Apr 28 2011

Sabbatical Snapshots (Vol. 2): “Choose Life!”

Published by at 8:27 pm under Minister's Musings

One of my favorite passages from the Hebrew Scriptures comes toward the end of the Bible’s longest sermon (the book of Deuteronomy). After preaching for hours, laying out hundreds of rules for the people of Israel, Moses—exhausted, exhilarated—finally blurts out the Cliff Notes version. I hear his summary this way: “Listen up, people! It all boils down to this: you can act and think in ways that bring more love and life to yourself and the folks around you, or you can act and think in ways that are soul-killing and life-destroying for you and others. With every act, every thought—large or small—you can choose life or choose death. For your sake, for the sake of your children, for God’s sake: choose life! Choose life!!”            Hear me, UUs! In these days of a gathering storm of socially conservative legislation, please know that this passage is not a slogan for anti-abortion activists; it is not about limiting a woman’s right to make choices about her own body, however difficult those choices may be. That is not the liberal religious reading of Deut. 30:19-20.           

Rather, these words—“choose life!”—leapt to my mind when I heard the sad news of the death of our beloved V Kingsley, member, parent, and youth advisor in our community. If anyone ever embodied how to CHOOSE LIFE—how to love fiercely, and act courageously, and extend herself toward giving life and hope and joy to those around her, even in the face of her own pain and mortality—it was V. Her works of art, her leadership, her strong opinions, her passionate commitment to Unitarian Universalism, her wide web of friendships—all sprang from the same intention: to cherish life and to demonstrate her love for her family and friends, for her many communities, for this church and our youth. In the last months of V’s life, our community offered life-affirming gifts to V and her family, too. Heartfelt thanks to everyone who cooked and coordinated meals, offered encouraging words, listened and paid visits! V’s wife, Dani Hope, has asked me to come off sabbatical for a day in order to participate in the Celebration of V’s Life on Saturday, May 21, at 1:00 p.m. in the FUCSJ sanctuary, and I am deeply grateful to be there. Let us all gather on that day to honor V’s gifts, to support her family, and to be strengthened in our own abilities to choose life.           

My sabbatical continues to offer rich opportunities to practice “choosing life” in thought and action, through mountaintop experiences of blazing intensity, focus, and joy, through inevitable valleys of grief and loss, and through the plain old plateaus of ordinary days. Oh, friends, what a remarkable road to renewal I am traveling!            

My two weeks of intensive cultural and language immersion in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, provided one of those mountaintop experiences. I lived and studied among a United Nations of ethnicities, faiths, and ages: from my host Mexican family (laughter-loving Seventh-Day Adventists) to my housemates and fellow Soléxico students—a young doctor-in-training from New Zealand (a nondenominational Christian seeker); a retired and recently widowed French Canadian (an adventurous Catholic); two young Turkish-Swiss women (Muslims who love to party); and two Brazilian women whose spirituality ranges from the Dalai Lama to agnosticism and more. Imagine the conversations around the dinner table and in the classroom! We puzzled over issues of justice and religion, family, politics, and soccer. I was blown away by the courage of folks who arrived with not a word of Spanish, yet plunged into the small classes and wide-ranging social life, and left Playa weeks later, able to converse. I loved discovering my own balance of action and reflection—the thrill of learning, the exploration of Mayan ruins and cenotes, the chance to swim with huge tortoises and bright-hued fish, the long hours lounging with books at the beach, the gentle greetings—“¡Hola! ¡Buen día!”—among strangers on the street, in the shops. Even through the inevitable discomfort and unfamiliarity, I could choose each day to turn my thoughts and actions in the direction of self-care and creative engagement. The pulse of life beat strong. Singing “Fuente de Amor”/“Spirit of Life” for my teachers and housemates, complete with the gestures that embody the words, I watched my new friends light up with joy and recognition, across all our diverse languages of faith. I realized: So this is what it feels like to be an “ambassador” of our faith: organic, inclusive, impactful, good!           

UUA Moderator Gini Courter, minister Rev. Wendy von Zirpolo, and I are working with the administrators at Soléxico to create an affordable short-term program that would help prepare Unitarian Universalists for the Justice General Assembly in Phoenix, Arizona, in June 2012—and for life in our multicultural communities, too. Would some of you like to return with me to Playa del Carmen for a week or so next winter? Visit www.solexico.com for an introduction to the school.           

With mountaintop experiences, we often wish we could linger in that territory of intense insight, but in truth we are called to come down off the mountain, back to the valleys and plateaus of our lives—bringing with us the new ways of being we have learned in the heights. Back on the plateau, I now seek out those life-giving elements of balance and of challenge that I found in Mexico. Back on the plateau, I am open each day to serving as a Unitarian Universalist ambassador, simply through my way of being in the world.

My last two months of sabbatical include more travel, more conferences, more connections with new and old friends. As I turn toward home, I am getting ready for our pilgrimage to Hungary and Romania in July, and I am focusing on practical preparation for our years to come at the First Unitarian Church of San José. Please see the invitation to contribute to worship themes for the coming year, in the newsletter. And will I see some of you at General Assembly in Charlotte, North Carolina, in June?

Finally, my beloved community, I am bursting with curiosity: How is it with your soul? Does the idea of being a UU ambassador intrigue you, shock you, entice you, worry you? How are you already embodying that Spirit of Life, that “Fuente de Amor”—the source, the fountain of Love? What choices are you making, every day, toward life or toward death? Who inspires you to live more abundantly, and how can you follow their example today?

“Listen up, people!” Moses came down from the mountaintop to say. “It’s up to you! For your sake, for the sake of your children, for God’s sake: choose life!” 

With great warmth and affection, 

Nancy

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