As we begin to explore our December theme of Expectation, I'm realizing some of the lessons I've been learning since my injury in late October. When people have asked about my recovery, one of my common responses has been impatience that it's going more slowly than I would prefer. (I keep hearing myself say, "I'm learning that my version of 'taking it slowly' is not slow enough for this situation!") I'd love to already be back in the office on Tuesdays and the pulpit on Sundays, but that hasn't been possible yet. I've had to adjust my expectations, and adapt my work style to accommodate my temporary limitations. I'm grateful that technology allows me to participate in the life and ministry of the church from home, but it's not what I expected to be doing!
This is part of life on a smaller scale almost all the time, for most of us--but it's only when we are faced with a major disruption that we become conscious of the gap between our expectations and our reality.
What expectations might we, as individuals and as a community, be holding without even realizing it? Which ones might we need to reconsider, out of kindness to ourselves or others, or out of necessity?
One that comes to mind immediately is that we often have expectations about the winter holidays. We have images (reinforced by songs, movies, and television commercials) of the "perfect family holiday" and we often compare ourselves and our realities to those images, without even knowing we're doing it. We can then end up disappointed--in small ways or big ones--by our experience of the holiday season if it doesn't measure up to those images. Can we let go of at least some of our expectations, and engage in the spiritual practice of being in the moment?
I also am keenly aware that for some of us, the holidays are not a time we anticipate with high expectations of joy and celebration, but a time we approach with more conflicted feelings, or even without outright dread, for a whole variety of reasons. If the holiday season is more challenge than joy for you, or if you struggle with it for any reason, I invite you to reach out to me or to others who can give you some extra support this December. This is something we can expect in this beloved community--that we are here for each other in good times and bad, reaching out to each other with love.
There are things I wish I didn’t expect. Like, this not being the last time that news of a heavily-armed man taking aim at a vulnerable group of people, injuring many, killing a few, breaks through an otherwise joy-filled day of rest and revelry. I wish I could say I believed we were done. That we had reached a tipping point. That the national and international press my friend and colleague, the Rev. Nori Rost has received for the vigil at All Souls Unitarian Universalist church in Colorado Springs was an indication that saner gun laws were in our near future, and that there would be a softening of the rhetoric from the far right media (and Presidential candidates) in the coming days, that we would usher in a reckoning of truth-telling and reconciliation. I wish I expected something to change, like a switch to flip, where a new day would break, and all of us would begin anew.
The past few weeks have been rough for those of us who expect life to make sense, for humans to be generally good, and for the moral arc of the universe to be trending toward justice. I’m still feeling heartsick from the news of the two 11 year olds in the Fort Collins community who took their own lives just a couple of weeks ago. Meanwhile, even as we inch closer to this holiday where the central myth tells about finding God in the heart of the homeless stranger, political leaders, our neighbors, our family members, and we find ourselves caught in a cycle of fear and a desire for control that has us hanging up big bold signs all along our borders: “No Room At the Inn.”
“Serenity comes when you trade expectations for acceptance,” says the Buddha, and I think he’s right. There is something spiritually wise and important about accepting the moment just as it is – rather than longing or waiting for a different moment. And still, I am not sure “serenity” is an appropriate response to this moment, as it actually is.
These times ask us to instead be what Martin Luther King Jr. called, “creatively maladjusted.” These times ask us to see and name what is not right, what is dis-ordered in the world and to refuse to believe it is normal, or acceptable, or moral – and instead to believe that we are meant for something else – to expect peace, and equality, and mutual respect – for everyone, including ourselves. And these times ask us to come together in our congregation as a part of what Unitarian Universalist minister Rebecca Parker calls a”community of resistance,” which she defines as “countercultural habitations in which people learn ways to survive and thrive that can resist and sometimes even transform an unjust dominant culture.”
This month we are exploring the theme, "Expectations," a theme ripe for the holiday season in both its religious and secular traditions. From the Maccabees to the Wise Men, from letters to Santa to the ancient anticipation of the return of the light, to the regular present-day expectations we all set for how the holidays are “supposed to be,” this season is a great practice and reminder of both the gift and the challenge of expectations. As we walk together in both our greatest joys as well as our most profound grief, my hope for us this season is for us to help each other resist believing that this is the best we can do, to resist despair, and to resist complacency. And instead, that we might bolster our continued expectations for something more, something more beautiful, more brave, more compassionate to take hold, and for us to see ourselves as a critical part in this great turning. Each of our lives in little and sometimes big ways, a critical part- and our whole community, a vital part.
What new survival techniques will we offer each other? What practices can we take up so that we are both accepting life as it is and expecting something more? …so that we can thrive in this tension? Remaining open hearted in this tension, remaining awake and alive, we might even, sometimes, transform.
Let’s expect it.