On Sunday, which may or may not be today depending on when you read this, I did something I never, ever thought I'd do; I gave the sermon at my church.
Keep in mind, my church is the UU, about whom at least one light bulb joke* has been written. It's that kind of church. When I explain why I am a Unitarian Universalists even though I am an athiest, my response is that I really like community, coffee, and casseroles.
Anyhoo. I gave the sermon on Sunday. I have never, ever had a group of people listen so closely to what I was saying while simultaneously hoping for my success. It was awesome and humbling.
Sadly, there is no podcast because we're not quite that organized. The sound engineer did give me a cassette tape of the service but I can't seem to get it to upload to the internet, no matter how close I hold it to the router.
I promised out-of-town friends that I'd put the hard-copy online. I'll put it after a cut, however, so that this post is of a manageable size.
I'll be back on Wednesday with an All! New! Figs!** Hope your new year is a happy one. And if you pick a word, let me know....
* Q: How many Unitarians does it take to change a light bulb?
A: We choose not to make a statement either in favour of or against the need for a light bulb. However, if in your own journey, you have found that light bulbs work for you, that is wonderful. You are invited to write a poem or compose a modern dance about your personal relationship with your light bulb. Present it next month at our annual Light Bulb Sunday Service, in which we will explore a number of light bulb traditions, including incandescent, fluorescent, 3-way, long-life, and tinted, all of which are equally valid paths to luminescence.
** ETA: Um. Sorry. Figs will return next week. I was a little ahead of myself, as is usual.
Reading, from a blog post by Neil Gaiman:
“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.
Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.
So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.
Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do It.
Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”
This may have been a colossal mistake, an example, yet again of my smart aleck-y mouth getting me into a situation where a wise body would not tread. And, yet, here I am.
What happened was this:
Rev. Craig set out his weekly email about his schedule, which included upcoming sermons. One of the Sundays was labeled “To Be Determined.” I couldn’t resist replying that I was looking forward to that one. To which Rev. Craig replied: Great! How about you give it?
Before I could say, “hey, wait. I was just being silly,” a date was found, details arranged, and, well, the rest should be fairly obvious, given that I’m standing behind this pulpit.
That was the easy part. The hardest part was figuring out what I was going to talk about. My brief was three short words -- To. Be. Determined. -- and a date: the eve before New Year’s Eve.
New Year’s Eve is all about possibilities. Stretched before you is a blank calendar. Some of the white squares might be filled with fixed objects, like birthdays and holidays. But the rest is empty, as full of possibility as the phrase “to be determined.” On New Year’s Eve, before the actual new year has begun, you can fill these potential boxes with anything you want.
Many people chose to approach that vast blankness with resolutions. We come up with goals to accomplish, like this year I will (chose the one that feels most familiar to you): a) lose five pounds, b) go to the gym every day, c) lose five pounds and to the gym, d) be a better person who loses five pounds and goes to the gym. And so on.
Or we come up with something we will stop doing. This year I will stop smoking or eating sugar or staying up too late.
I’d wager most everyone in this room who is old enough to develop habits has made at least one resolution. I’ll double-down and say that most of those resolutions lasted a week or two. A few stragglers may have made it to Valentine’s Day. Nearly none lived to see July 4.
Resolutions die quickly. My theory on their short lifespans has to do with the human tendency to push against limitations. Tell someone -- even someone with an iron will and an id made of steel -- that they can’t have a cookie and that someone will immediately want that cookie.
How many of you are now thinking about cookies? Exactly.
I can’t remember the last time I made a New Year’s resolution, which is another issue I’ve found with them. I can’t remember more than three words for longer than three seconds. I’d like to blame this on getting older or having children but, really, this isn’t a new thing. I’ve spent the bulk of my adult life working around my poor memory.
My New Year’s Word is one of those memory tricks. It’s an idea I stole from someone far wiser than me, an editor that I used to work with.
He had a New Year’s Eve tradition that I’ve lifted wholesale and incorporated into my own life. He and his partner would take a few minutes before the clock struck midnight and write down just one word, the word they wanted to inform the year to come. That word can be anything, as long as it has meaning to the one writing it down. Some of the words, both my own and those of others have been words like “stretch,” “home,” “connect,” and “enjoy.”
The “writing it down” part is crucial. Something about the act of transferring a though to paper makes is real. That slip of paper -- or index card or post-it or handcrafted notecard made from the flowers of an exotic land -- is a wish you can hold. It exists.
And if you’re like me, you write your year’s word on many pieces of paper and scatter them around your house like so many clumps of cat hair because you have a tendency to both forget and lose things, especially things that weigh less than ten pounds and can easily be carried off by children and pets. As the new year goes on, I seem to unearth little reminders of what I’d hoped the year could be just when I seem to need a nudge back on track.
After 15 years of doing this, there have been three times I failed to commit to a word. One year, I couldn’t chose just one. Two years ago, we were in Prague at the start of the new year and I spent that whole trip just trying to wrap my head around the fact of where I was as well as how Czech could be an actual language that people understand.
I failed to chose a word again last year. I have no good excuse, frankly. I don’t even have a bad excuse. I simply didn’t do it.
This past year hasn’t been a bad one -- and, really, any year where you are alive at the end of it, no matter how unlikely it might have seemed at the time, should get marked in the good column. It’s just been a year without focus. I’ve done things, both alone and with my family. We’ve had some good times and some lousy ones. The kids got another year older, as did my husband and I.
But there’s nothing I can point at as a 2012 landmark.
Is it because I didn’t have a word? Probably not. The pragmatist in me knows that correlation doesn’t equal causality. But I could be wrong.
I do feel like not choosing a word on New Year’s Eve is a missed opportunity to guide your life. There are few times in the year when we feel so poised on the edge of the unknown. Here is a whole unwritten 365 days to discover. What are you going to do with them?
That must be how the resolution tradition started. There is something powerful about pledging to do or not do something during the unformed days ahead of you. It makes you feel like you are in control of change.
Which, really, none of us are in control of. Which is why focusing on a simple word gives you more options and avenues for success.
That doesn’t mean you can’t lose five pounds or stop smoking. What do you really want to achieve with these resolutions? Perhaps dedicating your year to “health” would still get you where you want to go.
One year, when it felt like I’d spent the previous days pushing against people and situations that would never change -- a friend coined the term “spiritual isometrics” for this and I’ve stolen that as well -- I dedicated the next year to “flexibility.” Pushing against immovable forces was only wearing me down. Bending around them was a better option once I made the commitment to it.
Looking back on 2012, I realized that a fair portion of the year for me -- your year is yours -- was about feeling stuck, not in my family life but in my creative one. I haven’t been hampered by a lack of ideas - just a perceived lack of no-risk outlets for them. The publishing world is changing and I’m paralyzed by all of the potential hazards of this new landscape.
I can see all of the mistakes I didn’t make -- and how this fear is spilling over into how approach other parts of my life. There are some mistakes I’m glad to have not endured, like that Kurt Vonnegut inspired tattoo I almost got.
But there are some leaps that might have been interesting if I’d only been willing to veer from the safest path. Who knows what I could have discovered if I’d taken more risks and made more mistakes? There is always the possibility that the safest choice was the best choice -- but the reasonably risky choice, the one that pushes you just beyond where you’ve grown comfortable, is the one that forces you grow and discover.
I’ve already chosen my word for 2013. This forthcoming year, for me, will be all about “courage.” It’s the word I’ve kept in mind for the last ten minutes or so, too. So far, it seems to be going OK. (Note to self: change this if it isn’t going OK.)
Why courage? Because I need a little bit more to push myself just beyond the easiest path, which is where all of the best flowers lie, according to the fairy tales. Yes, there may also be wolves there but I will take them as they come, rather than fail to speak or write or move because there are potential wolves.
“Courage” is my choice. Your life, your situations, likely call for another string of letters. My wolves -- like rejection and like failure -- are not your wolves. Blessings can be disguised as wolves, too, but there’s no way to know which wolves are which until you start breaking new trail.
Choosing a word of your own calls for courage, too. Introspection can be scary -- yet there’s something about this time of year that opens the door just enough to make this exercise easier. Where would you like your life to change? What part of you is in the process of being determined? Would you like to be more generous? Brave? Flexible? Strong? Grab your dictionary and look inside - both it and you.
I’ll even share my courage with you, just long enough to help you find your own focus for the next year. You are welcome to keep some of my courage for yourself, just until you realize which word will be yours in 2013.
I’d like it back, though, once you’re done. I suspect I’ll need it.
Remember to write your word down. Be sure to share it, too -- maybe not as publicly as I have -- but we all do better when those who support us know what our goals are.