Minister’s Column December 2020

Dear Ones,

Our ministry theme for December is stillness. I can’t imagine a more essential theme for us in this beautifully dark season in this extraordinarily difficult year. A pandemic rages around us. Our safety—and the safety of our communities—depends on our staying home as much as possible, staying isolated as much as possible, and restricting our movements in the wider community as much as possible. Our safety depends on our capacity to remain still.

As we commenced our congregational year back in September, I was fairly confident the coronavirus would come surging back in New England with the arrival of colder weather. I wasn’t confident because I had some special knowledge or inside information. Every infectious disease specialist in the country, along with doctors, nurses, and public health officials were predicting we’d be here now. This was public knowledge. And the experts were telling us what to do to limit the worst-case scenarios: wear masks, avoid large indoor gatherings, stay socially distant, wash hands often. My goal here is not to lay blame for this largely avoidable public health crisis. Laying blame won’t change reality at this point. What’s done is done. We are where we are as a nation. Our challenge is to stay safe, vigilant, resilient, patient … and still.

In a meditation entitled, “There is a Time to Let Go,” my colleague, the Rev. Gretchen Haley, counsels us to “study stillness and joy.” I like the way Rev. Haley links these two states of being—stillness and joy—as if one lives within the other, and vice versa. So often stillness and joy feel like two separate experiences of the holiday season. We typically encounter holiday joy in gatherings of family and friends, in holiday parties, in singing in the holiday choir, in our holiday music and Christmas Eve services—in being together. We encounter stillness when the sun sets at 4:00 PM, when the snow falls gently on newly frozen ground, when we wake early into the darkness of the pre-dawn, when Christmas lights around the neighborhood touch that ancestral knowledge deep in us—that knowledge that the sun returns, that our working toward a better world is not in vain.

This year, of course, the usual sources of seasonal joy are limited, mostly to Zoom. Our usual opportunities for hugs, touch, eye contact, cooking together, sharing meals, giving gifts, and singing are actually dangerous this year. We need to find joy through other avenues. It’s time to study stillness and joy.

Can you find joy in the stillness? I hope you can. I hope you can study stillness and joy, as Rev. Haley advises. I hope you can discover how stillness and joy live within each other. In the absence of physical connection and togetherness, I hope you can find the peace and contentment that come with being still. I hope you can encounter the many ways the sacred speaks through silence. I hope you can experience how the darkness holds, consoles, and nurtures us. And within all of it, I hope you find joy.

I wish you a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukah, a blessed solstice, and a happy New Year. Through it all, I encourage you to study stillness. And I pray that you find joy in that stillness.

With love,

—Rev. Josh