Mar 04 2015
When We Meet Face to Face: A Path to Healing Our Brokenness
by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones
In a large room on a hill above Monterey Bay, fifty Unitarian Universalist ministers mill about, listening for our teacher’s instructions. She first asks us to rush around, not making eye contact, grazing past each other’s shoulders—not unlike walking on a busy sidewalk at rush hour. Because we are moving at speed, our heart rate rises; our adrenaline starts to pump.
Then our teacher prompts us to slow down, to widen our awareness to our surroundings. The breath deepens. We feel our feet on the floor; we notice the soft sea air blowing through an open window. As we keep milling, we gently look into each other’s eyes. We offer a smile or a nod, a brief acknowledgment of the beings with whom we share this space.
Our teacher now invites us to stop and turn to someone close by. This person becomes our partner for the next part of the exercise. We hold our gaze on each other’s eyes. Our teacher asks us to see that person “whole,” which means to see both that person’s brokenness (burdened by sorrows, wounds, pain beyond what we can know) and that person’s wholeness—the courage and strength, the commitment to caring for the earth and all its beings, the capacity to change.
When we repeat these “milling exercises” for days in a row, they actually work. What seems contrived—forcing an intimacy with a stranger—becomes a real connection. Something shifts. From our opening sense of despair about these times—“a time when a radical confluence of crises sweeping the globe challenges human and planetary existence and eco-system integrity,” as the workshop description intones—we ministers move to an active hope. Our own brokenness no longer feels insurmountable. Instead, it forms a necessary element in creating a more sustainable wholeness.
How does this happen?
Our teacher Dr. Joanna Macy (aided here by the staff of Movement Generation) guides us in The Work That Reconnects. These spiritual, intellectual, and emotional practices pierce through the numbing effects of our society. The work’s four stages reconnect us with our creativity and clear-sightedness, even as we face full on the crises of our times.
The Four Stages of The Work That Reconnects
- “Coming from Gratitude”: When we remember how much we love this earth, our life, and the creatures with whom we share our planet-home, our monkey mind quiets down, and we touch the sources of our strength, the motivation for changing our ways. “Gratitude will hold us steady, especially when we’re scared or tired,” Joanna Macy says.
- “Honoring Our Pain”: This stage begins with a robust analysis of the crises in our midst—from climate disruption, to economic injustice, to violence against “the other,” and more. Then, touching our sorrow over the sorry state of our planet—feeling our grief for the mistakes we humans have made and do make—we reach a deeper compassion, a true “suffering with.” We can live in love or in fear, the writer China Galland tells us. When we live in love, we feel another’s pain as if it is our own. Then we are no longer isolated but feel stronger for our rediscovered solidarity.
- “Seeing with New Eyes”: Now, wide awake and more deeply connected to all around us, we feel our creativity return. New ways to build sustainable community come to us; we turn toward a way of living that nurtures diversity and responds with resilience to new challenges. “We taste our power to change,” Joanna Macy says, and we are ready for …
- “Going Forth”: We turn what we have learned on this spiraling path into practical steps that we can take with others. Each of us contributes according to our gifts, wisdom, and capacity. We form networks of appreciation and support. We celebrate our turning to a healthier, more whole and holy life. We vow to stay on the journey.
As we spiral through these stages again and again, they offer a palpable, practical hope. I saw that hope alive in a room full of sometimes-jaded, often-weary of Unitarian Universalist ministers. Now I bring it home to you.
What if this path becomes our roadmap? Come experience the possibilities at First Unitarian this month and beyond!
With you on the journey,
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