What does it mean to be people of resilience, in these times?
What does it mean to be people of resilience, in these times? Resilience means the ability to recover, sometimes described in terms of elasticity – the ability to spring back into shape. I don’t think that’s exactly the kind of resilience we need now. We’re learning more and more about how the familiar shape of things wasn’t so great.
At the very least, we can say that the way that “business as usual” has unfolded in this country is not good for the planet. Our collective lifestyle demands far too much of the Earth – too many resources extracted, too much pollution dumped in, WAY too much carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere which means that, like any overstressed system, the climate is becoming unpredictable. While I certainly believe in the resiliency of the Earth, in the sense that our planet will rebalance and recover itself in many ways once we stop creating so many new problems for it, I’d like to see a permanent change in human behavior. A temporary change followed by a spring back into our old habits is not what we need.
And how about human relations? It seems like most elements of our society are difficult these days, as folks who have been marginalized call out for recognition and folks who have been coasting along at the center of things feel surprised and off balance. Of course, human identity constellations being the mix that they are, a lot of us occupy some marginalized and some centered identities. A white woman may say “#MeToo!” and ask for men to make space in the center for her, and then might need to make space for her neighbor who says “#BlackLivesMatter.” The old shape of things would put a lot of people right back on the margins, struggling to be included.
The resilience we need has much less to do with returning to a familiar shape, however comfortable it might have been for some of us. Instead, we need the kind of resilience that the Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman described when he wrote about “the experience of recovering balance when catapulted from one's place. It is the quiet forming of a pattern of recollection in which there is called into focus the fragmentary values from many encounters of many kinds in a lifetime of living. It is to watch a gathering darkness until all light is swallowed up completely without the power to interfere or bring a halt. Then in that darkness, to continue one's journey with one's footsteps guided by the illumination of remembered radiance. This is to know courage of a peculiar kind, the courage to demand the light to continue to be light even in the surrounding darkness. To walk in the light while darkness invades, envelopes, and surrounds.”
In other words, the resilience we need has to do with letting go of our superficial ideas about the shape of life, and instead assembling the pieces, scattered all around us, of the true shape our lives together need to take. When we find that shape, then we will know what to spring back to when old messages and habits push us into trouble again.
How will we know this true shape? It will have a lot to do with what the Greeks called “agape” – the kind of love for others that earnestly desires their wellbeing and wholeness, whether those others are people we know, people we’re just meeting, people we don’t like, creatures, or even ecosystems. Living in this shape will also mean knowing that as you desire the wellbeing of others, others desire YOUR wellbeing.
Now THAT is a shape worth springing back to, over and over again.
The Rev. Monica Jacobson-Tennessen is pastor of First Parish Church, Unitarian Universalist, Kingston, and a member of the Plymouth Area Interfaith Community Alliance.