Rev Lindsey Peterson:
Before coronavirus disrupted things, we were inside of Lent, and in fact indeed we still are. Today, March 22nd is the fourth Sunday of Lent. Back in the sanctuary, I was beginning a Lenten sermon series that played with imagination and the practices of imagination that we need to tend our souls. The connection between imagination and soulfulness…was made for me by Thomas Moore in his book, Care of the Soul.
“Tradition teaches,” he writes, “that soul lies midway between understanding and unconsciousness, and that its instrument is neither the mind nor the body, but imagination.”
The instrument of the soul is imagination. The soul lies between understanding and consciousness. Last Sunday, when we gathered in our conference call worship for the first time, I remember it feeling for myself like it was a sorting out of the shock arrival into this new reality that coronavirus has placed us in. Being here for a week now, it’s hard to believe it’s only been a week: there is a settling in me that is happy to have this Lenten series to return to, grateful for its theme of imagination and soulfulness.
This coronavirus and the necessity of physical distancing has actually guided us, I think, into many practices of soul and imagination, and I think it could deepen us into those practices. There is no question about the seriousness of this virus and its ability to kill many and disrupt more. There’s also no question that the harshness of our society’s inequalities are being revealed in full force. To talk of soul and imagination is not to avoid these facts. It is rather a soulful orientation and robust imagination that is needed to endure and transform the suffering that is present and to come, and to repair the wounds currently being broken open–which had already been inflicted long before coronavirus on those who are deemed and repeatedly made to be the least in our society.
Thankfully, there is a healing already in process. The task, one among many, will be to continue this healing and extend it beyond ourselves to the collective healing. Thanks to the massive disruption that is coronavirus, we are re-seeing, re-understanding, re-cognizing our lives. There’s an opportunity here, one though we would never have wished for it, but there is an opportunity here to reorient ourselves and to bring a soul orientation to our lives. We who have the material ability to remove ourselves, just a pace at least from immediate struggle, are being plopped into a space of soul renewal, slowed downed-ness, staying in placed-ness, boredom, even loneliness, even. They can be gifts to the imagination and so opportunities for the soul to take up residence more fully, to nuzzle its beautiful, sensuous body in us. To take up more space in us, for the soul to occupy us more robustly.
Thomas Moore, again, author of Care of the Soul, writes,
“Soul is not a thing but it’s a quality or a dimension of experiencing life and ourselves.”
I think of soul as a beautiful, sensuous, full-bodied being, not to objectify it and make it a thing, but taking up Moore’s description of soul because that’s what it feels like for me when I think about a soulful quality of experiencing life and experiencing myself. That the soulful quality of experiencing life and myself has this feeling of being full-bodied. It tastes and touches, and even if we cannot touch one another right now, think about the feel of the ground, and the cool air on your skin, and the sun. All of those touches. A soulful dimension of experiencing life delights in its experience. It trusts its presence, has something nourishing to offer into life.
There is so much soul renewal happening in our midst now. There is a deepening into a more sensuous state of being. There is the softening into the honest kindness of soul. Again, this is not about being Pollyanna-ish, but it’s about paying attention to the gifts being given right now, receiving them, learning them and using them for the healing of ourselves and our society, which has long been needed. I want to share some ways in which I personally am experiencing this soul orientation deepening in me. Maybe they will resonate with your own experiences this past week. Maybe they will help you to orient toward noticing things about how the soul is gifting you itself in the days to come.
First off, I have been meeting my neighbors, Sarah, Annie, Robin. Strangely, it was like there wasn’t time to meet them before or we just all felt we could get on without one another? But you know, it feels so good to know my neighbors’ names and to know that they know mine. There is a need now that’s deeply felt that we need to say to one another, “If you need anything, I’m here.” I’ve also learned that my neighbor makes a good cookie. I have been sitting in the sun, even if it’s cold, soaking up the sun’s gifts because I realize I need it. That light, that warmth, that touch of skin, that removed from the computer screen. I have been paying attention to when the sun is out and making sure I make space for it.
I’ve been talking to my mom and dad more. I have been noticing the anxiety in my body, the tightness and just being gentle with it, observing it. Of course, I have anxiety in my body right now. It is not a site of shame right now, but it is something so many of us are experiencing. This is lovely, in fact, to feel free of the judgment of the anxiety. I notice the tightness and I actually listen to it. Give it some space. Pause, breathe in four, hold four, breathe out four, or I take a break from work if I’m working and go for a walk or sit on the porch, or watch an episode of something, or close my eyes and lay down for a little while.
What I’m feeling is that these are not avoidances of the thing I am supposed to be doing or that we are supposed to be doing. Rather, they are gifts of the soul. They are the soul’s rhythms and desires and it is good to give into them. I am noticing the need of good, nourishing food and really feeling how it does indeed nourish and it does indeed heal. It’s not just dinner, it’s life. I have been playing music, as in singing and playing my guitar on the porch. I would never have done that before. Goodness, people could hear, but I need to be outside and I trust the music in a new way. That music-making is healing and helps me to breathe and that music-sharing is a soul opening gift. Maybe I did know that before coronavirus, but I am feeling it more keenly and more deeply now.
We all have different contexts. Some of you have kids at home, which offers a whole other dimension of soul gifts and stresses no doubt. Some of you are with your partners at home and that adds a whole other dimension of soul gifts and stresses. Some of you are still at work in your usual contexts, restaurant cooks, cashiers, drivers, delivery people, home healthcare workers, doctors, nurses, medical technicians. You’re still at work in your usual context, but it feels full of different dynamics, no doubt. Hopefully some soul gifts in amidst the stresses. Whatever our context, I do believe that the soul is offering itself to us all right now in beautiful, sensuous, full bodied ways and that noticing it, receiving it is the healing we need and the healing we can offer, and the orientation to our experiences and to life from which our participation in the repair of our broken society will need to come.
I have been kinder to myself. I have been kinder to my beloveds. I have been kinder to strangers. I think when we allow the soul room in us and we trust it, we are given the rhythms that love needs, and really as Christians, it is the enactment of love and this awesome and vulnerable and harsh world, that we occupy for a time, that we are over and over again asked to take up, to imagine and to give our lives for. I have wondered about how we will do communion in this virtual worship reality. No doubt, we will figure out a way. Meanwhile, it’s hit me, the conversations with neighbors, the rest, the food, the music, the new pacing, these are the substance of communion. “Take, eat,” Jesus offers. “This is my body broken for you. As often as you eat it, remember me.”
The cup of blessings, of forgiveness, of salvation, of the new covenant is everyday present in the underground of our running around. It is in the mundane extraordinary material of abundant life. We have what is needed. Now to accept it and offer it out. “Take. Drink. As often as you do so,” Jesus says, “remember me.”
Recorded Sunday, March 23, 2020
Location: Northampton, MA—a conference call with the South Congregational Church, Springfield MA