Growing Edges

Sermon by Rev. Dr. Heather Fraser Fawcett, 2020-04-05

*Margaret Atwood has written that “ in the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell of dirt.”

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell of dirt.

Let’s ponder that for a moment.

“In the spring. At the end of the day, you should of smell of dirt.”

……..

And so, here we are, in the season of silver rain, brisk winds, the season that seed catalogues point you to. The season of rebirth and transformation.

Here we are, this year, in a season within a season, an extra and extraordinary season within a season. This pandemic season.

It has several names, this pandemic season: the Coronavirus season, the season of Covid19. The season of a novel virus, and now so many are calling it simply the season of “the Virus..”

This new season within the season of spring has grabbed the world like a slowly building, world travelling tsunami. The buildings still stand but the roads, parks, businesses, and public spaces are almost empty. Even the parked cars seem to be keeping distance! There is an eery, echoey feel about it all. And not get chucked off with our layers of heavy clothes. It sticks to us as expertly as the Virus. And alongside that, the mounting tension associated with the pandemic rises. Fear rises. And our egos kick in. Certainly we’ve handled so many challenges in the past, and we have developed resiliency. Thus we try our usual ways of handling this challenge. And some of that works. But note the key words “new challenge”, and “novel virus.”

I suggest that these challenging circumstances call for more than just pressing forward using out usual coping strategies, as necessary, and as important as they are. Rather, we must add to our usual ways of reacting and responding to the frightening and the unknown, ongoing periods of reflection and deepening. This time of self isolation, can become a time for considering our growing edges, and considering as well, which of these would be important to work on right now.

Growing edges are often those things that frighten us, that we perceive as a risk, that we procrastinate about, that we think we’re not up to accomplishing..or may never be up to accomplishing.

Growing edges are the challenges that keep us from having peace of mind or better relationships or more balance in our lives.

Growing edges are the feelings, thoughts, or actions that we avoid or even run away from.

Stop and consider for a moment, can you think of one thing that might be a growing edge for you?

What are the things that you would like to handle better? What is the habit that, if given up, would give your life more serenity? What are the words that you need to say but keep holding back?

Angie Dickson, a life coach in the U.S., writes:

you’ve probably heard the term leading edge. “Leading edge” being used to refer to the technology and products that lead the way, that are really really advanced. Usually, a great deal of effort has been put into refining these products and technologies.

WE take a lot of work too. Our/Your growing edges are those areas of your life where there is much room for growth and development. This could be in how you think about yourself, or others. It could be in the quality of your interactions with people.

Your growing edge could be about how you use your time. Or money. About your dreams, or your dramas. Your hopes and fears. The things you’ve always felt, or believed, could never be changed. Or perhaps your growing edges are about those challenges you keep bumping up against. All frightening opportunities.

I’m now going to bring in another term from clinical pastoral care and counselling. The word is PRAXIS. Praxis is term and a process used in professional formation. And I think it’s an excellent term and process that most people can use to work with their growing edges.

Two points first though:

  1. Working with what holds you back is not just “busy work”, something to distract you, or keep you occupied, and
  2. You don’t have to work with all of your growing edges at the same time. We’re in a pandemic. We have extra stress. Different demands on us. There’s a learning curve. We need to be gentle with ourself, even while recognizing that we can use some of this challenging season to go deep within and reflect, and help ourselves to grow.

The basic praxis process is simple. It’s a three step process: Reflection, action, reflexion. And this three step process can be repeated as many times as necessary to resolve the issue or challenge. Of the various things you might decide to spend time on, is there one thing that might be most helpful to get resolved right now?

And are you willing to commit to working on the matter?

The attitude you are best working with is one of open-heartedness. A sense of curiosity. With toleration of your failures and successes as you proceed.

I’ll give you the following example of a challenge people are facing in this season of Covid19:

It’s something I’ve been hearing about over the past couple of weeks. It concerns people’s rising anxiety when they spend many hours a day watching the news. And the problem includes, not only the anxiety, but also the compulsion to listen to the news for hours and hours a day.

The end result are people who are more frightened and anxious, more worn down, more overwhelmed.

Acknowledging a problem such as this is the first step in the reflection phase of Praxis. And then you would ask yourself what steps you could implement immediately to address the issue. In this situation you might consider whether the present problem piggybacks on a similar, longer lasting tendency to be glued to tv. And exploring what that’s all about.

Or, if the problem seems only related to the virus and stress about it and the resulting changes, you might write a list of negative things about this time, including what scares you. And write a separate list of positive things and what you are grateful for.

You would need to look too, at what actions you could take to lower your rising fear, and anxiety. And, if anger is a problem, what can you do to decrease it?

I’ve had a custom or discipline for a long time that helps me to control stress and worry. I allow myself just 30 minutes a day for worry. And I break those worry moments up depending on my day. It’s a two minutes here, six minutes there kind of thing. I don’t look at my phone or watch. I estimate. I seldom use up the 30 minutes. But I know it’s there. And this custom or discipline does work. At bedtime, you might want to hand your worries over to God, or the Divine, or the Universe.

Another thing I do with clients suffering panic or general anxiety, including those who have experienced much violence and terror, is to teach them breathing exercises, 444 breathing, for example.

Breathe in through your nose for a slow count of four. Then, you hold your breath for a slow count of four. And finally, you breath out through your pursed lips, as if blowing out a candle, for a slow count of four. Do this exercise several times a day.

You can also tap on the outside edge of your hand, what is called the karate chop point. Tap with four fingers. This simple tapping area helps to relax the body-mind-spirit.

When repetitive or obsessive thoughts take over, I have people imagine a stop sign in front of them about 6 to 8 feet from their face. It’s familiar image, colour and message cut through the repetitive or obsessive thoughts. I then have them say, “I am here now, I’m safe, I choose to breathe calmly and let go of these thoughts.” It’s an exercise that can be quickly learned.

And finally, as you go about your days, if you find yourself getting mesmerized or lost in worry or despair, or hypnotized by the tv, ask yourself, “am I focused?”

Now, the growing edge you choose to work on might not be related to Covid19. But the reflection, action, reflection process can help you understand any issue more. Whatever you choose to work on, you should pat yourself on the back for your courage in facing your challenges and trying to resolve them.

Let’s consider the growing edges of the communities to which we belong. And, of course, the one that has gathered here today, our beloved LUUC, affectionately called “Lakeshore.”

I want to start this section with a Wayne Gretzky story. The story was used by a leader from the United Church of Christ in the U.S., Eric Eines. Eines had been invited to speak at a Presbyterian General Assembly on the subject of “WHERE DO YOU SEE THE GROWING EDGE OF INNOVATION IN MINISTRY?”

He started his talk by saying: “when I think of the leading edge of innovation, I think of Wayne Gretzky, who became one of the world’s greatest hockey players by learning not to skate to where the puck was, but to where it was going. You can innovate all you want to get yourself to the puck, where it is now, but by the time you reach it, it’s long gone! So when I think of innovation I think of where the world’s puck is going, and of how people of faith, people of all faiths, might be more faithful and helpful participants in a game where we’re playing for keeps.”

Eines calls all people of faith and high ethics, to reconciliation with God, or that which they hold to be most sacred. Secondly, to reconciliation with neighbour. And third, to reconciliation with the earth.

There have been epidemics and pandemics before. Each has been a tragedy, with enormous suffering and loss of life. And the world has consciously or not, used praxis: reflection, action, reflection, to better understand a particular epidemic or pandemic.

To a lesser or greater extent, the growing edges of individuals, industry, technology and science, organizations and faith groups, have been mined for data, best practices, clarity and wisdom.

And all too often, after a brief day in the sun, much that has been learned has been shelved.

The world is a complex, unbelievably complex place. We must as individuals, communities, and nations, work on our growing edges. Those frightening opportunities. We must develop the faith, the will, and the commitment to look ahead to where the puck is going. To share wisdom and solutions. To widen our hearts and yet temper evil, with a deep understanding of the interdependence of all.

I want to go back to the words of this morning’s second hymn. This hymn was first a poem written by Langston Hughes. It was composed as a hymn by George Theophilus Walker.

In time of silver rain.
Earth puts forth new life again,
Green grasses grow and flowers lift their heads,
And over all the plain, the wonder spreads,
Of life! Of life! Of Life!

In time of silver rain.
The butterflies lift silken wings,
And trees put forth new leaves to sing in joy,
Beneath the
sky, in time of silver rain,
When spring and life are new.