It is essential that we find ways to breathe life into that which reminds us of our power, our humanity, our compassion, and our interdependence.
How is your spirit—your body and mind and heart—these days? It’s early in the new year and already there has been so much tragedy. Terrifying hate crimes, devastating fires in Australia, escalating conflict with Iran, daily breaking news on the president’s impeachment. Honestly, I don’t know what more might have happened between me writing this and you receiving it. That’s how difficult these times are.
It’s okay if you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or depressed. We are all holding a lot right now. Given this, it matters that we ask ourselves and one another, how are you caring for your spirit?
I don’t know the origins of this teaching, but I heard Unitarian Universalist minister the Rev. Harry Scholefield say he began every day with an hour of spiritual practice. He said he did this every day, unless he was really overwhelmed. In that case, he did it for two hours. Imperfectly, I try to follow the meaning of this lesson. When I do, I find I am more prepared to meet the day from a foundation of what is most dear to me: the values of compassion, generosity, integrity, and courage.
2020 marks the ten-year anniversary of the passage of Arizona Senate bill SB 1070—a caustic anti-immigrant bill that sought to make the unconstitutional practices of Sheriff Joe Arpaio state law. The passage of that bill led to some of the most intense events in the decade-long campaign to stop Arpaio’s abuses. Thinking back, I remember how it was the pressures of 2010 that got me back to my daily spiritual practice. The intensity of that campaign forced me back to the cushion—back to my spiritual practice.
I also remember my congregation at the time, who were deeply a part of this work, focusing on spiritual practice, theology, and themes of compassion, forgiveness, humility, generosity, joy, and hope. This felt critical to nurturing resiliency to stay in the struggle. So many knew the injustice and pain personally. What we needed was to feel the strength of our values, to feel the care of a deeply connected community, to celebrate the wholeness and possibility of the conditions we were fighting for and trying to bring to life.
I see how hard so many of you are working for justice. I know those of you in congregational leadership—whether staff, volunteer leaders, or teachers—have to give so much to care for your people. Many of you are doing this beyond the congregation, in the larger community or in your workplace. How do we lead and offer hope and care when our own hearts are broken? How do we maintain our energy and keep showing up when we ourselves are weary? How are you caring for your spirit?
There is not one right way to care for your spirit, but making time for it is important. I remember a Buddhist friend who would recite the names of the Buddha during subway rides. And a father of two teenagers, who any time he had to wait—which was often—would take the time to focus on his breath and welcome the stillness. For me, it is getting up before the rest of my household to sit with poetry or in meditation. And it is being with people I love and sharing the joy of friendship, music, and stories that help us connect with what is good in life.
These times are overwhelming. The impact—and often the intention—of chaotic and shocking times is to make us feel overwhelmed, isolated, and powerless. In these times, it is essential that we find ways—in how we gather, in how we worship, and individually in practice—to breathe life into that which reminds us of our power, our humanity, our compassion, and our interdependence. In these times, it is crucial that our communities engage in the practices and spirit that feed the resilience we need to stay connected and engaged in the work of nurturing a world of justice and peace.
How are you caring for your spirit?
Yours in love,
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The Rev. Dr. Susan Frederick-Gray is the ninth president of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). She was elected in June 2017 to a six-year term after serving congregations in Phoenix, Arizona; Youngstown, Ohio; and Nashville, Tennessee. She lives with her husband, the Rev. Brian Frederick-Gray, and their son.