Paying Attention

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Listen to an audio recording of the service for The Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 22, by clicking the play button (arrow) at the link below. Fr. Stuart’s homily begins at about the 20 minute mark.

If we could, let’s just sit together and take a few deep breaths. This will help me, and I hope it will help you…

My friends,

I am not even going to pretend that I can stand in the pulpit like it is any other Sunday.

I going to stand here, but I am going to do it—gently. And using the words that you know I love—with mindfulness in this space we are all sharing. I wanted to put the word cluster in here as well, so I just did.

And, I am wearing socks with dragons on them that my dear friend the Rev. Mary Demmler gave me this week, and they are incredible.

I am not preaching on the readings assigned for today, the 4th Sunday of Easter, also known as Good Shepherd Sunday, because I think they compound the trauma we all experienced last Sunday. I could not begin to preach on the verse that says, “the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep,” nor could I expect you to just sit there and receive that. It is too soon.

So, I decided to preach on other readings today: the assigned texts for peace from the Book of Common Prayer. That feels more appropriate to me.

It feels honest. It feels like what I need, and I wonder if it feels like what you need as well.

And, we have bowls of chocolate treats out in the greeting area. Because we need those, too. Bishop Wright said to send him the invoice for chocolate, so I have that in an envelope for Canon Bolton. We thought about having boxes of puppies available when folks arrived, but they would eat the chocolate.

So, that is where I am right now, leaning into this space. I can’t pretend that things have gone back to normal, because they haven’t. I still feel fuzzy sometimes and unsteady on my feet, both metaphorically and physically. I find myself with my legs and arms crossed in some conversations. My attention span is shorter than usual right now. And, this makes me frustrated, because I don’t like feeling off my game.

It took me until Thursday before I could come back in here and sit down in my chair, to be honest. I needed to come and say prayers and just be present in here…to seek healing and reclaim this space. In times of old, when a church experienced a traumatic event, they would reconsecrate it. So, I hope we see ourselves doing that in a while when we celebrate Holy Communion together: sharing in the consecration.

I am recovering. We are recovering.

And, here is what I have learned these past few days—or at least what I am beginning to learn:

Just because I can’t act as though things have gone back to “normal” does not mean that I can’t move forward, or that we can’t as a community. This has been a vital lesson for me to learn, and I suspect that you may appreciate hearing it from your rector. Moving forward and being wounded are not mutually exclusive categories.

Here is where I am now: I am paying attention in a more intentional way. For someone who has explored mindfulness as much as I have the past decade, perhaps this is a way to approach this entire experience: what am I aware of. How am I paying attention to things in a new way? What has been brought to my attention?

I am paying attention to my body, when it says I need to go and close my office door. Light a candle. Wrap up in a blanket. When I feel tight or a bit unsteady. When I need to go to sleep at 8 o’clock. When I need to kindly say to someone I just can’t see you this week. When I need to be outside around trees. When my heart hurts.

I am paying attention to the way people care for each other, taking time to listen deeply. The small things, like a gentle hand on an arm. Folks bringing flowers and chocolate covered strawberries. Noticing how the pace of our shared life has become a bit slower, even with the anxiety at first, with people taking time, speaking from the heart. There is a focus…

I am paying attention to the pull within myself to get back to the way things were before receiving the letter and the confrontation as soon as possible.

And, I am paying attention to the truth that this is not possible. Things are different now, and there is definitely something of a lost innocence that we are all experiencing in our souls. That makes me very sad.

The truth is there is no “normal” we will return to, but we can and will “normalize” this reoriented life we share. And I believe we will be stronger for it. We will be a wiser and more compassionate community.

I am paying attention to the way I feel in conversations and encounters. When I read all the notes and letters from so many of you, checking in on me while you also share how you feel: the powerlessness, the anger, the grief, the confusion…to feel this together. This is important.

Also, I am paying attention to how we each have wounds. Isn’t that true. We all have wounds. There is no doubt that the confrontation on Sunday is a soul wound for me that will remain with me. It is a scar. I will learn from it over time. We all will.

And I am paying close attention to how we have become more attuned to the wound within each one of us in this moment of shared woundedness. This experience, as awful as it was, has given us an opportunity to lean in toward each other.

All this healing and processing will take time. Different ones of us will do this work at different speeds. And that is ok.

I am also paying attention to the lessons this liturgical season can teach us.

We are, don’t forget, in the midst of Eastertide!

Alleluia, Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!

(Just checking to see if you were paying attention).

On Thursday, Canon Bolton came by to visit with Cynthia and me. He was checking on us and the community. We, of course, began to wax theologically and use very big words. We were very proud of ourselves!

He reminded us how, in this Easter Season, we are constantly reminded of the potential and promise of transformation.

The promise of new life to bloom out of death.

The hope for courage to step out of spaces of fear.

The potential for peace to rise out of places of confrontation and conflict.

The reality of transformation—that is what we proclaim as followers of Jesus Christ. This is what we celebrate during this Easter Season—and during every moment of our lives.

And here’s the thing: transformation takes time.

That is why we have Easter Season, with the Great 50 Days of Easter. Easter was not an instant shift in consciousness for the early followers of Jesus. Jesus had to keep coming back and visiting with the disciples and others, assuring them that, yes, this can happen. Yes, this is possible.

And in my heart, Jesus never got frustrated and impatient with them.

Jesus never said, “Oh, for Pete’s sake, how can you not just get this and move on already?” No. He kept coming back. He kept taking time.

Yes, it’s me.
Here, touch my hands.
Do you have anything to eat?
Let’s walk down this road and talk a while.

So, that is who I am keeping my eyes on these days.

That is where I am keeping my heart fixed: on this Jesus.

Patient Jesus. Compassionate Jesus. Understanding Jesus. Embracing Jesus.

There are forces in our world which seek to stoke fear and anxiety, to incite it and manipulate it rather than recognize it, name it, and seek its transformation. At some point, when our hearts are ready, we will need to share a conversation about the way three critical areas of our lives have intersected. This intersection must be discussed: a political climate of fear, anxiety, and emboldened hatred; an uncritical and fear-based fundamentalist approach to the Biblical texts; and the complexities of mental health in our society today.

The broader Christian community—every denomination—must take care to recognize the potential danger when we neglect the broader world in which we live and inadvertently stoke anger and fear by using our texts in an irresponsible way. It is time that every community that dares to call itself ‘Christian’ recognize that we must all be responsible. At some point, given what we are experiencing, perhaps this community can help nurture that conversation in our community and our world. It is deeply contemplative work that opens our hearts to the Spirit’s healing presence.

But, for now, we need chocolate and each other.

I am so thankful for you.

I am so thankful to be here with you.

I am so thankful for the time and space we have to love one another.

[And, if I made it through this far without crying]

And, I am so thankful that I made it to now without crying, because this was really hard.

Ok. That’s all I have for now.

The Rev. Dr. Stuart Higginbotham
Easter 4, Year B
April 25, 2018

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