“Rebirth of the Soul”
By Rev. Don Ludwig, March 29, 2020
“Lockdown” A Poem by Brother Richard Hendricks; Excerpt from Parker J. Palmer, American Author and Founder of Center for Courage and Renewal; and Gospel of Thomas 32: 18b – 33 

Gospel of Thomas 32: 18b – 33
Jesus says: “If those who lead you say to you: Look, the kingdom is in the sky! Then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you: It is in the sea, then the fishes will precede you. Rather the kingdom is inside of you and outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will be known and you will realize that you are the children of the living God.

It is a little hard to believe that it was just three weeks ago we were worshipping amidst the art in our sanctuary. The week prior I had suggested that we greet our neighbors by a shoulder bump instead of handshakes. That was met with much laughter. But most of us were bumping shoulders nonetheless. That was before many of us were paying much attention to something called the coronavirus. I mean, before this reality, Corona was considered a choice beer and not a disease. Just four weeks ago, social distancing (I still think it is somewhat of an oxymoron) wasn’t a thing & “flattening the curve” referred to one’s diet to control their stomach abs or hips.

I recall the day early in all of this, I think it was early March when I heard that Costco had suspended food samples in their stores. I had not wrapped my head around this pandemic but that was one of my a-ha moments. That seemed like as concrete a sign of the end times as anything I had heard.

We have all had those moments, I suspect. And we have all learned as well that all of this is no laughing matter. In fact, the reality is deadly serious. As each day passes, the reality sinks in even more than the previous day. What a journey it has been. Now, most businesses have closed — at least half of the States have issued a Stay Home Be Healthy mandate. The number of deaths keeps rising. A good part of the country is now in lockdown. And Congress has approved the largest bill in history to support Americans through what seems to be an economic and social collapse — 2.2 trillion dollars.  All of this is so mind-boggling.

Deepening our sense of self
Day by day the reality of all this keeps sinking in. And part of what makes this so difficult is not knowing how long this will all go on. I heard from many of you this week just asking some of those same questions—and figuring out how we will sustain ourselves through all this. As a church, the staff and session and deacons and many others are finding ways to check-in with each other.  We have created an old-fashioned phone tree. Committees and groups are meeting in online formats. The youth had an online Netflix movie party on Friday night and plan to host a Trivia night soon. Denise and Kim brought goodie and resource bags to each of our families with children. We are finding a way to maintain community and deepen our sense of what it means to be a part of humanity. Perhaps, these times can accomplish something great in each of us — and for all of us. 

So often I have preached in the past about the need to deepen our sense of self and others — about our need to become authentic and transparent with each other — about our calling to not be distracted by the social and political and commercial trappings around us. And so often, I wonder whether my words are nice enough but go in one ear and out the other (including me) because we are simply not able to see past these social trappings. They have limited us and confined us into an existence that is comforting yet superficial at best.  Perhaps, now is the time for a rebirth of our very soul.

In the words of the Irish poet, Brother Richard Hendricks:

All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting
All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
To Love.

Re-birth of the Soul
Friends, there is nothing like a pandemic to bring into focus just how important life and love is. Today we are reminded of our common humanity — with those across the globe and across the political divide and across racial boundaries and across nations — we are discovering that we are all the same. We all yearn to understand and be understood. We all crave a rebirth of our soul as we become deeper and more authentic and transparent and willing to see each other for who we really are.

When I had my stroke back in 2005, it was a time of great depression for me. A time that I doubted everything around me. I could not see a way out of my cocoon-like experience, nor did I have the energy to lift myself out of it. I honestly do not know how I was so resilient — or what contributed to my ability to bounce back — but I do know that there was something deep inside of me that longed for a re-birth.

My stroke and deep sense of despair in 2005 was very similar to the depression that American author Parker J. Palmer writes about:

“Like a wild animal, the soul is tough, resilient, resourceful, savvy, and self-sufficient: it knows how to survive in hard places. I learned about these qualities during my bouts with depression. In that deadly darkness, the faculties I had always depended on collapsed. My intellect was useless; my emotions were dead; my will was impotent; my ego was shattered. But from time to time, deep in the thickets of my inner wilderness, I could sense the presence of something that knew how to stay alive even when the rest of me wanted to die. That something was my tough and tenacious soul.” 

I suspect that many of you, if not most of us, are feeling depleted today. I know that many of you can recall experiences in the past where you have felt in the dark with no way out.  In talking with folks this past week, I have heard despair, I have heard anger. I have heard bargaining. These emotions resemble stages of the grief process.  But I also heard some of us moving to a place of looking for what positive things might be emerging out of this. Perhaps it has taken something like a pandemic to let us know just how broken so much of our world has become.  Here is what we know: This will continue. The intensity will grow. Things will get worse before they get better.  

Pay Attention
But here is the thing, my friends — we can choose to let this experience grant us a rebirth of the soul rather than become fearful and anxious. We can start by paying attention to what is happening with the kingdom that is inside of us. Take time to breathe. Inhale…. Exhale…. Take notice of your value as a part of the human race. Start taking one day at a time and make sure to include spiritual practices of deepening your sense of presence and self. Use this as a time to rebirth your soul. Deep in the thickets of your own inner wilderness, begin to sense the presence of something that knows how to stay alive even when the rest of you wants to die or wallow in despair.

Once you have experienced a rebirth of your soul, then you can pay attention to the kingdom that is outside of you — and with even greater clarity and purpose, you will be able to notice what is happening with those around you and the larger community that we call humanity. This week before us seems like a time for us to settle in for the long haul — it will likely bring more things that we may not have imagined today. That is as certain as just about anything else right now.  But we can choose to be and to live above the fray — to recognize the kingdom inside and outside of us. We can realize that we are not alone. We can choose to be together.  

So with Brother Richard Hendricks of Ireland, we pray and remember,

Yes, there is fear.  But there does not have to be hate.
Yes, there is isolation.  But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes, there is panic buying.  But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes, there is sickness.  But there does not have to be disease of the soul
Yes, there is even death.  But there can always be a rebirth of love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.

Today, breathe.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic.
The birds are singing again.  The sky is clearing, Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able to touch across the empty square,

Friends, may each of you experience a rebirth of the soul during this time. May all of us continue to build community and discover the kingdom that is in you and me. 

And may each of us and all of us: SING!