Creator God, we thank you for this beautiful world. We thank you for calling us into being, for loving us throughout our lives, and for inviting us into faith and relationship with you. May we be open to your Spirit and all your wild and wondrous ways this day. Amen.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to live in the moment, to be present and open to the life, love, and presence of God that fills each moment of our lived experience – how part of faithful living is practicing mindfulness, awareness, and attentiveness to each moment.
We tend not to do this sometimes, maybe most of the time. It’s part of how we’re wired as human beings. We often spend a lot of time thinking about the past or the future. It’s normal and it’s natural to do so. And often it’s necessary in order to function.
But we can also get out of balance sometimes by spending too much of our energy on things past or things yet to come and neglect the things that are calling out for our attention right now.
This has been one of the challenges of this pandemic, hasn’t it?
We long for the way things were. We miss our old lives – the things we used to do, the people we used to spend time with (in person); we miss church together, work, school, all of it.
And we’re anxious about the way things might unfold in the future. When and how will all of this play out? When we get a vaccine? When will we be able to get back to some semblance of social normalcy, even if it is a new normal? When will we stop going backwards and start making progress?
I know for myself, as the months have gone on, I’ve settled into some new routines, but these feelings and questions still pop up.
And yet, I think this experience has simultaneously challenged us to take each day as it comes: to try and let go of our tendencies to spend all our time and energy dwelling in the past or the future and to instead practice saying Aloha to the present moment. And I think this is a practice worthy of our time and energy.
How do we welcome each day as it comes and try to live it to the best of our ability? Even in times of complexity, anxiety, and stress, how do we take a moment to stop, and breathe, and recognize the fragile beauty of each moment – full of life, full of love, rife with the shimmering Spirit of God.
Those of you who know me well know that I love my calendars and to do lists. I’m an organizer, a planner, a detail-person. But there are times when the calendars, the to do lists, and the plans need to be tossed aside, if only for a little while, to make room for the spontaneous moment.
And this pandemic experience has surely taught us something about the limited power of our calendars and timelines. We have been challenged to change plans, revise our plans, and sometimes throw away our plans, haven’t we? Along with rethinking all of the practicalities of work, and school, and daily life, I know many of you have had to also rethink weddings, birthdays, vacations…
I was actually hoping to be in Hawaii this month. It was part of my sabbatical plan to celebrate my fortieth birthday in Hawaii. Obviously, both the sabbatical and the Hawaii trip have been postponed. And that’s ok! Although you do have my permission to give Pastor Dave a hard time for asking me to preach on Aloha Sunday. Just kidding!
There are real feelings of loss when we have to change plans, of course. And that is absolutely ok. But what I’m finding especially interesting, inspiring, and exciting during this season of change is the adaptability and creativity people have exhibited.
We have collectively found new ways to celebrate milestones. You threw me a drive-by birthday parade and it was wonderful! Thank you for that and for all your wonderful cards and expressions of care! I wouldn’t have had a parade in Hawaii! I ended up having a great quarantine birthday! Drive-by and online birthday parties, wedding receptions, graduation parties, and other celebrations are now becoming a regular part of our culture. It may not be the same way we’ve always marked these important days, but it’s great!
And I think it shows that, together, we have adapted, pivoted, made the best of our circumstances, and created something new. That is part of having an attitude of Aloha to the present moment. And some wonderful things have emerged.
Adapting to spending more of our daily lives at home has brought its blessings too. Even if we don’t want this to go on forever, we can recognize that we have learned some new things from this experience. Perhaps we have learned new ways to stay connected with our friends and family. Perhaps we have learned the value of changing up our routine a bit, or changing up our space a bit, to fit new needs. Sure, some of this learning and adapting has been hard. But hasn’t some of it also brought us a fresh perspective? Hasn’t it also offered us an opportunity to appreciate the precious gift of our lives and our loved ones?
Perhaps we have also recognized with a new level of awareness how lucky we are to have a home. And maybe that can inspire us to share more of our resources with those who are struggling.
If you haven’t, I encourage you to keep an ongoing list of the blessings and learnings in your own life that have emerged over the past few months. It’s a good practice of gratitude. Include everything that pops into your mind. Nothing is too small. A few of my blessings are: midday workouts, furry four-legged coworkers, my husband’s guitar serenades, spending time outside on our patio, family game time on Zoom, and working at Katy Collins’ dining table that she gave me before she died. Katy’s table also serves as a reminder to me to look to her for inspiration. If you knew her, you know that Katy was courageous, creative, adaptable, feisty, and didn’t let life’s challenges deflate her.
There are blessings and learnings from this time that we will carry into the future.
And it is amazing to me how many churches, including our own, have made the leap into the 21st century and brought our worship services and other ministries online. This has not only allowed our local congregation to continue to worship together, but also folks across the country (and even the world) who have moved away from Long Beach or have newly connected with us from afar. Perhaps some of you out there are connecting with a church for the first time ever. How wonderful!
Our internet presence, not only as a congregation, but as the church in the world, is here to stay and will continue to grow. That is something to celebrate! It took the challenge of this pandemic to nudge a lot of us in this direction. But it will continue to make the church more accessible in the future for those who can’t travel or attend every gathering in person as well as for those who choose to participate in an online space.
When we are open to the present moment, even in challenging moments, we can gain a new appreciation of so many things and can grow in so many ways. And when we consider this practice of openness not only as a practical necessity for our lives right now, but also as an ongoing spiritual practice, amazing things can happen.
It can keep us creative, moving, and nimble. It can help us embrace that spiritual gift of spontaneity; to let that rushing wind of the Holy Spirit move us where it will.
It can give us a new appreciation of and willingness to embrace the mystery, the unknown and unknowable. Sure, that is a little scary sometimes. But it can also be an exciting, hopeful adventure where we might just meet God in a new way.
An attitude of openness to the present moment can help us take a step back and breathe… and recognize that God is here… our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer… the great Divine Mystery who is as expansive as the universe and as intimate as our very breath.
God is here… in our breath is the very breath of God, the Ruach to use the word of our Hebrew-speaking ancestors and siblings in faith, the Spirit that fills us each with life and love… that same power of life and love that God breathed and still breathes into all this beloved creation. Our God who longs for all to breathe freely.
When we are open to the present moment, and to God’s presence in it, perhaps we’ll pause to say “thank you.” Or we’ll pause to say “I don’t know where all of this is headed, but I trust your love.” Or we’ll pause to say, “ah yes, I see what you did there; I see what I can learn from this journey we’ve taken.”
And perhaps we’ll recognize the sacredness of every place we find ourselves, of every space we occupy, and the blessedness of every moment in this brief time we are given upon this earth.
And maybe we will be moved to praise, recognizing that in every moment, God is still God. And God is still here. And the journey continues to unfold.
As we mentioned last week, the book of Psalms contains songs and poems that are prayers to God in every circumstance. Songs of lament, songs of thanksgiving, and today’s text, Psalm 150, is one of those wonderful songs of praise and joy.
And wasn’t it so beautifully shared by Julie and her team of musicians?! 31 volunteers of all ages from all of our musical groups participated in that choral reading. That’s something new and awesome that we’ve never done before! Thank you to all and to Julie for putting it together!
Moved by joy, the psalmist began this litany of praise to God in every place and with every instrument we have for praise. But it doesn’t have to stop there. It’s a litany of praise we can expand upon and join in any moment of our lives.
So, praise the Lord! Praise God in the sanctuary, in the mighty firmament.
Praise God at home, in the car, out on a walk, at work, at the grocery store.
Praise God on YouTube, Facebook, and Zoom. Praise God, the ever-connecting force that can’t be contained or limited by buildings.
Praise God at the ocean, in the pool, in the shower, while running through the sprinkler; every drop of water bringing a baptismal blessing that washes over us with grace.
Praise God with trumpet, lute, harp, strings, pipes, ukulele, guitar, and any instrument you have. Pots and pans, clapping hands, and kazoos work too.
Praise God with your voice, with your body, in word, in song, and in deed. Let you whole life become an act of praise as you serve and care for others. Praise God as you wear a mask to protect and love your neighbor. Praise God as others serve, care for, and protect you.
Praise God with your dancing, running, walking, stretching. Praise God as you move your God-given, God-blessed, beautiful body.
Praise God in the garden while you tend new growth and give thanks for the harvest.
Praise God in the kitchen while you cook. Praise God at the table while you eat. Praise God as you do the dishes and clean the house.
And praise God in rest, as you embrace the gift of Sabbath.
Embrace this very moment with a spirit of Aloha and praise God right now, just as you are, wherever you are, however you are.
In all ways, in all places, in all circumstances, let everything that breathes praise the Lord!
Prayerfully presented to Bay Shore Community Congregational Church (UCC) in Long Beach, California.