“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” –Matthew 6:25-34
One of the constant companions of my life is anxiety. Over the years I have learned to navigate the treacherous waters of racing thoughts, catastrophizing, physical symptoms, and all the other things that come with anxiety. At one point when my anxiety was inflamed, my therapist gave me an image that I return to again and again. He asked me to think about sand and then invited me to imagine picking up that sand. He instructed me to grip it tightly in my mind, clenching my fist around the clustered grains. What happened was that the tighter I gripped, the more quickly the sand flew out of my tensed hand. He then asked me to imagine holding the sand with tenderly cupped hands, holding it lightly and gently, and the sand stayed firmly in place in my concave palms. This image exercise made real the power of holding things gently: that when feeling anxious the impulse to grip more tightly, to try to inflexibly control every situation, to exert more pressure on current circumstances is self-defeating and counterproductive. But a gentle, compassionate holding of whatever comes my way, can enable a centered and calm state of being.
Anxiety seems to be running high in our world right now. There are so many things weighing on us, demanding our attention, and consuming our energy. There is the loneliness, the uncertainty, the grief, and the exasperation of living through a pandemic. There is the general anxiety that comes from the state of our world and how little we can actually do about it. Fear and sorrow have been present with us as we have watched the war in Ukraine. Many of us have felt called to act in the face of racial injustice while being present to the turmoil in our nation. There has also been the pain of illness, the grief of death, and the struggles of everyday living for ourselves and those whom we love. Anxiety is with us and is a feature of what it means to be alive.
Anxiety is also present with us at Trinity. This Holy Week and Easter were beyond wonderful as we gathered in person to commemorate and celebrate the great and central mystery of our faith. However, in preparing for all of the services which we have not offered in person in two years, I found myself getting anxious. Would the bulletins all be correct? Would we remember the steps which were once familiar? Would the sermons be ready on time and received well? Would all the people offering their gifts of ministry be present and remember what they were supposed to do? I found myself starting to grip the liturgical sand tightly and to lose sight of what was really important. When I realized that, I took a breath and adjusted my hands to more gently cup the sand of this sacred time. With my transformed perspective, I remembered that all we are trying to do is pray and that is something we do everyday; that what is essential in these holy moments is our worship of God and our connection to God, not that everything is perfectly executed without a flaw.
I have also noticed anxiety around the future of our community of Trinity and rightfully so. The position of faith communities in our society has changed. Patterns of regular attendance have metamorphosed as the demands on our time have expanded. Decline is prevalent in churches all around us and our future can seem uncertain. This fear has been increased by being virtual for such a long period of time. We wonder collectively if people will come back? If we can return to how things were? If there is even a normal to return to? And we fall into the trap of gripping tightly the sand of our communal lives. We strive for old ways of being, we desire things to be as they used to be, we long for the comfort of familiar patterns. But, I cannot help but wonder that if we held Trinity’s sand a little more gently, a little more lightly, would we be able to be more present to God and each other?
Now, this is not to say that we have not done new, imaginative, and Spirit filled things. When I consider the way our community rallied so enthusiastically around the Joy Campaign, prioritizing mission in a new way, my heart is warmed and filled with joy! I see this new life in the way so many of you have come together to care for Afghan evacuees. I am heartened by the people who have joined our community over the past two years and the innovations we have adopted to be church in new ways. But, I think that we must always be vigilant around the impulse to grip tightly when feeling anxious.
So, how do we practically cup the sands of our lives gently and lightly when the pressures are real and omnipresent? I believe an answer to this is in our scriptures. In the gospel of Mathew, Jesus proclaims:
But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
Holding life’s sand means remembering what is important: the primary goal of our lives, both as individuals and as a church, is striving for God’s kingdom. Anxiety will always be with us and today has enough anxious thoughts that we do not need to add tomorrow’s to them. But, if we really try to be the holy kingdom here on earth, if we really love as Jesus loved us, if we really seek righteousness and justice, the rest will follow. The outcome is not ours to control or manifest; it is God’s. We choose to walk in faith, resting on God’s promises, and perhaps, by holding the sands of our lives more gently, we will draw closer to God. This is not to say that everything will be okay, but that through practicing a perspective focused on God, we can more adeptly maneuver through the challenges of life, finding a calm center in the sacred no matter what comes.
Image: Ralf Steinberger from Northern Italy and Berlin, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons