On Renewal at the Cusp of 2022

by Rev. Aaron Payson

Here we are at the cusp of a new year having looked forward to this moment for many months.  How many times did we hear.  “I can’t wait until this year is over!” And just as we begin again the timeless cycle, it feels like a return to old patterns of retreat because of the pandemic that still plagues us. Decisions to forgo the usual course of in-person gatherings or to augment them with a personal distance that continues to connote isolation weigh heavy on the hearts of many. The choice to meet online the past two Sundays, and the prospect that we may decide to do this for a few more weeks has me thinking about the paradox and potential of renewal in this moment. The hope of the new year in the midst of a pandemic which continues to challenge us to make choices that seem less than satisfying is an opportunity to consider the substance of the renewal we seek, which to my mind is more about connecting with others than it is about the places we connect, at least in this moment. Consider the following from Sanctuary: Creating a Space for Grace in Your Life by Terry Hershey.

     “In the latter years of her life, in the backyard of her home in northern Florida, my grandmother had a porch swing. She liked to sit and swing and hum old church hymns such as ‘Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me.’ I can still see her there, wearing a white scarf over her head, a concession to chemotherapy’s unrelenting march. When as a young adult I visited her, she would always ask me to sit with her on the swing for a spell. She would pat my leg and call me ‘darlin’.’

     “As long as my grandmother lived — and in spite of her pain — there was always a place for me on the swing. If I were asked to explain grace, I would paint the picture of my grandmother’s swing. There, I never had to deliberate or explain or worry, regardless of the weight I carried. The porch swing — my grandmother’s presence — bestowed grace without conditions.

     “And I am here today because of that porch swing. I am here today because of a sanctuary.

     “Everyone has a sanctuary, if only in the mind. Even if we can’t say what it is, we know of its power. It is a place where we feel grounded, unhurried, and renewed. We go there whenever we can, which never seems often enough. Or that’s what we tell ourselves.

     “A sanctuary is a place that restores us, replenishes us, nourishes us. In this renewal, we are reminded, once again, of what really is important.

     “We are wired to need grounding and renewal. Yes, I believe it’s in our emotional DNA. So you’d think creating sanctuary would be at the top of our priorities. But there’s the sticky wicket. We end up making choices — with our time and with our days — that are detrimental to our emotional and spiritual well-being.

     “If I had my druthers, I’d put my pen down (yes, I still write with a fountain pen) and invite you to take a walk with me. We’re not going far. Off to the side of my garden and tucked under a maple tree is a swing. It’s for cogitating and sitting for a spell.

     “I can tell the weeks when I do not get my recommended dose of sanctuary — or in my case, garden time. And I can tell when I do take my sanctuary time because it restores me; it’s a dose of grace mainlined straight to the heart.”

What I appreciate most about Hershey’s reflection is while the swing is important, more so, it is a metaphor for a particular kind of experience.  “Everyone has sanctuary, if only in the mind. . . a place that restores us, replenishes us, nourishes us. . .” This is the essence of renewal.  To be restored in order to continue the journey or to begin again.  At the cusp of 2022, might we all find sanctuary, were ever we are.  And there, connect deeply with those that are grace to us.