February Ministry Theme: Resilience

A Resilient Community, by Marlene J. Geary

A Humanist Perspective on February’s Ministry Theme: Resilience, by Jerry Lusa

A Buddhist Perspective on February Ministry Theme: Resilience, by Nancy Thompson

A Resilient Community

by Marlene J. Geary, Chair, Sunday Services Committee

“Communal spiritual practices and mutual care for each other enhance resilience in the midst of adversity and in the aftermath of trauma…” – M. Jan Holton, from her ethnographic research with the Dinka men, the “Lost Boys of the Sudan.” “Back in the 1970s and 80s African American pastoral theologians Edward Wimberly, Archie Smith, and others challenged their colleagues to see the limitations of the clinical paradigm of pastoral care with its focus on healing through one-on-one pastoral counseling relationships. They described a communal approach to pastoral care in the African American Church, arguing that this approach focused on sustaining its members in the face of racism, knowing that individual healing was not possible without social transformation.” – Carrie Doehring

It’s hard to break into a new community, I think, especially a tight-knit one like ours. I’m celebrating the beginning of my fourth year here at UUS:E, and I still remember how daunting it was to realize that everyone knew each other so well. For me, it wasn’t long before I reached out to some people and then lots of folks started reaching out to me. And soon I felt like part of the family.

What was most remarkable to me as a newcomer was the way that people cared for each other. I saw this most clearly in my small group ministry, where we went deep with trust and honesty, intimacy and ultimacy. If I had one wish, it’d be that everyone was a part of a small group ministry. The experience of a small group ministry’s discussion is fantastic in and of itself, but it’s a wonderful thing to have a core group of people that know you, often before you get to know the rest of the congregation. Knowing people that care for you makes it a lot easier to scan the crowd on Sundays, head to big events like our Mid-Winter Goods & Services Auction, and relax at events like the All-Society Summer Picnic in July. It’s nice when you can count on someone knowing your name and caring enough to want to be a part of your life. This is what brings me back again and again: the people of this congregation and the way they care for each other.

There are small groups like this all over UUS:E. Not only small group ministries, but other affinity groups where members and friends get the chance to be a part of each other’s lives, reach out to each other and offer love to the light in each other. Groups like the Rainbow Alliance; the Humanist Group; the Buddhist Group; the Dream Group; the UU Christian Fellowship; the Couples Group; the Young Adult Group; the Retired Men’s Group; the Covenant of UU Pagans; the Breakfast Club and more.

Connections to each other help us through times when our society seems to be tipping the scales of collective mass insanity and we’re overwhelmed with the related empathic distress. Bonds with each other help us when our worlds are collapsing under pressure or exploding with possibility. I think that caring for each other is key to making our congregational family sustainable over the years. And I believe that caring for each other is part of what makes our community so resilient. I count myself pretty lucky to have found UUS:E.

Humanist Icon A Humanist Perspective on February’s Ministry Theme: Resilience

By Jerry Lusa

We don’t have to look far to see examples of resilience; it is the hallmark of life everywhere! Every living species has adapted to the world around it. Each living thing can suffer degrees of damage and still repair itself to keep on living. Complex animals, like hagfish and hamsters and humans constantly replenish aging cells; we have resilience against the very mortality of our own tissue. The unique resilience of living things to stay alive is astonishing!

Nothing in the universe works against the decay of entropy the way life does. No stone, when split, can heal itself. People have invented fabrics that can repair rips by themselves, but only the first rip in each place. The Internet can keep running when core servers are lost, but those servers won’t ever repair themselves. Life does repair itself!

Life is resilience, literally. Cut us and we heal. Infect us and we defend ourselves. We complex animals have resiliency in the structure of our bodies. Our Hox genes give us pairs of limbs and senses along our head-tail axis, giving us physical redundancy that is insurance in a dangerous world. Stereo hearing is a great thing, but I can personally attest that it’s possible to get along with just one working ear.

Some of the most complex life forms have developed special kinds of resilience. I’m referring to those animals, including us, that are self-aware. We have ways of healing damage to our awareness, to our spirits. I marvel at how elephants grieve at loss in ways we recognize in ourselves. They suffer, they grieve, they heal, and they get back to the business of being elephants.

Humans, with our elevated cognition and language, suffer keenly – probably more than any other animals. We hurt, we are aware that we hurt, and we reflect on our pain, all of which compounds our suffering. And yet we have ways of coping, which is a good thing because there has been a lot to cope with through the ages!

Our ancestors faced horrors that we in first world countries only imagine: predation from animals, horrific maladies, deadly neighbors, and all this lurking in the shadows of their imaginations. Yet we know they had resilient spirits because we are resilient and we got our resilience from them. We find hope in each new day the way they did. We move past grief to live in the present the way they did. We have resilience. We are resilience!

Buddhist IconA Buddhist Perspective on February Ministry Theme: Resilience

By Nancy Thompson

Remember Weebles — the children’s toy with the slogan “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down”? Small, round, sort-of-human figures, they had a curved – but weighted—base so that young children could push them over, and they would spring back up. My friend, Ven. Lawrence Do’an Grecco, a Zen monk, sometimes brings Weebles to illustrate his talks on equanimity, the quality that allows you to roll back up when you get knocked down, whether by ill fortune or giddy joy.

Sharon Salzberg, a Buddhist teacher with the Insight Meditation Society, defines equanimity as balance – which is key to resilience.

To some degree, equanimity is what’s known as a fruitional quality – the result of other practices. It is the fourth of the Four Brahma Viharas, or heavenly states, and said to be the most difficult to attain. To dwell in equanimity, you have to accept impermanence and emptiness – the current situation, whatever it is, will not last. Nor will it define us. Emptiness says that states of being (and beings) are not solid, permanent, or independent. We change in response to circumstances; we adapt; we persevere. Life goes on.

We lose equanimity, and resilience, when we think that a situation has to be a certain way to be acceptable, that we can’t go on without whatever thing or circumstance we think is necessary. Then we suffer. If we can be flexible and work with what we have rather than insisting that things be a certain way, we can come back.

We can experience this in meditation. When we lose concentration, we come back. When the room is too hot or too cold, too loud, too quiet, with too many people or not enough, we watch thoughts arise and pass, pains arise and diminish, and emotions move through our minds like clouds across the sky. The sky is there no matter what is front of it – and when the clouds move or the storm clears or the bright sun sets, there it is. It doesn’t come back; it was always there, just obscured. And like the sky, our inherent goodness is always there, just obscured by circumstance. Knowing that is the weight in the Weeble, the source of balance and resilience.