I visited a Unitarian church on an August morning.
The day before had been a day in which conflict reared its ugly head in my life in ways the made me weep for my inability to breathe. Two conversations with loved ones punctuated with horrible words. Tears. Yelling. Anger. Loneliness. Old wounds. Deep sadness. A headache that felt like a sledge hammer had cracked my skull allowing the puss of pain to ooze out. It was not a good day. I went to sleep on a pillow wet with the snot from the nose I was to pissed to blow.
This framed my Sunday morning.
I woke up determined to run. (If I was going to choose misery, at least I would try to be skinny.) I ran about 4 miles. My favorite route that takes me under the highway, over bridges, and along the Ohio River. I listened intently to my iPod hoping the wisdom of Joni Mitchell might lift my blue mood. Perhaps Lucinda Williams. Perhaps Neko Case. Only the words from the choir at my old church eased the hurt I felt. The spirituals “Freedom Is Coming” and “Wade in the Water” brought me to tears – again. My iPod has all kinds of music and this morning I heard a don’t give up message. I listened while I ran and returned home ready to consider going to church.
I had looked the website of the church several times over the last few months. I never made it prior to this morning. I found a yoga class I liked. I needed time for long runs. I had been traveling. Frankly, the proposed sermon topics for some Sundays seemed truly boring. For whatever reason, I had never made it through their doors.
I looked at the website and saw the sermon topic – The Anatomy of Peace. The minister would be preaching from a book called The Anatomy of Peace. The description drew from the book’s subtitle that introduced the idea of a heart of peace in a time of conflict. My heart was anything but peaceful. I took a shower, got ready, hopped in the car and proceeded to get lost on the way.
I arrived just as the service was starting. We were immediately introduced to a family of refugees from the Sudan with whom the church had a relationship since they fled the violence of their home several years ago. We were asked to hold the hand of a person next to us until everyone had physically connected with the family. We lit a chalice. We sang familiar songs. We shared community joys and concerns.
The message began with a personal story. The minister told the story of a disagreement she had with her sister in which they did not speak for many years. She drew the connection between a heart at war, that would keep her from her sister for years, and a world at war, that allows nations to destroy one another. The personal is political. The individual is global. I looked at the family from the Sudan as I felt my own heart at war that still throbbed from yesterday’s pain.
She asked us to picture someone with whom our hearts are at war. She then talked us through a way to approach our relationship with that person more peacefully. She talked about seeking to understand and listen, rather than judge and critique. She framed this as living in a present that is not dictated by a past – freedom found in letting go. Not once in her sermon did she assert that it is easy. In fact, she talked about how difficult it is. That forgiveness is a process.
I felt as if she had been talking directly to me the whole time. She said exactly what I needed to hear. I sat there thinking about old resentments and wounds. Wondering what it would take for the knots in my stomach to release. When does the need for an apology wash away beneath a stream of forgiveness? When does an overwhelming love carved in the constancy of human frailty and mutual shortcomings allow for that weight to lift? When do I simply make a decision to open my heart to an new understanding? I believe there is a connection between the peace I seek in my heart, with my family, and what happens in the world. I also believe this is a process. Is as much about my actions as it is about the actions of others