“All people have a major task, from cradle to grave, of defining who they are.” ~ Naim Akbar, psychologist
During the months of January to March, while you here in Peterborough are focusing on the theme of identity, I will be away doing the same thing. I am taking some time to further define who I am…that is, to find and/or re-discover my own voice…and this is a time for you to do that as well. My deepest wish is that you…as individuals and as a community…find ways to joyfully express more fully who you truly are.
We are always defining and re-defining ourselves, both in response to the events and relationships in our lives and as we grow deeper and deeper into self-awareness and discovery. The thing is, the work of identity is never ‘finished’…it requires that we experiment, try things on for size, put ourselves in new situations, take some serious risks.
As we do that, and throughout our lives, our identity continues to change. Because we are relational beings, as we change and claim who we are becoming, our relationships change, which can put us in vulnerable spots. We may worry that our changes will lead to loss or rejection. And yet, I hope you will change in these months. Keep your eyes open, notice what’s different in my absence, and then move into being co-creators of this community. Step out of your comfort zone. Do things in new and different ways. Take the lead.
Identity as a community is an amorphous thing…not easy to grasp. Still, UFP is also constantly undergoing identity work, whether we aware of it or not. So, spend time with one another. Develop more relationships. Participate in the ‘Community Conversations.’ Learn more about who you are, and who you want to be, together. This is a time for you, as a congregation, to discover your own resources, your capacity, your gifts, AND your dreams.
(For example, if you serve on one of our teams or committees, I encourage you to ask yourself why. What is it that matters about the work that you do there? And what can you do to make it more meaningful? What do you really want to accomplish?)
You see, identity is not always a choice… it can be imposed by those in power—like a parent, the ‘way we’ve always done it’, cultural pressures, or even by a minister! I have heard that over-functioning ministers nurture under-functioning congregations…that a minister who shows up for everything risks communicating that no one should make a move without clergy approval. One can’t argue that I don’t over-function, and, it saddens me to think that in so doing, I have stymied some of your energy and creativity.
So, go ahead and discover who you are without my presence. Explore with wild abandon! Do this with my blessing and my encouragement!
I am ever so grateful for the gift of this sabbatical time. I need it. My soul is weary and my patience often thin. I will do my best to come back from this time refreshed and with renewed commitment to our shared ministry. May the same be true for you.
See you later, alligators… ~ Rev. Julie
BN: We have playfully named our webpage about my sabbatical “When the Cat’s Away…” http://peterboroughunitarian.ca/sabbatical-2017/
During my sabbatical, I will not be responding to email messages and do not plan to be very present on Facebook. I will not be away from Peterborough for the whole time, so if we happen to run into one another, I will be happy to see you. I only request that we not talk about the Fellowship!
Incarnation is especially significant for Christians at this time of year, because Jesus’ birth is seen as God becoming human. But, as suggested in its definition, and as is evident in the internet resources found later in this packet, ‘incarnation’ is an important concept in many religions and cultures. Myths abound about gods taking human form and then playing out some important drama here on earth. Hindus greet one another by saying “Namaste”, which translated means, “The divinity in me bows to the divinity in you.” In Kabbalism, a story tells of a cosmic accident in which the vessels that held God’s light were shattered, and all of those divine chards and sparks were scattered upon the world. For Jews, our work (tikkun olam) is to collect those divine sparks and use them to repair the world.
In my personal story, I was caught in the crosshairs of two messages…first that my body is the temple of God, and second, that the body is part and parcel of a sinful world. The upshot is that I have a pretty complicated (not positive) relationship with my body. And so for me, just the idea that there exists a divine spark inside of me, if even just a broken piece of light, opens a window. It gifts me with the possibility of knowing my own wholeness, or inner light, or intrinsic goodness.
And when I let myself see the faintest glimmer of a divine spark inside, I begin to see that this is not just possibility, but reality. And it’s not a just a spark that comes from somewhere else, but rather, is something that is embedded in my very being. There is no separation; each of us is both body and spirit, divine and human, broken and whole.
In the story of this faith, while early Christians debated and then decided that Jesus was God, Unitarians came to affirm “the spiritual leadership of Jesus” while refuting that he was actually part of a trinity. Later, the Transcendentalists helped us to recognize that we each contain the divine within us. And today, our first principle affirms the inherent worth and dignity of every person.
What if our principles claimed ‘the inherent divinity and dignity of each person?’ This is not to suggest that we are perfect, but rather that we are each part of a spirit-infused Universe. For when we can recognize this, boundaries dissolve… between the individual and the community, between the animate and inanimate, between present and future, between worthless and sacred. All that is, including you and me, is precious and holy.
You, each and every one, are a beautiful incarnation! With gratitude for your spirit,
~ Rev. Julie
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