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Breathing Time

June 29, 2018

A couple of weeks ago I had taken my dinner up to the Roof Garden. With the apartment still a sea of boxes after moving into the church, and the dining table unsittable, I have found that the Roof Garden in the evening is the perfect place to enjoy dinner. It is a lovely, covered playground for the Day School by day, and a lovely quiet space in the evening. Well, as quiet as it gets on Madison Avenue in NYC. It is open, with screens, on two sides, so even on the hottest days, there is often a breeze eleven floors up to make it more comfortable. On this particular evening, I looked up to see a big, gold, Mylar, letter “A” balloon that had gotten away, drifting over the tops of the buildings. I imagine some child named Adam or Abigail or Anna was most unhappy to have lost the balloon, but it felt like some sort of omen, sign, to me. Balloons often get away, but I’ve never seen a big gold “A” floating through the sky before. “A” for beginnings. “A” for alpha. “I am the alpha and the omega.”  No omega, no ending drifting above the buildings, only a beginning.

It is a time for new beginnings—for Emily and me, for the church I serve, and for our country. We moved from the West Side, from an apartment and neighborhood we loved, to the East Side, into the church, for various reasons. We were sad to leave, but it is a good, fresh start, and you can’t beat the commute. It will also be an easy commute for Emily in the fall, as she begins high school in East Harlem. Our new apartment is lovely, but smaller, which requires some down-sizing—more than I have already done (which is not an insignificant amount), because I don’t know where to put everything. Downsizing is good. Letting go. Focusing on what you really need and care about, trying to live more simply, whether you use KonMari or Swedish Death Cleaning, or just figure it out with your own method, it’s a good thing to do. Especially when one is within ten years of retirement. Really????  How can that be?  But I’m not going to jump that far ahead just now.  I’ll focus on this particular time of beginnings.

This move feels like more than physical starting over. It’s a time to refocus. A time not just to think about what material belongings really matter, but how am I spending my time, my energy. What do I want to leave behind?  What do I want to focus on? What clutter in my mind and heart can I clean out? What do I need to make space for? What beginning was that big, gold “A” floating through the sky calling me to?

I think a major part of this new beginning is about paying more attention to the inner life, so that I can live a more faithful and fruitful outer life. Because my 14-year-old daughter, the rest of my family, my friends, my congregation and my community deserve a more centered, focused, and less-stressed version of me. Heck, I deserve a more centered, focused, less-stressed version of me!  This week, enjoying my own personal retreat in Vermont, while Emily is away in Spain and Italy (on choir tour, followed by a week with her sister), has proven to be the perfect way to start afresh. I already feel more rested and grounded than I have in months, well, more like a couple of years. The move is behind me, except for the settling in, the interim period at church is over as Jenny, our new senior pastor has arrived, and this week is like a long, deep, restorative breath. I am currently looking out the window of my friend’s art studio at the hills across the way and the Roy farm—the same view I had from my former home, also in view just to my left, when I was a pastor here more than a quarter century ago. It feels like I have come home to be restored before returning to the life that is my current calling.

One of the major sources of stress for me, and so many others, since November 8, 2016, is, of course, our current administration. It is hard to see this time for our country as a new beginning rather than an ending as we see so much being fecklessly and recklessly destroyed and overturned—human rights, global alliances, and the fate of the earth itself. But I keep remembering Valerie Kaur’s Watch Night speech on December 31, 2016, where she asked, “What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?” And then reminded us that in giving birth, first you have to breathe, then you have to push.* We have to do both—breathe and push in order to bring a new era to birth, and we have to be midwives and coach each other to breathe and push, breathe and push to bring into being an era of compassion, respect and care for the earth, and respect for human beings no matter their race, creed, country, ethnicity, gender or sexuality identity, or economic status. I need to do my part to help make this darkness a time that will bear fruit rather than destruction. And in order to do that, and to see this as a time of beginning, a time when hope and new life can spring up from the ashes, I have to carve out time to breathe. You can’t keep pushing if you have no breath. That’s the powerful reminder of this week. The sleep I am getting, the nature I am enjoying, the friends with whom I am reconnecting, and the reading I am doing, all fuel this new beginning.

When I return to Madison Avenue, I need to hold myself accountable to take time to breathe in the midst of my daily life.  We need to hold each other accountable for breathing and time outs, for whatever restores us:  prayer, meditation, walks in the park, yoga, visits to the museum, knitting, drawing—whatever feeds our soul, loosens the knots in our shoulders, and brings us back to ourselves—or we will be sucked into despair and the constant sense of overwhelm. I haven’t been very good at that lately. But we have a long process of labor ahead of us, maybe even for the rest of our lives, to help birth a world that supports and cherishes life, a world where love wins. And we won’t be able to do that if we are depleted. Feel free to hold me accountable for breathing.  And I’ll do the same.Vermont6-2108

*If you need to re-watch Kaur’s speech, or if you missed it, you can find it here:


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