The Gift of Connections

March 17, 2019 — Rev. Paula Norbert


We gather this Sunday as we continue on our journey through Lent.  This is meant to be a time when we are called to turn around, consider our thoughts and habits in new ways, and open our minds and hearts to the movement of the Spirit of God.  To be open to new ways of thinking, new ways of being, we are invited to slow our selves down, to fast from the hurried pace of our lives and to fast from the worries that may often crowd our minds and leave little room to be mindful of the blessings of each day.  We hear the 23rd Psalm today, often a reading at Memorial Services, and perhaps one we have heard so often that we have lost a sense of the deeper meaning it evokes.  We also hear words from the Irish writer John O’Donohue which invite us to stillness.  Let us pray, O Holy One of Silence and of Sound, we ask that you help calm our hearts and minds such that we may be open to your deeper message of love, of welcome, or new life.  Amen.

The Twenty-third Psalm is meant to be a great comfort to us as we imagine the green pastures and still waters. It also recalls the dark valleys, the days of pain and struggle that are part of every life.   An unhurried God is present with us in the good times and in the difficult times and calls us to be radically present to each other in the same way. Have we been too busy to be really present to one another? Especially in the difficult times, is it really working HARDER (which can isolate us) that will bring us out of our discomfort?

On Ash Wednesday, I spoke about a priest I knew years ago at Boston College.  He would be highly visible around the campus and greet those he met with a warm embrace and the greeting of Hello Friend.  His name was Rev. Bill Neenan and his memory came to me when I first encountered this lovely theme for Lent, making time for an unhurried God, for he always made you feel that he had all the time in the world to speak with you.  We likely know other people who treat us in this way, who don’t greet us with their laundry list of all the things they’ve accomplished in the day; rather, they stop, if even for a few moments and ask us how we are and how we’ve been.  There are special people who have the great gift of doing that, of helping us to feel special, and who act as if they have all the time in the world to visit with us.  Can we imagine a God who is present to us in that way?

One of the ways that we slow down in our lives is to share meals with those who are special to us.  We make plans to meet for lunch or to share a cup of tea and there are still some people who offer the lovely hospitality of a meal at their home.  And isn’t it nice to be hosted?  To arrive at someone’s home and see the table beautifully set and smell the lovely aromas of dinner on the stove?  What a gift that is.

There has been a movement in recent years called the Slow Food movement.  It connects us to the traditions that can still be found in places around the world.  Italy and France come to mind…where food preparation and meal sharing is a slow and deliberate process and all are welcome at the table.  There has also been much written about the benefits of sitting down to a meal with family or friends on a regular basis.  I know that was important in my own family growing up, and we do that today as a family almost every night.  In an article by Dr. Nina Radcliffe, entitled Benefits of breaking bread together — at a table, published in 2017, she writes, “we typically consider what we should – or should not – eat; or what nutritious value is within what we are consuming; or calculating how much salt or sugar and even how much we should be eating. However, experts agree—along with the prospect of the eating experience being delicious and enjoyable – gathering around a dining table together has far reaching physical and mental health benefits, for every one of all ages. At the table, we share stories, build upon relationships, learn from each other’s mistakes and triumphs; and not only creating bonds that define us…but also architecting the hallmarks of our wellbeing. In fact, this time benefits every aspect of your wellbeing — emotionally, physically, socially, occupationally, spiritually, intellectually and mentally – which all acts and interacts in a way that contributes to our overall quality of life.”

We know that mealtime with extended family and friends often leads to interesting and sometimes challenging conversations as not everyone thinks about life in the same ways we do.  With so much division in our country in recent years, we know there are families who actually have decided not to gather during the holidays; they imagine that such a gathering will be too filled with conflict, too difficult.  I worry that we are becoming increasingly disconnected from one another, that we are coming to believe that we have less in common with others and that our differences are too great to bridge, and yet, as a faith community, we say that all are welcome at the table.  How might we model openness and welcome, even to those who challenge our views and assumptions?  I do not know the answer to that question, but I do know that we must try to be bridge builders, that we must try to create safe ways to stay connected and become more connected across our differences.

Last week, I mentioned the importance of balance as I invited each of us to explore the habits of our days, the ways we manage our time that allow us to slow down, become less busy and make time for the things that are most beneficial to us, including and most importantly, making time to speak to God, to listen to God, to become aware of the sacred stillness that is always waiting for us to show up and be present.  In the lovely reading from John O’Donohue today, an amazing spiritual writer from Ireland who died too young, we hear the invitation to return to ourselves, to make time for stillness so that, as he says, “the fragments of our life will have time to unify, and the places where your soul is wounded or broken will have time to heal.”  If we seek to nurture our souls, we must discover the ways in which stillness may be a great companion for us.

A further way to tend the soul, the spirit, mind and body is the concept of ‘hygge’. Hygge is a concept originated in Danish culture that focuses on living with a sense of comfort, coziness, and peace. It has been described as, “creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people.”  Happiness researchers continually find Denmark to have some of the happiest people on Earth, which Danes attribute to the practice of hygge.

Since we make sense of our experiences and environment through the use of sight, sound, touch, taste and smell, it may come as no surprise that creating a cozy living space would help us feel less anxious and promote a sense of emotional well-being and safety. These feeling of comfort and safety can better allow us, and those sharing the space with us, to let down our guards and be more present and open to connecting with one another.  When we feel safe and calm, our body responds accordingly.

And so in our Lenten practices, we are invited to find the cozy chair in our home; we are invited to spend time with those who bring calm and peace to our lives; we are invited to seek out the thin places and be still so that we may deepen our connections to one another and deepen our love for the One who gives light to our days.  Amen.