Sermon, June 12, 2022
Rev. Jessica Palys - KCUCC
Last week in my sermon I was sharing a little about the preaching conference I went to in Denver. Since the conference was focused on life after trauma and what preaching has to do with it, it featured some speakers trained in trauma response. We heard from experts that laid out how trauma impacts individuals and groups with a loss of identity and loss of purpose; and that trauma can manifest as numbness, anger, controlling behavior or dark humor.
Once the Festival speakers explained how to spot trauma, some provided some guideposts on how to heal from trauma - and the most promising path, as suggested by one lecturer, was by being present. Trauma can begin to be healed by being present, by intentionally employing the concept of presence in 3 ways; presence to others, presence to self, and presence to God. Last week I was focused on how to have Presence to others. Today I want to dig in to the idea of Presence to Self.
I feel like the idea of ‘Presence to Self’ immediately brings up that buzz word of late: self care. When I was in seminary this word, ‘self-care’, was all the rage. Ministry can be very daunting, and so all the professors and all the books emphasized the importance of maintaining self-care throughout your career to protect against burn-out… unfortunately no one could tell us *what* self-care was.
Now ‘self-care’ is all out there in popular culture too - it’s on facebook memes and handy rejoinders when you might be tempted to have that glass of wine at 9 in the morning; hey, it’s self-care! And the capitalist system discovered that ‘self-care’ was a neat marketing trick. You need a little self-care… get yourself a mani-pedi. Get a massage. Buy this machine that allows you to listen to the waves while you fall asleep. Treat yourself to a facial, or a spa day, or better yet, a week-long meditation retreat in a glass-walled home in the mountains or in a hut in Tahiti.
What do all these self-care suggestions have in common? Money. All throughout Seminary, I was wracking my brain on how to afford all my very important self-care on a student budget.
The truth is, self-care can’t be sold to you. But I would argue that Presence to Self is a part of Self-Care.
Last week, I talked a lot about the attributes of Presence, of being Present for others. Being present is about being attentive in the moment. It has to do with being intentional about setting aside distractions in order to offer deep, active listening to your companion. It’s about offering all your focus to another to possibly help them find clarity, or comfort, or peace. Some of you do that with some people in your life. But can I ask you, how would that feel if you did it for yourself? How often do you sit, without distraction, and intentionally listen to your internal dilemmas, and feelings, and needs, and administer presence to yourself? So many of us are outwardly focused - feeling other people’s pain, or frustrations, or injustices; extending our compassion to our neighbor as God asks us to do. But how often do you pause to identify what’s going on inside your head?
I admit, this is not something many of us do well - I am no exception. I have a book beside my bed called… that is basically a daily devotional for recovery codependents… because focusing on others is so much more comfortable than focusing on myself!
There was a facebook meme going around a few weeks ago that said:
“Sit with it.
Sit with it.
Sit with it.
Even though you want to run.
Even though it’s heavy and difficult.
Even though you’re not quite sure of the way through.
Healing happens by feeling.”
We dive into our distractions, into our jobs, into our kids, into our housework, into our wine and food, into our friends sometimes because those are all easier than sitting with whatever is going on inside of us and listening. Last week we talked about thee women who never left Jesus’ side - at his trial, as his torture, at the cross, or at the tomb - as demonstrating presence, even in the midst of pain. Who shows up with you are bleeding? More importantly, do you show up for yourself when you are in pain?
So the first rule of being present to self is making space and silence to listen to your inner self. Prayer is one method to do deep, internal listening; listen to that whisper of God that resides deep within your soul. What is God telling you?
Some preachers might use our scripture today from the Apostle Paul to glorify suffering. Some of you, no doubt, have heard a sermon that mistakenly attributed serious trauma to God ‘never giving us more than we can handle’, because suffering ‘builds Christian Character.”
Let me not be mistaken - I am NOT preaching that today. Nor ever.
But suffering may offer lessons. The theologian Peter Steinke claims we ‘waste’ suffering if we gloss over, deny, avoid or neglect its message. If, however, we can learn from pain it is not wasted but a source of life and health. By the end of the Apostle Paul’s life and ministry, when he wrote this letter to Rome, he had been through much suffering - both physical ailments of chronic pain, and the social ailments of being condemned, jailed, tortured, and exiled. But his formula for hope describes what he learned from his pain - not that suffering is desirable or to be pursued, or to be wished on anyone, but when pain comes, and it will, denial and avoidance are a ‘waste’. Listening to the lessons in the pain offers a way to find hope in the midst of endurance.
So, first, we have to listen to ourselves, listen to our dilemmas and our pain, and look for the lessons we can glean from the afflictions in our lives. Secondly, Presence to Self involves setting boundaries. Once we’ve listened to where our pain is coming from, we must be present and responsible enough to ourselves to set those boundaries that will prevent that pain from reoccurring. Today, as we celebrate PRIDE here in this loving and accepting congregation, many of our LGBTQIA + folks are deeply familiar with the pain - and freedom - that comes from setting healthy boundaries to protect oneself from more trauma. Whether it stems from harmful theology or homophobia, sometimes the source of pain is someone close to us, someone we love, but whose presence in our lives does not add to our health and growth and joy. Sometimes the boundaries we have to set for ourselves involve distancing ourselves from relationships that are toxic, or controlling, or condemning, or taking advantage of us. Drawing that line that establishes a boundary to prevent your pain and frustration is not selfish but necessary - at least for the time being. In the words of one of lecturers at the conference, Jesus forgave the soldiers who mocked him on the cross - but he didn’t go hang out with them when he was resurrected. It is ok to offer forgiveness and get closure in absentia, if it is a boundary that protects your emotional health.
Boundaries can be physical, emotional, verbal, or even time-based. In this social media age, we invite some of the toxicity that comes our way through interactions with long-forgotten classmates or relatives. A good friend of mine used to set boundaries on what she called her ‘virtual real estate’. If there was a debate happening on her facebook page that was getting out of hand, she would simply inform the commenter that she refused to let her virtual real estate to be used for that kind of sentiment. That kind of boundary was usually surprising enough to remind people to be civil - but of course if they refused, she simply used her power to delete their negativity. Modeling healthy boundaries can be a good reminder for all of us, once in a while.
So, listening to ourselves for our needs and protection, and setting healthy boundaries are two ways to be Present to self. Lastly, Presence to Self involves satisfying and nurturing our own health, growth and joy with hope for the future. Presence to self is recognizing all those things that we need to do to protect, love, and nurture our true selves, and then taking action for our own healing and growth. Being present to ourselves may mean admitting our mistakes and our flaws and learn to accept them. Being Present to ourselves means that we learn to articulate what we need, what we want, what we hope for. And by being clear on our wants, needs, dreams and desires, we will start collect people who support us, and help us figure out how to become our better selves. And we, and all of those around us, will learn to celebrate the person God created us to be.
And that brings us back to PRIDE.
In our scripture passage today, the Apostle Paul is writing to an embattled community in early Rome. The Christians themselves are not currently under Roman persecution, but there is danger and pain all around. Sects of Judaism are being expelled from Rome by Roman authorities, exiled into the wilderness. And for every Jew that chooses to follow the pathway of Jesus, they are ostracized by their former Jewish community, suffering a sort of cultural exile. There is pain and trauma. But Paul argues against the shame that such experiences wear supposed to cause. Against a backdrop of pain and trauma and decades of theological teaching that equivocates good fortune with God’s love, Paul argues that there is no shame in oppression. There is no disgrace in trauma and pain. There is no disappointment in having confidence in God’s grace and love. Instead, he asserts that oppression creations patience, which creates character, which creates hope. Regardless of the intentions of the exterior oppressive forces, hope does not disgrace the one who holds it. Hope gives life, energy, and joy.
And Paul tells us ‘hope does not disappoint us’.
Hope does not disappoint us. Now, that’s a statement of intention right there, is it not? Hope is worth it. Hope is the remedy, the elixir. Hope is worth boasting about. Hope will carry us through.
And isn’t that what PRIDE is all about - embracing our hope for a better future, without the pain and trauma of this present moment? Hope will not disappoint us, hope will not let us down. We will not be disgraced by our hope. We will not be shamed in our optimism for a better future. We will not back down when we proclaim God’s love for all. Our hope is well placed in God, in ourselves, in our community and our congregation. Hope has carried this message through 2000 years to remind us today: God’s love and grace never falters and never fails. And so we are boastful in our oppressions and boastful in our hope, knowing that God’s doors are never closed; rather than are open to all. Let us find Presence in our hope on this day and all days, and let it nurture us and propel us forward. Amen.