In the Interim: Reverend Terry Sweetser

In January, we celebrate what it means to be a people of intention. We ask ourselves what we dare and how we can help each other, to live the love we wish we could. Intention is about, and this is my message for the month, intention is about the centering it takes to jump in and do what needs to be done for love.

“Here’s what I discovered. Intention is different from setting goals or resolutions in that it “pulls us into” who we truly are. Goals and resolutions “push us out” into future possibilities. To set intentions, we listen to our inner voice which tells us who we truly are.” Katie Covey

So here we are again, in the month of January with its talk of daring resolutions and its demanding call to “become better.” It’s hard not to buy into it. After all, it seems so well-intended. I mean, who could argue with the goal of self-improvement? And so most of us gladly go along and declare “This is the year I’m going to finally be a better me!”

But are we sure this is what we really want? When you read that quote above about being “pulled in” rather than “pushed out,” what happens in your heart? Do you find yourself still excited about the New Year’s work of striving to become a brand new self? Or do you suddenly notice an internal whisper that says “I long to be pulled in more deeply to the self I already am”?

In other words, maybe our real New Year’s work is not about leaping into self-improvement, but about pausing, stepping back and asking “What hunger really has my heart?”

There is, after all, a big difference between becoming better and becoming ourselves. Self-improvement is not the same as self-alignment. Wanting to get from point A to point B is something quite different from longing to find your inner anchor. Goals and intentions may indeed be more distinct than we have thought.

So this month, maybe our most important work is to make room. All around us, there’s going to be plenty of busy talk about being “a people of goals and resolutions.” We are going to get more than enough advice about how to stay focused on a new future for ourselves. But in the midst of it all, may we, as a people of intention, also carve out a quieter place that keeps our attention closer to the present and who we already are at our center. May we make space for listening before we leap into the striving. And as we do that, maybe we will discover that this isn’t the year of “finally becoming a better me.” Maybe we’ll decide it’s enough to simply “finally be me.”

Here are some resources to help you to lean into intention:

Word Roots From Latin: intentus - to stretch out, lean toward.

In 17th Century English law: "state of mind with respect to intelligent volition."

It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are you busy about? Henry David Thoreau

Those who have a why to live for can bear almost any how. Friedrich Nietzsche

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. Viktor E. Frankl

Your day is pretty much determined by how you spend your first hour. Anon

"i had every intention of telling you," he claims. "but it's already too late," i say. he replies with the ever so cliché line that is, "it's never too late." i'm not sorry that some things just are. C. Eley

Intention is the difference between those old mustard stains and Jackson Pollock. Anon

Those who follow the crowd usually get lost in it. Rick Warren

Any dead fish can go with the flow — you have to be intentionally alive to swim against the current. Ann Voskamp

Cat: Where are you going? Alice: Which way should I go? Cat: That depends on where you are going. Alice: I don’t know. Cat: Then it doesn’t matter which way you go. Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

A person will worship something, have no doubt about that. We may think our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of our hearts, but it will out. That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, and our character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Great minds have purpose, others have wishes. Washington Irving

In any given moment we have two options, to step forward in growth or to step back into safety. Abraham Maslow

Find a purpose to serve, not a lifestyle to live. Criss Jami

With goals, the future is always the focus: Are you going to reach the goal? Will you be happy when you do? What's next? Setting intention, at least according to Buddhist teachings, is quite different than goal making. It is not oriented toward a future outcome. Instead, it is a path or practice that is focused on how you are "being" in the present moment. Your attention is on the ever-present "now" in the constantly changing flow of life. You set your intentions based on understanding what matters most to you and make a commitment to align your worldly actions with your inner values… Goals help you make your place in the world and be an effective person. But being grounded in intention is what provides integrity and unity in your life.. What would it be like if you didn't measure the success of your life just by what you get and don't get, but gave equal or greater priority to how aligned you are with your deepest values? Phillip Moffitt, from The Heart’s Intention

"Sacred space” is another way of saying “with intention.” S. Kelley Harrell

The Intentional Act of Going to Church - Let me tell you why I come to church. I come to church—and would whether I was a preacher or not—because I fall below my own standards and need to be constantly brought back to them. I am afraid of becoming selfish and indulgent, and my church—my church of the free spirit—brings me back to what I want to be. I could easily despair; doubt and dismay could overwhelm me. My church renews my courage and my hope. It is not enough that I should think about the world and its problems at the level of a newspaper report or magazine discussion. It could too soon become too low a level. I must have my conscience sharpened— sharpened until it goads me to the most thorough and responsible thinking of which I am capable. I must feel again the love I owe to others. I must not only hear about it but feel it. In church, I do. I am brought toward my best, in every way toward my best. Rev. A. Powell Davies, Unitarian Minister

You too can be carved anew by the details of your devotion. Mary Oliver

Conscious change is brought about by the two qualities inherent in consciousness – intention and attention… Whatever you put your attention on will grow stronger in your life. Whatever you take your attention away from will wither, disintegrate and disappear. Deepak Chopra

I am in earnest - I will not equivocate - I will not excuse - I will not retreat a single inch; and I will be heard. William Lloyd Garrison

Gratitude is not an emotion that comes upon us without our control. It is not dependent on what happens to us, but on our intention. Like good posture, it is a practice, an attitude that is entirely our choice in every moment… A friend of mine told me once after a particularly lovely day she came home, sat in her easy chair and said out loud, “Thank You.” And she swears she heard a voice say out loud, “You're welcome.” Practice gratitude. For everything. For what you see out the window, for what you hear from your co-workers, say “Thank You.” When your kids walk in the room, when you take a breath, when your spouse tells you how to drive, when to stub your toe, say “Thank You.” Practice gratitude and eventually you will be able to hear the universe say, “You're welcome.” Steve Garnaas-Holmes

See you in worship,

Rev. Terry Sweetser
Interim Senior Minister