A couple of years ago, the young adult group at the Unitarian church I attend started talking about creating an alternative to the Sunday morning service. The idea would come up every couple of months, it would get tossed around for a while and then fall back down into the abyss of our busy lives.
This year we actually started to get our act together. We applied for and were awarded a grant for a part-part-time coordinator. We wrote a mission statement and goals for the year. And tonight we finally launched the alternative service. Sunday Evening Worship will be a monthly endeavor for now, but we are hopeful that we might be able to have it even more often sometime in the future (this is totally dependent on energy and participation).
With this first one, we weren’t sure what we were doing, but we knew how we wanted it to feel. We wanted to have an extended period of silent meditation. We wanted the music to be more contemporary and infectuous (we’re still working on that part). And we wanted to hear from multiple voices throughout the service. The theme tonight was Clean Slates. Below you’ll find the five minute reflection I wrote and read (performed) tonight.
I’ve spent a lot time in my life looking for the perfect clean slate. An opportunity to start fresh, to dig into something new and have it stick. I would make New Year’s resolutions in January. New school year resolutions in September. At the start of a month I’d resolve to use fluoride rinse or take vitamins or stop eating sugar. I’d go to bed on a Sunday night, swearing to myself that that next Monday morning I’d get up and finally get myself back to the gym. Once I even resolved to stop resolving, because all the unkept promises to myself were breaking my heart.
My family moved to Portland, OR from Los Angeles when I was in the middle of 3rd grade, and for the first time in my life I was stranger. I was a pretty shy kid back then, and the part of the day left me the most unnerved was recess. For the first couple of weeks I would beg for a library pass everyday before lunch, so that I could spend the time reading, but eventually my new teacher decided that I had to go outside and play. I’m sure she thought it would be good for me. Mrs. Zucker was definitely from the school of tough love. So terrified and stiff-limbed, I climbed into my coat, found a protected corner of the schoolyard and watched the other kids play.
LA schools were broke, even 20 years ago when I was in them, and so besides a few red rubber balls there wasn’t much in the way of playground equipment. Portland schools aren’t much better funded now, but back then there was money, which meant there was also an abundance of tetherballs, freshly painted hopscotch courts and extra-long jump ropes, none of which I really knew what to do with.
I learned how to jump rope by watching as my classmate Marla (who actually later became my best friend) focused on the rope and started to sway with its blacktop smacking rhythm. After a few seconds, she leaped in and without tripping or tangling herself in the rope, was jumping over it each time. I was deeply impressed by her ability. Eventually I made friends with all the jump rope girls. Even now I remember how it felt to make the rhythm of the rope part of my breathing, and let my breath guide me into the sketchy orb of the moving white rope. Sometimes I’d get tangled and trip, intimidated by the possibility of screwing up, but I discovered that if I just breathed and felt the rhythm of the rope and jumped, I’d be okay. Breathe and feel and jump. I learned that it actually worked better if I didn’t think too much.
I look at all my panicky, failed resolutions to be a lot like over thinking jump rope. If you looked too hard for the perfect entrance, you’d never find yourself jumping, instead wasting an entire recess trying to find the rhythm. It was better to keep trying to get in there because even if you got caught on the rope a couple of times, you’d eventually get it. By saving up the changes I wanted to make and giving myself only one 24 hour period in which to launch them successfully, I was creating the perfect formula for failure.
The best clean slate I’ve ever had was the one that appeared in that moment when I resolved to stop resolving. That choice gave me permission to stop saving up my changes for January 1st, or September 5th or the first of the month or late Sunday evening. Once I realized that I could strive for change, and make the changes incremental and evolve over time, I felt free to screw up and to try again.
We all think of January 1st as the ultimate beginning, and as we sit here three weeks into this New Year, some of you may have already stopped maintaining the changes you’d hoped to create in your lives. You might be feeling a little disappointed in yourself and might already be thinking, “Well, there’s always next year.”
Rev. Fred Small, a UU minister up in Littleton, MA, once said, “Beginnings are sacred times, because they offer a moment of radical openness to possibility.” Any moment can a fresh beginning. You have the power to create radical openness to possibility at any point in your life. Just breathe, feel and jump.