Good morning lovely Lyndale. We’ve had some intense months since I last preached in May. It has been a time of births that make glad our hearts – babies, new incarnations of movements for justice and love, imagining ways to turn the reality of pandemic into a portal for new ways of being in the world. And it has been a time of very real troubles, of roaring hearts in grief and roaring fires set by white supremacists in our city and climate change. This morning, I’m still reconnecting with you all and I don’t yet know what is being born for many of you these days and what is roaring. So I’m going to start with just sharing some of where I’ve been and a practice that has been a part of the way I’ve kept going.
We went into the hospital during the May peak of covid for an induction. It turned out to be the day George Floyd was lynched and the hospital went into lockdown. After 60 hours of labor, I had an unplanned c-section, but we were just so grateful that all of us were healthy. Over the next few weeks of round the clock breast feeding, we had the slow realization that our baby wasn’t actually able to eat enough. It shook me like the mountains in our psalm – to the point of trembling, anxious exhaustion. After a slew of masked doctor’s visits, my wife and I got in the car with our 5 week-old baby to take her to have a small, simple surgery – a tongue tie release. We were hopeful the surgery would allow her to eat like most other babies when they are born. But every muscle in my body felt like a tumult of resistance and the fear was overwhelming. I was fighting off feelings of post-partum hormonal panic when saw a text from my dear friend who had been through this experience of having a baby with a tongue tie a year ago. She told me she was praying for us and asked if we wanted to talk. I didn’t want to, but something tugged at me to call her anyway.
She’s a rabbi and she asked me if there was a scripture that felt like it could anchor me in this time and that’s when this line came back to me: “Be still and know that I am God.” She prayed…Be still and know… that you are not alone. Be still and know it will be well in time. Be still and know you are doing what needs to be done, though it feels awful now. Be still and know you are giving LouLou the freedom to eat, to be nourished, to speak her mind and join the protests of the future someday. Be still. Be still. Be still.
And I began to breathe more normally again. I felt in my bones that God was in that car with us, in the midst of it all, speeding down a weird suburban stretch of highway. She was in my tottering steps, alone and masked and armed with hand sanitizer, as I walked into the doctor’s office. He was in the refuge of my wife’s arms as I came out again, dripping with tears to wait for the procedure to be over. They were in LouLou’s first real smile after the procedure, when she could finally open her mouth wide and move her tongue fully for the first time. The Lord of hosts was with us, a very present help in our time of trouble.
I wish I could say it was all smiles from then on. Instead, it got harder for all of us before it got easier. Instead, desolations continued across our city and country – not the riots, I mean, but the violence the protestors met while demanding recognition for the sacredness of Black Life. I forgot I wasn’t supposed to have the patience, healing powers, or endless creative energy of God. I forgot to be still. And when I was still, it was too scary to stay there. I couldn’t feel God a lot of the time. I was too tired. My body was too wrecked. Our baby still couldn’t eat enough for another couple months after the surgery.
“Be still and know that I am God,” says our scripture. I came back to it over and over. But it turned out I could only feel it and trust it and know it in my bones when I paid attention to what I was grateful for. Sometimes my hormone drenched brain frothed over and one of the few ways I could find calm was to make a mental list of what I was grateful for – the smell of LouLou’s head, the softness of my sheets, the breath in my body, the food that arrived from a friend, the grandmother changing a diaper. Gratitude helped me fall asleep. Gratitude was my refuge, my way of knowing God. To be fair to my family, I was still a hormonal bear. I still needed a LOT of help from a LOT of beloveds and professionals – as did our sweet little baby. AND I found such truth in the wisdom of Benedictine Brother David Steindl-Rast: “It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”
I asked on Facebook recently what spiritual practices were grounding you all. Of the dozens of responses, only two people said anything about zoom and church. Most people’s responses were about some way of connecting with their senses – being outside, exercise, cake (my personal favorite response), cooking, singing, gardening. I too have found this to be true. My most powerful prayer and gratitude practices have been sniffing my baby’s head and looking up at the gorgeous fall leaves against the blue sky. And drinking that first sip of morning coffee – extra strong with extra half and half. Our bodies need to experience gratitude, are portals for gratitude, as much if not more than our brains. Which is why the psalm tells us to “be still.” We cannot know anything, let alone God, separate from the reality of what our bodies are doing in the moment.
So I want you to take a moment now and get comfortable. If that means moving your computer outside or getting a fresh cup of whatever you are drinking or even finding a way to lie down, go for it. And then just sit with the question, “for what am I grateful right now?” If you are struggling, start with your body and what feels healthy in your body, even if parts of your body are compromised. Or start with what it looks like outside and sounds and sights you might notice. Just sit with what pops up for the next few minutes.
This morning I am grateful for:
- This Lyndale community that honored my family with a just and generous family leave and medical leave time that has allowed us to move from fear to joy with our new, awesome baby. She still has eating struggles, but she is growing and revealing herself to us with so much bubbling over enthusiasm and sweetness.
- For beloved family of blood and choice without whom I literally could not be running this service because I wouldn’t have enough hands or be able to hear my own thoughts.
- For the possibilities of collective action we have in the weeks to come to totter the empire that has been built where democracy was imagined.
Brother David continues,
“[Gratitude] can change our world in immensely important ways, because if you’re grateful, you’re not fearful, and if you’re not fearful, you’re not violent. If you’re grateful, you act out of a sense of enough and not of a sense of scarcity, and you are willing to share. If you are grateful, you are enjoying the differences between people, and you are respectful to everybody, and that changes this power pyramid under which we live.”
May we be still and notice God so that we may have a gratitude revolution in ourselves, at the ballot box, in the world.