Separately Together: Finding the Path Forward Living our UU Values

Posted 4/24/20

by Pam Collins, with Laurie Singer

I opened my email this morning to see that I was copied on a message from Bev Lawson in which she thanked the six women who have been working on masks for immigrant workers.  Their combined efforts have resulted in 103 masks!  (Bev will supply more detail on this and the work of the Care Team in another article).  What a labor of love…truly.  Anyone who sews knows how tedious such work can be, especially making the same thing over and over again…and not just for one’s family or friends, but strangers whom we are likely to never meet.  

I don’t know about the rest of you, but the first few weeks or so of this crisis found me going into survival mode.  “Shelter” in place indeed.  I was mostly concerned about my immediate family and whether we all had the resources we needed for a stay-at-home reality.  There was also the issue of shutting down the church while making sure our staff continued to be paid and the organization continued to thrive.  Very practical concerns.  Once those concerns were allayed, then came the sadness of being disconnected from family and friends.  During the April 12th service, I was so overwhelmed by how much I missed everyone, I had to leave Dave alone at the computer and take up a seat by the window, staring at the lake as the tears rolled down my face.  (What a baby!)

Now that we know New York is going to be locked down for another three weeks at least, we’re faced with accepting all these changes as the new normal, at least for the time being.  (Or we could not accept it and rant and rave and join protests that greatly enhance the likelihood of falling prey to COVID).

Regardless of how this plays out, we are faced with a new reality that is as complex as the web of existence itself.  1) We are all but helpless if the biosphere we depend on becomes inhospitable to human biology  2) our economic model is both  unsustainable and deeply resistant to change  3) moribund capitalism is so far gone, it puts monetary acquisition before life and 4) yes, climate change WILL challenge human (and non-human) survival.  I’m certainly not one to say COVID is God’s wrath, but for those who are willing to see it, it has certainly revealed where we humans need to correct course — quickly and radically.

So I return to seven women at their sewing machines.  One might argue that, selfless as that is, it’s a drop in the bucket, but I would argue otherwise.  In addition to those 103 masks very likely saving some lives, there is present in that action the fierce and courageous insistence on doing the best we can in the face of potentially insurmountable tragedy.  

Hear these words from Laurie Singer….

“I woke up this morning with the words of a familiar song in my head:  “…in this great turning we shall learn to lead in love”.  I struggled to recall the rest of the song in my still half-asleep fog.  Then suddenly it all came to me.

We shall be known by the company we keep, by the ones who circle round to tend these fires. We shall be known by the ones who sow and reap the seeds of change alive from deep within the Earth.

It is time now. It is time now that we thrive. It is time to lead ourselves into the well.
It is time now.  And what a time to be alive.
In this great turning we shall learn to lead in love.
In this great turning we shall learn to lead in love.  

(To hear this sung, follow this link: 

Karisha Longaker wrote these words, she says, …”to inspire us to appreciate the good company we keep, and go deep into ‘the well’, the source of our creativity, connection and ability to thrive…”

How or why this song had popped up from my subconscious, I had no idea.  But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made to me.  There are so many who are circling round these days, tending the fires of a virus gone out of control.   Even though I am the only company I keep these days within my own four walls, I am constantly reminded of the company that is this beloved community.  There are makers of masks, singers of songs,  technical “gurus” who are able to bring  Church into our living rooms, and countless unnamed others who risk their very lives that we may continue to thrive.   One thing these blessed souls have in common is that they are all “leading with love”. Perhaps, as Rev Joe suggested to me, we’ll come away with a whole new idea of what it means to thrive. Perhaps….when we have emerged from these COVID cocoons:  this great turning.    

In the meantime, I am continuing to thrive in my own solitary company, as I pray all of you are, as well. We are all blessed to be held in this circle of community.  In this great turning, may we all learn to lead with love.”    

I know we all share Laurie’s respect and appreciation for the work that is keeping us functioning in this new reality.  I’m particularly struck by Laurie’s evocation of a cocoon — a lonely, insulated shell from which a beautiful creature emerges.  Will we be such creatures?  Will we emerge from our shelter-in-place cocoons more beautiful?  More full of love?  A gift to the world?  Significantly changed?

It’s sinking in now.  This pandemic is real and it is likely the beginning of a great turning.  Do we have the courage to embrace being alive in this time?  There is always room for choice.  We can doggedly cling to the old way of doing things, ineffective (and even suicidal) as they may be, but that is not the UU way.  UU’s are committed to “leading in love” but what are the new ways of being that will be essential if we are to thrive?  How will we figure this out?  We can go to the well.  We can open our hearts.  We can meet electronically and wrestle with these questions.  There has never been a better or more important time to live into our UU values with all the courage and energy we can muster — and being in community, face to face or electronically, will help us maintain that courage and energy.  

For the worm, the cocoon is a time to feed, to grow, to develop, to prepare for the day when nature says “Now!  Take flight!”  Thanks for that metaphor Laurie.  I will no longer despise the cocoon, or fight against it, or cry at my fate, but rather use this time to do as the worm does…and when I emerge, when we all emerge, what will that look like?  I know one thing…I’m prepared to see UU’s at the forefront of the change that has to happen.

Blessings to all of you…