He was immobilized.
Such a daunting task ahead of him.
Three months of work to do in a single day.
He wondered how on earth
he was going to get through it?
Their father sat down beside him.
He place his arm around his son’s shoulder,
and gently said,
“Bird by bird, buddy.
Just take it bird by bird.”
And that is how We are all going
to get through this moment.
This daunting moment of uncertainty.
Bird by bird;
Step by step;
Task by task;
Day by day;
Moment by moment.
And may it be so.
(This service was first delivered to the UU Church of Waterville, Maine on March 29th, 2020 in response to COVID pandemic and sheltering in place)