Serenity. If I look for it, really look for it, I can find it.
Everything passes, nothing remains. Understand this, loosen your grip and fine serenity.
--Surya Das, Buddhist poet, activist and author
Serenity. If I look for it, really look for it, I can find it.
Freshly sliced summer tomatoes and chilled mozzarella cheese, with a vinaigrette drizzle. Sweet corn, the kind that peaks in flavor and abundance just about now. And a cheeseburger, hot off the grill, pink and juicy, medium rare, just how I like it. The company as well, my Mom and brother, the three of us sharing a meal and conversation and connection on the last Thursday night of the last unofficial weekend of summer, a balmy night, peepers still peeping away as background music.
Then on my drive back home, there was a beautiful pink and red sunset too, those colors pushing up against a backdrop of dark clouds, the contrast so stark, the light so soft. It was the kind of dusk that somehow brings a day to a fitting end, with quiet and natural beauty.
And when I got home, Japanese baseball on the TV thats brought me joy this summer and so to end a really good day I watched the Orix Buffalos take on the Fukuoka Soft Bank Hawks in the Nippon Professional Baseball League. I only caught the ninth inning, but it was a tight game and even though I could not understand the commentary, it was still baseball, baseball with a live crowd in the seats, actually cheering. Something I have so missed in this odd summer, a summer that for the first time in so long, I didnt attend a game.
That was my serene Thursday evening.
Serenity: times in this life, when this life, just feels good somehow, even perfect in its presentation, there, right there for the taking and the enjoying but only if I am fully present to whatever graceful moment the universe is giving to me. If I do not pay attention, if I let the weight of my anxieties take me away from whatever is right in front of me, I wont find that peace of mind. Wont know serenity.
One of my favorite prayers and one of the most popular of well-known prayers is the Serenity Prayer, attributed to the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. It begins, God grant me the serenity, to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things can, and the wisdom to know the difference. On my really good days, when I actually realize all the simple blessings of this life, even in the midst of all the brokenness, I actually get to that serene place. A state of mind where I am able to see just what I do have ultimate and final control over my attitude towards everything and that which I do not have control over.
Just about everything else.
Acceptance does not mean I capitulate to the sharper edges of life, edges we are all experiencing right now in this year that has been a collective train wreck in so many ways. COVID. The election. The economy. The struggle for racial justice. How the church I serve will survive in the midst of the pandemic. The winter months looming ahead, long and cold months where I might have to return to inside isolation.
In the largest sense I do not have control over these happenings. And when I forget this truth: when I brood and am filled with worry and watch the news obsessively and grow dark in my view of the world, and become cynical or even worse, apathetic in the face of life, well there goes my serenity. Being centered in myself and God. Trusting somehow that this too shall pass and that 2020 will give way to better days.
Yes, I, all of us: we can and must do our parts in each of these places where we actually do have some personal control. We can be careful about COVID for ourselves and loved ones and neighbors and even strangers. Vote and be active civically. Work for a country where we are reconciled as brothers and sisters, regardless of race. I can do the best I can as a pastor. You can do the best in whatever your work is. We all can start planning now for how we will spiritually and emotionally survive what may be a very long winter.
But finally, I also have to cede ultimate control power these events, over all of life itself, to a power much greater than me, and trust that this power is working through all things for the good. In those rare times when I actually get to such a state of mind and heart and soul: thats when I find serenity. And perhaps, thats when you can find serenity too.
Serenity: not just in the more dramatic or obvious moments or of life but even more so in the basic and good gifts of life. Like a backyard barbecue with the people you love on an otherwise nondescript and unremarkable September Thursday evening.
That is good enough for me. That is where I find some serenity.
And so, in the days ahead, these crazy and unprecedented and wild days, may you seek, may you find and may you know serenity too.
The Rev. John F. Hudson is senior pastor of the Pilgrim Church, United Church of Christ, in Sherborn (http://pilgrimsherborn.org). If you have a word or idea youd like defined in a future column or have comments, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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