Leap Day: Starting Fresh

A  sermon on the theme of reconciliation.  Rev. Brian J. Kiely  Unitarian Church of Edmonton February 28, 2016

Each new morning two choices are open to us:

The choice to live that day in the joyfulness of Love,

Or in the darkness of Fear.

Each new day, as the sun rises, 

We have another opportunity to make that choice.

The symbolism of the sunrise is the removal of shadow

And the return of Light.

Each new morning we have another chance

To rid ourselves of the burdens, sorrows and fears of the past,

To rejoice in the joy of the present,

And to look forward to a future of fulfilment

On every level of being.

Each sunrise is a fresh opportunity to release fear,

To choose a different life-path,

To commit ourselves to joyful, light living,

To trust in Ourselves and in the Universe,

To trust in the forces of Nature and in Mother Earth,

To trust in God, the Creator, and All-That-Is.

  -Penny Quest

This month we have been discussing forgiveness and reconciliation.  In March, the theme will shift to transformation – fitting for Spring.  On this unusuall final day of February it seems appropriate to merge the two a little.

In this past month, we have been considering apologies and steps towards reconciliation. We have meditated in music on failure and starting over.  We have been visited by someone with a lot of experience reconciling cultures.  Now,  it is time to consider how we move forward into and through forgiveness of ourselves and of others.

As we enter the month of Spring festivals, it also seems right to think in terms of leaping forward into change.

‘Leaping’ – that’s an interesting word in itself.  When I close my eyes and conjure an image of leaping it carries with it a sense of freedom, a lightness of being.  It is hard to soar when you are hauling along a large rock.

Guilt is one such large rock. When we have harmed someone, when we have broken promises, let someone down through our actions, we pick up a rock of guilt. Sometimes we carry that rock for years…carry it for so very long that we stop noticing its weight, stop even thinking of it as a burden.  It becomes a part of us.

Guilt is the rock the perpetrator can pick up.  But the harmed person also has a rock they can pick

Eirik Arnesen Sculpture
Eirik Arnesen Sculpture

up if they choose.  It is the rock of hurt.or shame…or even their own sense of guilt at having allowed themselves to become victimize  Joan Carolyn talked about this last week in her excellent sermon on building reconciliation.  You can hear it on our website or find it on our UCE Facebook page.

When we are harmed, we are hurt…wounded in body or spirit or wealth (when robbed) or confidence or self-image. And we all know that sometimes the hurt can be quite deep and terrible.  When the hurt is fresh and the sense of loss is burning and alive, it only makes sense to be burdened by the weight of it all.  We need time for the wounds to heal, for the scar tissue to form.  Most of us have to carry that rock for a while.  There is no set timeline for healing, no magic formula.  It just takes time.

In the world of grief counselling, there is a kind of rule of thumb.  When someone close to you dies, it can take a year, a full calendar cycle before you are really ready to begin again.  But as with the guilt rock, some people insist on carrying that hurt rock long after that year.  It is as if that rock has reshaped their skeleton and left them bent over, hobbled.  More importantly, they have come to see themselves as bent over people.  Carrying the hurt becomes an integral part of their identity. They have forgotten  what it was like to stand upright and proud.  It can block them from finding enjoyment and pleasure in life.  It’s really hard to leap forward when those almost forgotten rocks are weighing you down.

We all know people like that who walk through their lives carrying these heavy burdens of guilt or pain.or sometimes both together…  The question is, do they need to do so?  Is there anything to be gained by continually being crushed by either guilt or hurt?

We come to believe that it is part of us.  And what’s so very much worse, we come to believe that we deserve that rock.  It may well be that everyone else has forgotten or moved on, but still we haul that darn thing around, breaking our backs under the strain.  We believe that we are failures, screw-ups, less than human either because we made a mistake or because we were victimized.  We don’t deserve to be happy, so egregious was the crime.  I say ‘so egregious’, but really that is usually in our own minds, our own imaginings, and we cannot leap into change.

Every religion that speaks of forgiveness is clear that every wrong step, every sin, every error can be forgiven.  This is irregardless of whether or not the wronged party actually forgives us.  If we make sincere amends  we can free ourselves, for only we can put the rock down.

Religion tends to be less vocal about forgiving ourselves for having been hurt, for having been victimized.  We all know of instances where victims actually get blamed- subtly or overtly – for what has been done to them.  Never is this more true than in sexual crimes.  Societal condemnation like this certainly adds to the burden of hurt. It keeps us from leaping, and soaring.

The thing is, a lot of people refuse to accept those teachings on forgiveness. They come to see themselves…or they have been told again and again that they are unforgivable and worthless.  But that is a terrible and hurtful lie.  It is responsible for so much unnecessary pain in the world, the miserable souls dragging others down into their sadness and despair with their hateful and hurtful condemnation.  It just makes me crazy, friends!

So how can we learn to set these crippling burdens down?  How can we stop listening to those voices that seem so invested in keeping us guilty, or hurt or both?  How can we learn to leap again?

A few weeks ago I watched an episode of Code Black – a new hospital drama starring Marcia Gay Harden.  Her lead character lost her husband and children in a car accident caused by a drunk driver.  It happened sometime in the past.  She survived and carries both the guilt of survival and the hurt of loss.

Dr. Leanne Rorish (Marcia Gay Harden) meets with the drunk driver who killed her family.
Dr. Leanne Rorish (Marcia Gay Harden) meets with the drunk driver who killed her family.

In this episode she serendipitously finds herself at the prison where the guilty driver resides.  He has written her his apologies many times but she has never read any of his letters.  Yet, here she is at the prison.  She takes it as a sign and goes to see him.  As she speaks to him she says, “I can’t forgive you.” He replies and this is paraphrase, “I know.  I don’t need you to anymore.  I know who I have become since then.  I know how sorry I am, but I can’t bring your family back.  I can only move forward.  I don’t need your forgiveness, but you do.”

The actor portraying the driver played this very sensitively.  He had laid down the burden of guilt.  He was convicted, was serving his sentence without complaint and was using his incarceration as a time of discernment and growth.  He would never forget his crime, never dismiss it, but neither would he live it every day. He was starting to move on.

She, however, was still stuck, groaning under the weight of the rock she carried.  It might be that she will never put it down.

What’s the difference between them?

images

UU Minister Kathleen McTigue wrote a wonderful little essay entitled “Listening to Our Lives” in a book about spiritual practices.  She was writing about prayer and the distractions of becoming a new mother interfering with her spiritual disciplines, but the lesson applies here as well.

She tells the story of Brother Bruno:

There is an old folk tale from the Christian tradition about the saintly Brother Bruno, who was at prayer one night when he found his concentration interrupted by the loud croaking of a bullfrog.  He kept trying to ignore the voice, but the harder he tried to concentrate, the more annoying the sound became.  Finally, he leaned out his window and shouted, “Quiet! I’m at prayers!” Instantly there was complete silence, as the bullfrog and every other creature obeyed his command.  Brother Bruno settled back into prayer, but now he found himself even more deeply disturbed by a nagging doubt: Why would God create a bullfrog and its rasping voice unless there was something pleasing to the sound?  Could it be that Bruno’s own prayer sounded, to God’s ears, like the arrogant croaking of another sort of frog?

Bruno could not push away this uneasiness, and so finally he leaned out his window again and gave the command, “Sing!”  The throaty croak of the bullfrog again filled the air along with all the other creatures who had fallen silent. Bruno listened carefully to the sound and to his amazement discovered that it was beautiful…  He understood for the first time what it really meant to pray.

McTigue lifted this up as an example of the modern therapeutic term “reframing”.

“To reframe a problem or issue means exactly that: We recognize that what we’re contemplating is shaped by the perspective or ‘Frame” we’re used to, and we try a different frame or angle in order to see the problem differently.  When reframing works well, it can even make the problem disappear: It changes our perspective so radically that what once troubled us just doesn’t seem to matter anymore.”

To go back to my rocky burdens, reframing can show us first, that we are only carrying these things – that they aren’t actually a part of us.  Secondly, it can even show us that we can set them down and leave them behind and leap into change less burdened.

A first step is understanding that while others might have held this rock for us and handed it to us, we are the ones who choose to carry it, day after day.  No one else can lift it off of us either.  The best any friend can do is say, “You know…you could choose to put that darn thing down!”  And that is pretty much the whole crux of this sermon…

You…Have…A…Choice!

As Penny Quest said in the poem that I used to begin this discourse,

Each new morning two choices are open to us:

The choice to live that day in the joyfulness of Love,

Or in the darkness of Fear…

Each new morning we have another chance

To rid ourselves of the burdens, sorrows and fears of the past,

To rejoice in the joy of the present,

And to look forward to a future of fulfilment

On every level of being.

You…Have…A…Choice, my friends.

Choose wisely.