Since we last celebrated Thanksgiving our community has been pushed to the edge of its capacity to be grateful. The fires of December that had us gasping for a breath of fresh air – the most ubiquitous blessing we casually overlook and rarely pause to appreciate. And the clear blue sunny skies so common to Santa Barbara became an ominous yellow haze – a menacing blight on our paradisiac home. Many of us packed our essentials into go-bags to find refuge from the advancing conflagration. In a most rare occasion, we canceled our Sunday service. Yet knowing all would not get the word, we opened the sanctuary at the scheduled time. A dozen or so from our community donned masks and showed up anyway. We gathered in our sanctuary to share our concerns, to pray and sing and remember what endures and sustains and restores us. It was simple heart to heart humanity.
The air cleared and we began to breathe easier again. But the respite was brief for within a few weeks the community was again traumatized when the scorched landscape, scarred by fire and desperate for moisture received a month of rain in a matter of minutes. Stripped of its capacity to hold the "gift of water" an unstoppable torrent of mud and water left destruction and death in its wake. Some of our community members lost their homes. We held vigil for the 21 who lost their lives. We came together the best we could to bring comfort, and intertwine our hearts around what we could not wrap our heads around.
Then in February, our spiritual community experienced its own in-house trauma when a chasm of hurt and fear opened over the decision to release the minister. Sincere and impassioned arguments were aired in a parliamentary guided process, and when the final votes were tallied, the community would retain its minister and release the board of trustees. Officially resolved, yet bittersweet, as some celebrated, and some grieved the outcome. Good, faithful, and sincere members have not returned feeling alienated from their spiritual community. Again, we’ve moved on, returning our focus to our uncontested spirit-centered mission, evolving the ways we do the “business” of spiritual community and most importantly how we relate to each other. Just as the current debate over the cause of wildfires, we examine equally the prevention of conflict and containing the harm when it breaks out.
For this realization, we can be grateful, that we have recognized and pursued a middle way. While we grieve our losses, we must count our gains; what shook us, also woke us up. Conflict in spiritual communities is common. What is uncommon is finding and following the most harmonious and evolved method for moving through conflict that supports the well-being of the individual and the community. To this, we are committed. We will not do it perfectly for such is the imperfection of human nature. Yet we are making headway or perhaps it's “heartway” where empathy for ourselves and for each other narrows the chasm of our differences and makes peaceful resolutions possible. What greater goal for a spiritual community could there be, and for our world? It’s in our spiritual DNA. And in the refrain we sing at the conclusion of each service to remind us that Peace is possible and it begins with each of us.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow, each of us will look through the filter of our life situations. There will be have been losses, precious ones for some. And there will be that which remains as witness to what cannot be taken – the human spirit, our shared humanity, the resilience of the heart to expand, to heal and give of itself. This is what binds us together, and brings us back again and again. It’s the will of Divine Love made manifest.
I am inspired and grateful to each of you who stand in the fires of life, bearing witness to what truly matters, what endures and what binds us together.
With love and gratitude