Sunday, March 22, 2020

The Wisdom of Tenderness

On the social networking site,, an Oak Parker shared with her neighbors that she’s following the news back in China. In her hometown, she says there is a swing dancing school that has been closed for over two months and is now reopening. There’s something truly beautiful about one of the first community organizations to reopen in a town is designed to bring people together in joy and dance—and to touch one another. Apparently the long winter in China is opening up to spring.

And here we are, a mere three days into spring. Usually there are not yet daffodils up in mid March, but nearly two weeks ago while walking to the offices—when I was still walking to the offices—I spied a few small hardy daffodils that had popped open. I couldn’t believe it. This is an odd year: a mild March which is usually the cruelest of months, an early spring, and all the while the world’s population navigates a winter of the soul, collectively journeying through the valley of the shadow of death. 

The Chinese people appear to be coming out from that valley, while we here in the United States are just entering it. But it won’t last forever. I’m grateful for the many readings that you all have been sharing with me. The one that has been raised in conversations more than any other is the 23rd Psalm, for we really are journeying through the valley of the shadow of death. A contemporary version of this psalm begins May I remember in this tender moment that Love is my guide, always, shepherding me toward ways of openness and compassion. 

This month we are exploring the theme of wisdom. Months ago I had named this service The Wisdom of Tenderness. I had planned to go in a far different direction, but the wisdom of tenderness is so very much what I believe we need in this moment. This time of physical distancing is a time to become more tender with ourselves, more tender with our loved ones, more tender with our grief. Many of us struggle with connecting with our own grief, and right now those of us who must cloister ourselves away are coming face to face with our own vulnerability, with the losses in our lives, with both new grief and unresolved grief of the past. 

And so I ask: How is it with your soul? How goes the rhythm of your days? 

As many of us cloister away in our own homes, how are you settling in? It’s been a struggle for me to put boundaries around my checking the news and checking my email and phone. I hear from many of you that finding balance is challenging. This is a time for many of us to develop a new rhythm for our days. I am taking the opportunity to deepen my spiritual practice, at least before the kids are awake.  It is also a time to be grateful for all those who provide essential services, to recognize what is essential in our lives, all of our lives. 

When touching into grief and vulnerability, the tenderness of wisdom beckons. My dear friend and colleague Daniel Kanter lost his father four days ago. His parents came to visit him in Dallas over Christmas and then his father fell ill with an acute form of leukemia and was unable to return home to New England. So Daniel put his parents up in his home. Now that his father has passed, Daniel cannot gather with loved ones to mourn. Daniel’s father is Jewish. His extended family on the east coast always sits shiva when someone dies, and receive friends and family for days on end, eating and talking and telling stories. But that’s not possible now. Daniel shares that he identifies with CS Lewis who famously said in A Grief Observed, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”

Have you noticed a lot of fear lately? Maybe it’s grief that is tugging at your heart. 

Our world and our lives are changing and we are waking up to how little control we actually have. If we are tender with ourselves and honor our grief, we shall also wake up to just how big we are, to what really matters, to love.

In the coming weeks, I invite you to join me to reflect on how the wisdom of tenderness  is moving in your life. Each Tuesday at Two and Thursday at Three I will be available for whoever wants to drop in virtually via Zoom. I am also available to talk at other times, as is Rev. Emily and our Pastoral Associates. My cell phone is on the voicemail at the office.

In these challenging days, I find words from Frederick Beuchner helpful, when he summed up his decades of being a preacher and a theologian: “Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

One way people in China have coped with the viral storm has been sharing videos of ordinary people wearing face masks dancing and even gathering online for dance parties. Might the rhythm of your day include viewing exuberant expressions of joy or even sharing in the movement?

In this difficult time as loved ones fall ill, lose jobs, struggle with isolation, may we remember that in these tender moments, Love is our guide, always, shepherding us toward ways of openness and compassion. And life itself is grace. 

Blessed be. Amen.

As a benediction, I offer you words recently penned from Kitty O’Meara, a retired chaplain in Madison, Wisconsin:

And the people stayed home, and read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. 

Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently. 

And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.

And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed. 

May it be so. Blessed be. Amen.

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