Lockdown

Lockdown: Reflections On The Past Week.  A sermon by Rev David M Bryce

My plan for today had been to preach on Earth Day.  But events have intervened.

It has been a long week.

We had the shock of Monday when we saw the events at the Boston marathon, events in which we saw places where we have been, where we have walked or shopped or worked, damaged by explosions which once again challenged and damaged our sense of security, safety and innocence.

We had the sadness of Tuesday and Wednesday, sadness expressed by some who attended the service here in this Sanctuary on Wednesday evening. 

And we had the growing anger of Wednesday and Thursday which some of us also expressed here.

And then there was the time of the lockdown, the time most of us here watched on television as yet more places we ourselves have been were in the news having their sense of familiarity made oddly strange and alien by events.  It was a time when many people here saw SWAT teams in battle gear roaming their neighborhood for hours; when some had their homes searched by heavily armed people, and a few heard the sounds of a gun battle right outside their home.  It was a time when the police knocked on the doors of members of this congregation and said, “Stay inside and lie down on the floor for safety”.

And so the entire day was rather surreal.

Then came the wonderful moment of spring-like release when the lockdown was lifted and people all over the area were able to come out on the streets.  Neighbors spoke like old friends even if they had never met before.

And then the renewed concern when those in Watertown were told to go back into their homes, with a second release a few hours later.

Our feelings related to the stress of the past week may not have fully unfolded.  It is likely that they will manifest over time.

I was watching television the other morning, seeing the news updates on all that had happened, then I turned off the TV and was working on my laptop when I felt something on my face—perhaps a small gnat.  I brushed at it to move it away and realized that it was wet, that it was a teardrop.  And then I realized there was another one in my other eye.  I daubed them away and went back to work.

        That occurrence can be described with two different metaphors: Perhaps the body feels what mind does not; or perhaps the mind blocks what the mind feels.

We will have many feelings over the next few weeks.

Sometimes we may react with anger.  We might flare at people or circumstances and say that they have made us angry when, in reality, the anger within us is looking for a place to attach itself.

We might react with deep sadness and a feeling of loss or of lost direction and not know why.

We may react with giddy silliness, laughing foolishly at things that do not really call for it.

All of these and other reactions are things we may find ourselves doing, or may find others doing.  It pays to be gentle about this with people, to recognize that these are all natural responses.  Else, if one person is angry and another person is silly, or worse, if two people are angry, the consequences can be unfortunate for our relationships.

So this is a time to be especially cautious about things we say or do, emails or tweets we send, and things we post on Facebook and other social media pages.

        I try to remember not only in times such as these but at all times, that people react in a variety of ways to stress.  Someone who is sad or angry or silly may be reacting to stresses in their lives that I have no knowledge of.  So I strive to be kind always.  I don’t always succeed, but I strive.

And I want to remember that some people may be laden with emotion all of the time, maybe anger, because of stresses in their past that I know nothing about.

This past week we have experienced a lockdown of physical kind.

        Many of us were locked into our homes. 

        The lockdown, also called “shelter in place”, was voluntary in most areas but enforced in Watertown.  So people were locked into their homes in some cases by voluntary compliance, in some by fear and in some by armed guards.

        It was for a period of less than twenty four hours, but the fact that it was a lockdown gave it a different feeling than spending a day at home.

At the moment of release, whether that release is at the end of a police action or is on the first day of warm breezes, people rush to get outside; and the relief they feel and express is powerful and invigorating.  But physical lockdown is only one form.

Emotional lockdown is another.  That is when we have difficulty feeling our emotions. 

Some people may not be endowed with ability to feel emotions, or attach to and recognize the ones they have.  In some that seems to be a genetic predisposition; but in other people that seems to be due to emotional pain which causes someone to shut down, to lock themselves away.

        Sometimes it is not a general lack of emotions but is a case where some people cannot feel certain emotions at all, like empathy or compassion.

        But sometimes we ourselves limit our circle of compassion.  We cut ourselves off from compassion for those we define as “others”.  So, when people engage in war or terrorism they might feel deep compassion for one group of people but no compassion for another group.  That happens all of the time.  In war or other conflict we often feel terrible sorrow for the pain and suffering of one side, but not the other.  We divide the world into “we and they”, into good and bad, into The Children Of Light and The Children Of Darkness.  That divided way of thinking allows people to do terrible things like set bombs.  And it allows people to do terrible things like use torture or capital punishment.  Part of the growth we need as human beings is to break out of our locked down compassion for others; really, we need to stop seeing people as “other”.

Sometimes we suffer from spiritual lockdown.  We find ourselves cut off from the spiritual aspects of life.  We are cut off from a sense of connection to something that transcends the self.  Whether that transcendent connection is to the divine, to the Cosmos, to Love, to life, to humanity is less important than that a connection to something good exists.  We have seen, however, the problems with connection to evil or with an overly zealous connection.

But to the point, sometimes our souls are in a spiritual lockdown and we have difficulty breaking out of it.

How do I recognize the fact that I am in spiritual lockdown?  It is not a matter of belief.  Believers in God can be very unspiritual and atheists can have a high degree of spirituality.  It is not about an intellectual belief; it is about a deep connection to something beyond self.  That does not mean surrender of self will or of one’s own belief system; but it does mean connection to a sustaining supporting something beyond self.   

How break out of spiritual lockdown?

There is no single means of doing so.

What nourishes your spirit; what lifts you out of yourself?

I know there are some who have a regular ritual.  Perhaps it is candles and prayers or a set liturgy.  I do not have a spiritual practice in the sense of a ritual that I follow on a regular schedule. 

But I do read sacred texts.  I do so not because I believe in the particulars of what they say; I do so because they aim at something transcendent.  They seek to name and define or to connect with that something beyond self which they describe in different ways.

We each can find our own way of finding that connection.

Earth Day in our part of the world happens in the spring when out of the soil and out of the earth life springs forth with an exuberant sense of renewal. 

While astronomers just this week have told us that they may have now found other earth like planets, this is still the only one we live on.  Let us care for it, tend it, love it. 

On this Earth Day, as we celebrate the beauty of the planet which has given us life, may we take a lesson from the cycle of the seasons and, as the earth comes out of its own form of lockdown, so may we do the same. 

May we feel ourselves rising out of the time of shock and fear and anger, may we feel hope rising in our hearts, may we feel spring unlocking the doors and windows of our souls.  

And on this Earth Day may we feel ourselves breathing in the spirit of the fresh, the clean, the new as we stir ourselves from physical, emotional and spiritual lethargy.

May we be open—fully open—to the beauty of the earth, of life, of each day, of love and of friendship.  Let us be glad that we are here today.

So let it be.