In the Interim: Reverend Terry Sweetser

In March we ponder what it means to be a people of balance We ask ourselves what we dare and how we can help each other, to live the love we wish we could. Balance is about, and this is my message for the month, Balance is about the invitation to do what needs to be done for love.

When we talk of balance, it’s natural for calm and rest to be the first things that come to mind. There’s no getting around it: many of us are tired. We’re overworked, over-busy, over-committed. Striving and stress have become the badges we wear to prove that we are of worth. We are often so weighed down by responsibility and worry that it only takes one drop of something unexpected to tip us over. So, yes, we long for rest. Yes, we want less to manage and juggle. Yes, we need balance’s reminder that a place of calm and peace is possible.

And yet, pointing us to peace and calm is not all that balance is about. Remembering this is at the center of this month’s work. Indeed, there is no better month than March to help us embrace balance’s many meanings.

For instance, take the religious holidays in March. Lent reminds us that balance is a place of  reassessment, renewal, preparation, and even repentance. It honors the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert preparing for his ministry and the path to the cross. The balance he sought in the desert was not that of restful escape, but that restorative re-centering. Balance got him ready, rather than simply offering him relief. Passover also puts its own spin on balance. It is a time to retell the story of the exodus of the Jews from Egypt after centuries of slavery. For it, balance is a matter of remembering, of pausing to put yourself back into a story that connects you with others and anchors you in a counter-cultural narrative. During Passover, the balance one finds is not that of calm but that of reconnection. There’s also Ostara, the Pagan celebration of the Vernal Equinox. It honors the balance of day and night, but more importantly it celebrates the way this balance is a tipping point on the way to Spring. It’s a reminder that stillpoints are rarely still. They are a place of turning, a space where shifts happen and new life emerges. And finally the Hindu holiday of Holi also needs held up, with its ritual of restoring one’s belief in the power of good over evil. It’s a reminder that balance and calm isn’t just found by taking a break from life, but by trusting in its goodness once again.

March is also the month in which we honor many people who gave their lives to the cause of justice. The list is large:

The Selma–Montgomery March happened March 21-25, 1965
James Reeb was murdered on March 11, 1965
Viola Liuzzo was murdered on March 25, 1965
March is Women’s history month with its call to remember the long history and continuing work for Women’s equality.
Susan B. Anthony's death was March 13
Archbishop Oscar Romero was killed on March 24, 1980

These anniversaries remind us that being a “people of balance” is often the opposite of keeping things calm. In order to move toward a balance of justice, we have to upset the current state of things. Oppressive systems need to be challenged and toppled. We need to sacrifice our calm and comfort, and instead “go all in.” Achieving a balance of equality requires us to be purposefully off-balance with our culture, or as Martin Luther King Jr. said, we need people who are “maladjusted.” Being out of sync with “the way things are” is the first step toward a better balance for all.

Add all this up and suddenly “balance” takes on a new meaning. Actually, it takes on many new meanings. The observances of March remind us that balance is not simply a destination, but also a place of invitation. It’s not a static space of peace, as much as a stillpoint on which we pivot and turn to something new. It’s not just about rest, but about resting up for a journey. Yes, balance allows us to catch our breath, but it’s also about finding our center so we can end all our aimless wandering around. It’s fine to think of balance by imagining the Buddha sitting peacefully under a tree, but we can’t let that overshadow the image of a diver balancing way up there on her diving board, pausing to re-gain her composure and courage so she can leap and go “all in.”

Another way to put all this is to ask, “What is your balance for?” Maybe instead of asking each other, “Have you found balance?” we need to ask “Where is your balance taking you?” Yes, balance sometimes can be an end in itself, but this month and its observances remind us that more often balance is a means to a greater end. In other words, maybe balance isn’t the prize but the springboard. Maybe balance isn’t the goal, but the source of strength that gets us where we need to go.

Which means that our most important questions this month might actually be, “Do you know where you’re trying to get to?” and “Which kind of balance will help you along your way?”

See you at worship, Sundays at 10:30!

Reverend Terry Sweetser
UUSWH Interim Senior Minister


Word Roots

From Latin bi (two) and lanx (plate or dish) to balance scales, both sides being equal. Add to this the idea of a still point from stille (at rest) and peuk (which includes the idea to mend).

Wise Words

I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.
E.B. White

There is peaceful
There is wild
I am both at the same time
Nayyirah Waheed

To do two things at once is to do neither.
Publilius Syrus

All of a person’s misfortune comes from one thing, which is not knowing how to sit quietly in a room.
Blaise Pascal

Work, love and play are the great balance wheels of our being.
Orison Swett Marden

The key to keeping your balance is knowing where you lost it.

Letting go helps us to live in a more peaceful state of mind and helps restore our balance. It allows others to be responsible for themselves and for us to take our hands off situations that do not belong to us.
Melody Bettie

I am trying to remember you
let you go
at the same time.
Nayyirah Waheed

I try to take only as much as I can give.

Balance is not better time-management, but better boundary-management.
Betsy Jacobson

Busy people have goals; productive people have priorities.

Wrap your summer fingers around her wintered soul.
Sub Rosa

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was often times filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
Khalil Gibran

The spiritual life is, in part, about seeing our lives as an invitation to the best party in town. Our challenge is to stay awake to that, to continually pull ourselves back from the mindset that our days are simply a series of challenges and responsibilities. It’s all about balance. We are called to look around and see all that must be done.  We are also called to look around and see all that has been given.
Rev. Scott Tayler

It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them. I was so preposterously serious in those days… Lightly, lightly – it’s the best advice ever given me… to throw away your baggage and go forward. There are quicksands all about you, sucking at your feet, trying to suck you down into fear and self-pity and despair. That’s why you must walk so lightly. Lightly my darling.
Aldous Huxley

When I was little my mother put me in several ballet classes in hopes to bring some grace to my stumbling gait. I grew up walking on eggshells, wobbling to keep my balance on a tightrope that never really ended.  My instructor pinched my thighs and shook her bony finger at me every tuesday and thursday for three and a half years. 4 am, I'm still tiptoeing around the creaks in the stairs as if anyone would notice an empty bed. This Christmas I came across the broken remnants of the ballerina ornaments my younger sister used to play with. I never did master the delicate posture I was expected to adopt. My feet fell a bit too heavy, I suppose, on the ice tonight. I'm not cold anymore, just exhausted from attempting to balance the wrong things for too long.
Rebecca Suzanne

Speak the truth, but not to punish.
Thich Nhat Hanh

[Thich Nhat Hanh] looked at me in a quiet, piercing way that stopped my breath, and said slowly: “Speak the truth, but not to punish”… Understanding this koan is a work in progress for me but the more I ponder it, the more it seems to be about balance, speaking up against injustice with courage and passion but with greater awareness of the dangers in becoming overly adversarial and treating those who disagree as foes... We must be willing to stand in the shoes of others if we are to debate controversial issues with equanimity and avoid gridlock… Thich Nhat Hanh’s koan brought me back to his advice to hold our anger with an energy of mindfulness, like the sun shining upon a flower, penetrating deeply until the petals open. Anger can give us the mettle to speak with courage and conviction, but also the venom that blinds us to the views of others.
James Hoggan

Nothing Forced Works
Kay Ryan
Nothing forced works.
The Gordian knot just worsens
if it’s jerked at by a person.
One of the main stations
of the cross is patience.
Another, of course, is impatience.
There is such a thing as
too much tolerance
for unpleasant situations,
a time when the gentle
teasing out of threads
ceases to be pleasing
to a woman born for conquest.
Instead she must assault
the knot or alp or everest
with something sharp
and take upon herself
the moral warp of sudden progress.

Life is glorious, but life is also wretched. Appreciating the gloriousness inspires us, encourages us, cheers us up, gives us a bigger perspective, energizes us. But if that’s all that’s happening, we get arrogant and start to look down on others, and there is a sense of making ourselves a big deal and being really serious about it, wanting it to be like that forever. The gloriousness becomes tinged by craving and addiction. On the other hand, wretchedness–life’s painful aspect–softens us up considerably. Knowing pain is a very important ingredient of being there for another person. When you are feeling a lot of grief, you can look right into somebody’s eyes because you feel you haven’t got anything to lose–you’re just there. The wretchedness humbles us and softens us, but if we were only wretched, we would all just go down the tubes. We’d be so depressed, discouraged, and hopeless that we wouldn’t have enough energy to eat an apple. Gloriousness and wretchedness need each other. One inspires us, the other softens us. They go together.
Pema Chödrön, Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living

One of the truths we know is that we live in an enchanted universe. The up-there and down-here mingle, the earthly and the heavenly mirror each other. We have no choice but to continue to redeem the world, to save the world from our own selves. We are, ironically, the cause of the breaking and just might be the channel of healing. To make the world whole, we ourselves have to become healed, become whole. Our well-being and the world being well are linked together.  To tend to our own inner lives is not selfishness; it is wisdom, it is essential [for the sake of the world].
Omid Safi

Dark and Light, Light and Dark
Jacqui James
“We shape language and we are shaped by it. In our culture, white is esteemed. It is heavenly, sun-like, clean, pure, immaculate, innocent, and beautiful. At the same time, black is evil, wicked, gloomy, depressing, angry, sullen. Ascribing negative and positive values to black and white enhances the institutionalization of this culture's racism.

Let us acknowledge the negative connotations of whiteness. White things can be soft, vulnerable, pallid, and ashen. Light can be blinding, bleaching, enervating. Conversely, we must acknowledge that darkness has a redemptive character, that in darkness there is power and beauty. The dark nurtured and protected us before our birth...

The words black and dark don't need to be destroyed or ignored, only balanced and reclaimed in their wholeness. The words white and light don't need to be destroyed or ignored, only balanced and reclaimed in their wholeness. Imagine a world that had only light—or dark. We need both. Dark and light. Light and dark.”

I Remember Galileo
Gerald Stern
I remember Galileo describing the mind
as a piece of paper blown around by the wind,..
but yesterday I saw the mind was a squirrel caught crossing
Route 80 between the wheels of a giant truck,
dancing back and forth like a thin leaf,..
It was the speed of the squirrel and his lowness to the ground,
his great purpose and the alertness of his dancing,
that showed me the difference between him and paper…
Paper will do in theory, when there is time
to sit back in a metal chair and study shadows;
but for this life I need a squirrel,...

Denel Kessler
Beyond the thoughts
that keep us bound
we will fly
though it be fleeting

we savor
the height
while craving
the ground below
it takes both
to make
a soul

An intellectual is a man who says a simple thing in a difficult way; an artist is a man who says a difficult thing in a simple way.
Charles Bukowski

Charles Barnett 
It's always been like this.
The intellectual and the artist
ripping each other to shreds in my head
like wolves in winter, so desperate to eat.

James Broughton
It's all in your head, the first man said.
It's all in your heart, said another.
It's all in your stars, said the man with scars.It's all in your guts, said his brother.
It's all in your soul, said the man who was slow.
It's all in your balls, said the fast one.
It's all in your things, said the fellow with rings.
It's in no thing at all, said the last one.

We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living. We know how to sacrifice ten years for a diploma, and we are willing to work very hard to get a job, a car, a house, and so on. But we have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive.
Thích Nhất Hạnh

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time of war, and a time of peace.

Equanimity doesn't mean keeping things even; it is the capacity to return to balance in the midst of an alert, responsive life. I don't want to be constantly calm. The cultural context I grew up in and the relational life I live in both call for passionate, engaged response. I laugh and I cry and I'm glad that I do. What I value is the capacity to be balanced between times.
Sylvia Boorstein, from Don't Just Do Something, Sit There

Repair your universe.