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Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Learning to Fly

Presented by Debbie Cole, guest speaker, with Worship Associate Carol Carter Walker; Director of Multigenerational Religious Exploration Dayna Edwards; and the Choir

Learning to Fly

Debbie Cole, M.Div

Sometimes on special occasions we may feel particularly drawn to stretch ourselves and our comfort zone. On one such occasion, a birthday, I chose to gift myself with a class on the flying trapeze. I found myself standing with my toes hanging off the edge of a platform 23ft above the ground.  One hand with a firm grasp on the structure to help maintain balance;  The other hand fully stretched to the trapeze bar, waiting for the instruction to "jump" – which is given as a hearty "hep!"  For that moment I was a bridge between what is and what can be.  How often do we feel poised on a precipice, preparing to take the next big leap? 

Stretching and reaching is something we’re all drawn to do at one time or another.  That’s how we change and grow.  That’s how we explore the edges of whom we are and what we can become.  How we handle these growing moments can teach us a lot about ourselves –as individuals and as a congregation.  It can often be challenging to discern where to find the balance between risk and reward, and it takes a certain willingness to explore our vulnerability. 

With great risk we may also open the possibility of great reward.  It is certain, however, that if we never leap off the platform, we will never taste the sweet victory of a successful "catch."  The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was not one to be shy about hanging his toes over the edge of a precipice!  His life often seemed to be lived on that edge.  Those who were attempting to cross the Edmund Pettus bridge 50 years ago were boldly living on the edge of that precipice –stretching, and putting their bodies; their lives on the line, not only for themselves, but for a whole country [to address voting rights.]  Dr. King's perspective and the willingness of others to trust and follow that vision allowed for that greater impact. 

When learning to fly on the trapeze, we need to have someone on the ground with a broader perspective, giving guidance about when to hop off the platform.  It is interesting that the trapeze flyer gets so much of the attention, but is never up there alone.  There is a person below orchestrating and giving cues, people on the platform to wrangling the trapeze bar and providing additional safety equipment; or, at the very least there is another person up there (often hanging upside down) ready to catch.  Because of all of this, communication is especially important.  Learning to communicate effectively is part of good maintenance of the system.

The commands are necessarily simple in order to be heard and understood quickly.  A simple command is used to let you know it's time to take the next step.  The signal, "hep,"  H…E…P…  makes a great acronym for -- Hope…  Empowerment…  Possibilities.  All three of these may affect our momentum for stretching beyond our usual comfort.  With that stretching comes risk; will it make things easier or more difficult?  Certainly risk taking, however big or small, calls on a Hope of better things to come, or greater growth to happen, or just continued progress forward.  Then, there is Empowerment to expose (even if just to ourselves) a vulnerability and not let that stop us, to discover our truth, to live with curiosity, to own the experience, evaluate it, and add it to our understanding of life and of ourselves – recognizing that we can build a New Way.  Then, with each moment, we can be aware of so many Possibilities.  Mindful that we co-create our world with those beings with whom we are blessed to share our lives, there are many, many possibilities in every moment.   

Hope, Empowerment, and Possibilities are all via our willingness to explore our edges and vulnerabilities and then to stretch beyond what we’ve always done.

Often, we have certain expectations about how we think life "should" or will be and can feel frustrated when those expectations are not met.  We might feel that change, that stretching is a burden or we can treat it like an adventure - however tentative we may feel.  It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have some direction in mind. But maybe, we can hold a goal loosely to allow room for the inspiration and highest aspirations to impact or amplify our future and our potential. 

Sometimes, it's not immediately recognizable how we get from point A to point B.  It can feel like walking a tightrope or hanging off a trapeze.

Some transitions can be very intense but still be associated with good or positive outcomes, like welcoming a new child into the family, choosing a life partner, or even your first 10K run.  Part of the ease of these particular transitions is how much trust we have in ourselves and in the process [of living. ]

In community, there is often a process in place to facilitate these shifts, including trust and compassion for those struggling with the stretching, the reaching, or the vulnerability.  Compassionate caring, when our heart is in a Holy place, helps build the safety net –facilitating an ease which helps create a more meaningful community. 

I know this congregation is intimately familiar with stretching and reaching.  I’m sure there have been times when trust and compassion have been stretched thin and yet you still prevail.  Every situation is an opportunity.  I know this congregation has been through a lot of upheaval and change, in this last year in particular, and that you have some big decisions to make about what ministry will look like as you continue forward. 

One by one, we may all reach for that trapeze bar; we all stretch to make something happen –even if it is just to face our own fears or test our own understanding.  Often, the precipice we stand upon is not one that others can see. It's one we may feel we are facing alone and that makes it much more difficult than something as visible as holding on to a trapeze. That’s when the support net is especially important for allowing the ability to remain connected in order to explore that deeper growth.  Our interconnected web of support needs to be in place -- that might look like the friends, the family, the congregation that loves us into being who we are; that holds us when we have trouble standing up. It is truly Holy work.  It is just as important to be that net as to be the flyer. All of these pieces create the opportunity to fly.

Once we have completed a swing on the trapeze and safely landed in the net, it then comes time to climb the ladder again.  "Beginning again" means staying open to possibilities, not being so locked down and "sure" about how things need to turn out, but allowing space . . . for exploring; for growth, and even space for fun and humor so we can be reminded we don't have to always take ourselves so seriously.

The trapeze safety equipment provides support to allow a greater range of stretching and reaching.  Important support people and safeties in the process allow more focus on how to make the stretch and what we can learn about ourselves in the process of pushing beyond that comfort zone.  In fact, those safeties can be what allow us to find that edge.  It is very important to have a net, not only because the work is hard and falls are inevitable, but that falls are an actual part of the expectation –part of pushing beyond our limits. 

In a congregation, the community of trust and support is a great safety net, allowing congregants to test leadership abilities; to find strengths; to practice making changes gracefully.  The community of trust makes it possible to practice falling and getting back up again — recognizing that falling and getting back up are also part of the process.  Staying in community with an eye toward right relations strengthens the safety net.  We all need support; we aren’t out there alone. When we remember to trust, we can stretch further.  Just like a trapeze rig, all of these structures take regular maintenance to be utilized to their fullest.  

I invite everyone to pause for a moment and visualize a net, like an oversized hammock waiting to cradle you in a nurturing and comfortable way.  Who are the people who keep that net active for you?  Allow yourself to feel gratitude for that feeling of support. …now allow a silent "Thank you" to bring you back to this space.

Whoever those support people are–it takes trust.  Trust is a big part of allowing space for stretching beyond, for exploring beyond, our comfort zone –trust for support, for accountability.  On the trapeze we trust someone’s signal to jump because their broader perspective gives a more expanded picture than we might be able to see in our moment up on the platform.  These skills are developed with time and with exploration through mistakes.  There is no expectation of perfection, only that you will keep trying.  

As the flyer stands on the platform they learned that reaching out is not enough, body weight has to be shifted into it.  Casually reaching for the bar isn’t enough – you have to shift your center of gravity beyond the platform - you have to commit to the leap.  We, as individuals, have to be willing to shift for the most effective transition.  Some of us may need to continue our place as part of the safety net.  Some of us will feel called at one time or another to put our weight forward, beyond the safety of the platform and possibly headlong into the next transition. 

Taking time to build a sturdy structure is important – this is the work of your Board Members and your ministers, in partnership with other lay-leaders and the congregation.  This is what allows the ability to “leap” into whatever you choose to be the next phase or direction — with Hope, Empowerment, and so many Possibilities.

I recognized the changing pull of gravity as I swung back and forth, hanging upside down, listening intently for the final signal to push off from the bar and leap forward to my partner. As I responded to the signal, for a few seconds, I was completely free of the bar and any support -- flying through the air.  The satisfaction of meaningful connection never felt so good!  It was across what had previously been perceived as a chasm of open space.  I know many people have overcome situations that felt like chasms in the moment, even if it was just a cordial conversation with a person who has different values, beliefs, or experiences.  One must be willing to stretch and risk, to make that crossing possible.

As the trapeze flyer reaches for that trapeze bar yet again, they recognize that that moment, too, will pass. Every swing must end with a release…a letting go.  After we work so hard to shift our center; to challenge ourselves and our community to stretch further…  we must release, let go, and reassess.  This is what our UU forbearers (and our history) have done and what many leaders now continue to do.

We are here this morning, a collection of people who have chosen to worship together.  We celebrate the interconnection of our lives and the support this gathering provides.  It takes all of us, the risk-takers and the careful planners; the builders and the dreamers and those who need to sit embraced in the support net for just a bit longer.  We all continue the process of stretching and growing when we reach beyond what we have always done to explore the many possibilities.  For some that will mean hanging their toes off the edge of the platform; for others it will mean being part of the safety net or the strong lines of support on either side of the trapeze "flyer"; for others it may mean engineering the strongest most flexible structure to allow the stretching, the risking, the supporting, and still maintaining room for a deeper understanding of how this congregation can live and grow together as it continues to make meaning for itself and the surrounding community.

Spring is almost upon us – the season of new life and new possibilities.  I invite you to let go of those things that are holding you back.  Lean out beyond the platform; trust your instincts to fly, as you explore the many possibilities out there waiting for you to reach beyond your comfort zone for yourself AND for others …with Hope, Empowerment, and so much Potential.

I will end with one of my favorite quotes by Guillaume Apollinaire …

"Come to the edge.' 'We can't. We're afraid.' 'Come to the edge.' 'We can't. We will fall!' 'Come to the edge.' And they came. And he pushed them. And they flew."          HEP!


Responive Reading:       READY TO TAKE THE LEAP            Debbie Cole

Each new day provides an opportunity to make ourselves anew

            I am ready to take the leap

Sometimes life feels overwhelming and choices are scary. When we acknowledge our vulnerability, we are not alone –

            We are ready to take the leap

Sometimes being in community is challenging. We make mistakes; feelings can be hurt.  But, compassionate communication is a learned process, so…

            We are ready to take the leap

When another’s voice is not being heard and our actions toward justice can make the difference…

            We are ready to take the leap

When someone needs encouragement we can put a hand on their shoulder, letting them know they are not alone because…

            We are ready to take the leap

And when our choices are to stay with our toes hanging over the edge of a precipice or learning to fly…

            We are ready to take the leap!

inspired by this short question/blog post: http://www.dailycompass.org/2014/03/10/take-leap/

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Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church • 3215 Powder Mill Road • Adelphi, Maryland 20783-1097
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