The Hard Work of Healing

Prelude Jim Pearce

Chiming of the Singing Bowl: Hannah Cowart

Words of Welcome and Announcements: David Stewart

Good morning! I am David Stewart, a Worship Associate here at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Sandy Springs, Georgia. 

Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation seeks to create loving community, inspire joy and spiritual growth, and support courageous action. All are welcome, as together we journey towards justice and equity by learning, caring, and acting together.

We especially welcome any newcomers and visitors we have today.  We welcome all of you to turn on your cameras to see our community together.  

Join us for our first NWUUC Game Night (on Zoom) on Aug 20th 7:00pm-8:00pm.  We will be playing Kahoot! An online, interactive trivia game.  Sign up to play by August 19th using the link in the Universe newsletter.

There will be a lot of volunteer activity near the end of this month to get the final approval from the City of Sandy Springs for our almost complete building expansion.  We need volunteers, this means you!  We need volunteers with chainsaws, we need volunteers with weedeaters, we need volunteers who can maneuver landscaping equipment.  Please contact any member of the Building Expansion committee to coordinate your much appreciated volunteer hours to the congregation.  If you have anyone in need of fulfilling volunteer hours for their schools or other organizations, please send them to us.

We will be starting virtual chalice groups, our small group experiences, soon.  Please contact Brian Freeman to find out more about these.

I hope you’ll join us after worship for coffee hour… from the comfort of your own homes.  The link to our Coffee Hour Zoom room will appear in the chat box toward the end of worship, and we will remind you about it again there.  When you click the link to join coffee hour, please remember that the password is “coffee”. Again, you will be reminded in the chat, toward the end of our worship service.

If you haven’t already, now is a great time to grab whatever materials you’ll need to light your own chalice if you’d like that to be part of your worship experience today.

As always, kindly set your phones to worship mode; we won’t know, but I think you might enjoy the hour free from distractions.  And feel free to check in on your social media of choice to let your friends and family know about this place of caring you’ve found today. Our congregation is an exciting place to be, and we love it when you share the good news. 

And although we cannot be physically together to greet each other today with hugs, high-fives, smiles, and words of love, we are all together in spirit and each and every one of us is welcome.  

Hannah will now call us to Worship.

Call to Worship: Hannah Cowart

Lighting of the Chalice: Avary Lockhart

Love can transform the world

By Maureen Killoran

Love is the aspiration, the spirit that moves and inspires this faith we share.

Rightly understood, love can nurture our spirits and transform the world.

May the flame of this chalice honor and embody the power and the blessing of the love we need, the love we give, the love we are challenged always to remember and to share.

Story Wisdom: Adia Fields-Udofia

Interlude: “Building Bridges” by Jim Pearce

Reading: David Stewart

Our reading today is entitled “Some Thoughts on Healing” and was written by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.–She is one of the best-known of the early pioneers of Wholistic and Integrative Medicine. As a medical educator, therapist and teacher, she has enabled many thousands of physicians to practice medicine from the heart and thousands of patients to remember their power to heal. She was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at age 15.

“In 1962 when I graduated from Medical School the goal of medicine was cure. Anything less was failure. But there is a great deal more to wholeness than the recovery of physical health and so much more to medicine than curing disease. Not everything can be cured. Fortunately cure is not the only successful outcome of our relationships to our patients. Over time I’ve come to think of physical health not as a goal but as a means that enables people to pursue what has meaning and value in life. But people often do this whether they are physically healthy or not. People even respond to significant illness by growing in their capacity to love and feel compassion for others, in their sensitivity and understanding, and in their courage and passion and wisdom. Because of this they may be able to affect the world around them in ways that would not have been possible before.

Over the past 55 years many physicians have failed to cure me, but many have helped me to heal. Healing is a potential in all relationships and at all times. Our power to heal is far less limited than our power to cure. Healing is not a relationship between an expert and a problem … it is a relationship between human beings. In the presence of another whole person, no one needs to feel ashamed of their present pain or weakness and be separated from others by it. No one needs to feel alone and small.

To help others heal we need to bring our own wholeness with us into our examining rooms: our strengths, our courage, our caring, our vulnerability, even at times our anger and our fears. We may need to become more than we have been trained to be. Our training may have caused us to focus so narrowly on our professional skills that we have sold both ourselves and our patients short. Perhaps our power to make a difference in the lives of others is far greater than the sum of our techniques and expertise. Perhaps we can tend the will to live in others with just our bare hands.

According to Jung, wounded people are healed by other wounded people. Other wounded people understand that what is needed for the healing of suffering is compassion and companionship, not expertise. Many times my expertise has been far less critical to the eventual outcome for my patient than my presence and my remembering the hidden capacity for wholeness in myself and everyone else…even under extraordinary circumstances. I am humbled by how often what helps a patient find themselves and their strength in hard times and begin the direction of a new life has nothing to do with my hard won medical knowledge. I have often made a difference because of something I learned about life in my garden, or from my Russian grandmother, or even from my own dark times.

Remembering the power of our own humanity and the power of the humanity of our patients opens doors of possibility. To quote Bruce Barton 

“Nothing splendid has ever been achieved except by those who have dared to believe that something in them was superior to circumstance.” I believe this about my patients…sometimes long before they can begin to believe it about themselves.

And now, we have Rev. Joan Davis to present Joys and Sorrows.

Joys and Sorrows: Joan Armstrong Davis

Prayer and Meditation: David Stewart

Please make yourself comfortable and join me in a brief meditation. Our words this morning are adapted from Alice Anacheka-Nasemann’s “Meditation on Hope and Love in a Time of Struggle.” 

This morning, let us simply breathe together as we hold our hearts open.
Breathing in as our hearts fill with compassion
Breathing out as we pray for healing in our world & in our lives.
Breathing in, opening ourselves to the transforming power of love
Breathing out as we pray for peace in our world & in our lives.
Breathing in as we hold hope in our hearts
Breathing out as we pray for justice in our world & in our lives.
May we know our strength
May we be filled with courage
May our love flow from us into this world.
Breathing in, we are the prayer
Breathing out, we are the healing
Breathing in, we are the love
Breathing out, we are the peace
Breathing in, we are the hope
Breathing out, we are the justice
May we know our strength
May we be filled with courage
May our love flow from us into this world.
Amen, blessed be, may it ever be so.

Music Interlude: “I Am Willing” Dail Edwards solo

Sermon: Hannah Cowart

Good Morning.

In a time when we may struggle to see hope and love each day, this morning I want to speak straight from my heart and share some personal experiences that have pushed me and shaped me. I will be talking about some hard topics. Please be kind to yourself and take appropriate care as we discuss. Remember that Rev. Misha is available for conversations and this community is here for you as well. I’m hoping you receive this as a message of reassurance and inspiration that this is our life to live, that all of our lives are interconnected and that, just as one person’s pain can hurt us all, one person’s healing has the power to transform us all. 

A year ago we were celebrating calling Rev. Misha to be our settled minister. One of the first sermons she delivered from our beautiful pulpit at NW last June, touched me in a unique way and that’s where I want to start. 

Point 1: Healing is hard 

It was a sermon about Mordecai and Esther. Mordecai, a Jew who, from outside of a castle, infused love and courage to their cousin Esther, an orphan who was stolen off the streets by a King, and enslaved inside the walls. Esther was an orphaned child, taken away from the only family they had left and forced into sexual slavery. With years of Mordecai’s prayers, Esther found courage to speak up, saving their own life and the lives of all of the Jews. Rev. Misha’s sermon title was: “For Such a Time As This”, and she encouraged us to listen to the calling of our souls, and to take faith- that we may have been built “for such a time as this” and that the positive changes and impact each one of us make individually may in fact have the potential to heal our world. 

Rev. Misha found a place in my heart that day for her incredible ability to preach, and to bring inspiring stories to life. I’m so thankful that we have her. 

We–the Big We– becomes stronger as each of us heal and find our true voices. 

You don’t remember (because I never told you) that on that day last year, I was healing from a deep pain myself, after having a lifesaving visit with my own cousin just the day before. I sat there on one of our cush green chairs, that I never thought I’d miss as much as I do now, as Rev. Misha presented a story of two cousins finding strength, healing and purpose together and doing the impossible. While less than 24 hours earlier, I had found what felt like similar strength, healing and purpose with my own cousin, who was not a caretaker for me like Mordecai, he was actually my abuser. And after 30-something years of suffering, the healing that began that day felt every bit as big as what I imagine saving an empire may feel like. We cried together and I learned that he had been hurting all of these years too. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And in the midst of the shared pain we were sorting through, I felt my heart break open, the world shift and true and deep healing begin. For 30 years I had built enormous walls to protect our secret. I didn’t realize that those walls had also been protecting my pain–sheltering it from healing, and providing a fertile ground for it to grow and seep into every area of my life. After all of those years of avoiding his gaze at family functions, I had no idea that his eyes were a beautiful blue. I had never let myself look at them. Healing can be such hard work that it physically feels like breaking completely open…that day I got close to where I hurt the most. Dr. Emily Nagoski, counselor and professor of women’s sexuality says that “healing always involves pain…you can’t choose for your broken heart not to hurt, any more than you can choose for a broken bone not to hurt. But you can recognize the pain as a part of the healing, and you can trust your heart to heal, just as you trust your bones to heal, knowing that it will gradually hurt less and less as you recover. She encourages us to “choose to allow the hurt to heal.”

In his book titled: “It Didn’t Start with You,” Mark Wolynn stated “…When we try to resist feeling something painful, we often protract the very pain we’re trying to avoid. Doing so is a prescription for continued suffering.” 

He goes on to say.

“In many ways, healing from trauma is akin to creating a poem. Both require the right timing, the right words, and the right image. When these elements align, something meaningful is set into motion that can be felt in the body.”

So, let’s talk about the hard work of healing, and our roles as individuals and as a community in that process. 

Point 2: Healing requires safety

I’m sure most of us are familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that Adia introduced in story wisdom. Maslow developed that theory 1940s and 50s. Maslow said that only after our needs for food, water, warmth; safety; belongingness, love; self esteem and accomplishment are satisfied, can we work towards self fulfillment and achieving our full potential. And they have to be accomplished in that order. 

A couple of weeks ago, our middle and high school members arranged a beautiful service about their spiritual practices, and we had some small group conversations that delved into more detail. I got to lead one of the breakouts with these questions: “What makes you feel safe/included in a community or group?” and “What makes you feel unsafe/excluded?” I chose these questions because Maslow says finding belongingness and love (some of our foundational reasons for being in a faith community) is not possible without feeling safe and secure. We cannot ask ourselves, or each other, to go to places that hurt when we are also having to keep our guard up. Touching our pain requires us to break down the walls we’ve built around our castles, or at least create a little crack to peak through. And how could we do that if there are arrows right outside the walls pointing straight at our most vulnerable place? How can we dream of doing that if our other, more basic needs for safety aren’t met? Maslow doesn’t believe we can.

And based on the notes I took during our breakout session last week, I think many of you agree. 

Here are some of the things that y’all said make you feel safe. You said you feel safe when people understand you and appreciate you. When you don’t feel like a stranger. When you have shared background and experiences. You said you feel safe when people truly and deeply listen to you, and to each other, when you feel free to speak openly, knowing that people won’t laugh at you and that they will be open minded. You said that seeing other people being vulnerable, making mistakes and being received with love, makes you feel safe. And you stated that you feel safe knowing that if you are not able to do something on your own, there will be someone there to help you–to support you when times are hard, knowing that when you are vulnerable and exposed you won’t be alone. And, finally, you said that in order to feel truly safe, you need to know that your loved ones will also be safe in the group as well. 

In our reading, the author referred to Carl Jung–a really famous guy–who believed that, wounded people are healed by other wounded people. Other wounded people understand that what is needed for the healing of suffering, is compassion and companionship.

I believe that we are all wounded, but sometimes we can work so hard to avoid pain, we may forget it. Though we can work toward healing on our own, we need other wounded people-the safety and security of community to really get to the good stuff. 

I’ve been in a number of hard conversations related to our UU faith recently–related to the denomination as a whole and our small beautiful little chunk of it at NW. In some of those conversations I’ve heard encouragement for us to not expect safety, because we cannot guarantee it, and that instead of safety, we need people to be brave. While I don’t disagree that doing hard things requires immense courage, I want to offer that the healing I believe we all crave, the deep healing that requires other wounded people to bring us compassion and companionship, that healing cannot take place unless we feel safe. Picture that castle with the big walls we’ve built up and arrows shooting at it. Being brave is saying we need to pump ourself up inside the gate and run out into a fire storm. And, yea–truly facing our deepest pain does feel like that in the moment. I felt it as I walked into that meeting with my cousin and I’m sure Esther felt it just before they laid out the proposition that would save the Jews-not knowing if it would work, or if it would result in their demise. But, those moments came after years and years of building courage, building confidence by peaking through cracks in our walls and building a sense of safety. By seeing other people be vulnerable and get stronger. We cannot expect each other to be brave continuously. We are human. We MUST create relationships that are safe in order to heal. And I believe this is more important today than perhaps it’s ever been.

Point 3: Healing is necessary 

In the reading, Dr. Remen said: “Healing is a potential in all relationships and at all times… it is a relationship between human beings. In the presence of another whole person, no one needs to feel ashamed of their present pain or weakness and be separated from others by it. No one needs to feel alone and small.”

So, my question is how are we doing this as individuals and as a faith community? 

As Mark Wolynn said, to heal, our pacing must be in tune and many elements must align. Dr. Nagoski refers to pain and healing as being natural cycles. They say that “recovery requires an environment of relative security…so that the panic and rage can discharge…completing their cycles at last.” 

It is so hard to know where others are in their healing cycles, if they’ve just begun, if they are still actively building their walls, or if they are ready to start pulling the walls down. So, the safety within our community is more than important, it’s essential. It deserves our attention. The only reason I had the courage to talk with my cousin that day, was because I built that courage over years and years leading up to it. And a lot of it came from the confidence I developed being in community with all of you. And you didn’t even know it. Every time I stood in front of you at meetings or during service, I was peaking through cracks in my walls and building strength. 

What are we doing as individuals and as a faith community to help the elements align for healing for others? Where do we see people begging for their basic needs of food, warmth and safety? Are we listening, or are we looking away? Where do we see people crying for their psychological needs of belongingness and self esteem? Can we give them the floor? Belongingness requires feeling heard and known and accepted. Are we making space to hear, and learn and accept? 

We said in the breakout sessions that we feel safe in a community when we have shared experiences and background with others, it’s like there’s a connection that doesn’t require words…how are we creating a space for others to find that connection when they come in our doors-virtual or the ones with knobs? Are we creating a diverse community that digs deeper in our relationships to find the shared background and experiences that can lead to feeling connected? Are we challenging ourselves to find connection in our uniqueness? 

And what about each of us individually? Do we know where our own walls are? How high have we built them? Do we have enough self awareness to know, and be able to express, when our basic needs need attention? Are we doing our own hard work of healing? 

I believe even the hardest and most painful healing is possible. It does not require us to sit down with people who have hurt us, or save an entire empire, but it does require us to find the walls that are protecting our pain, and to work to break them down. 

And the scientific side of our UU minds will be happy to know, that there is research to back this up. 

Finish: Healing is possible

Most of you know that I have just completed my first semester at GSU pursuing a Masters degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. I’m doing this because of the transformative experiences I have had in therapy and counseling over the past 10 years. Actually, my first therapist is the whole reason why I am UU. 

Research in the field of mental health has identified that trauma relives, or resurfaces, or replays, until actually we hear it. Until we allow it to complete the cycle. Researchers now believe that trauma can actually change our biology, how our neurons fire and even how our genes are expressed. Not just for us, but some research points to multigenerational effects. That people can show signs of trauma their grandparents experienced without ever having met them. And the research also shows that OUR BODIES HEAL, our brains continue to learn throughout our life, and our cellular expressions respond to safety. 

There is a concept called “post traumatic growth” that states that people are able to turn the most profoundly painful experiences into deep, fulfilling growth. They tell stories of seeing the sun shine brighter, feeling full and alert, and finding deeper connection in relationships. You may be thinking of an experience you’ve had where you’ve found more clarity after a painful experience. 

There’s also tons of attention and effort going to studying the concept of resilience, and how our spiritual lives, and our faith community can positively impact, and help us find meaning in even the hardest situations. 

I’m only one semester into my studies, so I’m not a pro, but my understanding of these concepts and my personal experience is that: healing is the hardest work we may ever do, healing requires a safe space for us to touch and process our deepest pain, healing is necessary for us to reach our full potential and most importantly, healing is possible. Regardless of how long ago, how big, how small–we can heal.

Just think about the potential. This is what inspires me every day. Think about the potential in all of us if we work towards healing. There is such physical and emotional pain around us and in us, what if we chose to allow that hurt to heal? If healing in one person can save an empire, what can we do collectively? 

So, let’s leave here today with inspiration to do the hard work of healing for ourselves, and each other. To get support when we need it from friends, therapists, ministers, family, puppies or even kitty cats if they consent. Let’s leave here committed to creating safe space when people are hurting, and to realizing that as we do so, we are changing the world.

Now let’s enjoy our Director of Music, Dr Philip Rogers performing Healing Balm.

Music: “Healing Balm” Philip Rogers, solo

Offering Introduction: David Stewart

The offering that we take each Sunday isn’t just a stale habit: it’s an opportunity to recommit to this place, and to this people. Our offering is an affirmation—a “yes.” When we give, we say yes to something we value. With our gifts, freely given, may we say yes to the values of our faith. May our text-to-give offering help us practice Unitarian Universalism within and beyond our congregation, as tools to empower our mission. Please check the chat for the text to give instructions. Our offering will now be given and gratefully received. 

Offering

To the work of this congregation, which is weaving a tapestry of love and action, we dedicate our offerings and the best of who we are.

Benediction  Hannah Cowart

Before the benediction, I’d like to invite you to participate in coffee hour which will begin immediately after the service. You can just stay right here when the service ends. There is no need to leave this zoom call, we will begin coffee hour as soon as the postlude is over. 

Our parting words today are from the writer, poet, civil rights activist and childhood sexual trauma survivor: Dr. Maya Angelou who gave voice to the profound impacts of trauma, and the lifelong struggle to heal, through her groundbreaking autobiography: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

Dr. Angelou said: “As soon as healing takes place, go out and heal someone else.” 

May it be so.

Postlude Jim Pearce