Please visit our YouTube channel to watch Rev. Ann Marie’s video recording of this reflection and reading.
I was watching a TED Talk about passion as I was looking for what to say about the light (that which fuels the fire) inside each of us, and the light that is in the room when we are together. The TED Talk speaker was going on and on about how passion is overrated. That what one is passionate about changes over time, and passion is not reliable except to identify a fleeting feeling. She said that passion is not a way to understand what one is to do in life. Rather than passion, what one needs is a plan.
In other words, this speaker was getting to her point… that passion really doesn’t help a person make a career choice. It was about then that I realized this TED Talk was not going to help me know what I should say to you.
But just before I turned it off, the speaker quoted words from her mother, whom she remembered telling her when she was younger “to just get a job, any job; you create your life by living it.”
Isn’t that the truth?
We do create our life by living it. And our life creates us. At least, we can say that the stories we tell about the life we have and are living either create or destroy life.
And in my view, it is in those stories that we hear and tell, and that create life, where we can hear our passion.
It is, I believe, a back and forth conversation. We create our life by living it, AND the life we live creates us. Finding our passion is about feeling our feelings. Our passion resides in the places where we are authentic, truth-tellers, feeling our feelings, AND listening for the passions that fill up our lives so that they are rich with meaning and the sort of “purpose” that makes plans.
Finding one’s passion is about way more than making a career choice.
Learning where one’s passion lies is about the conversation we have, the stories we tell about our experiences. It is about the glory we feel when we know the synchronicity between we how we feel and the story we tell.
Not unlike the conversation the Spirit of Winter and the Spirit of Spring had in the tale Jennie shared, there is always a dialogue within us about what was, what is, and what will be.
We are, as humans, the storytellers; telling stories to ourselves, to each other, to our children…. Every story reveals our passions… if we but listen, if we but listen, we can hear… what OUR passion is.
I have heard the story many times of how this congregation began as the “church in a box.” In the early days, the UUCSH members had to tote around everything they would need for Sunday services in the trunks of their cars because there was no storage space for them in their Sunday rental space. All that they might need was in the totes.
The board members and I were joking around about the “backgrounds” that some of us have when we are on Zoom. It is a way to not show what room you are in at home or the state of the room you are in! Some use beautiful landscapes, depictions of places they have traveled.
We got to talking about how well we are doing with our Zoom meetings because of our experience as the church in a box, or actually in many totes. Someone suggested we might want to use a picture of stacked totes as our Zoom background to remind us how flexible, mobile, and creative we can be when we need to be.
We might not be wandering in the desert for 40 years, or under a stay-at-home order for 18 more months, but for however much longer we need to, we have and we will continue to adapt, to learn how to use technology to bring us all together.
One can hear the passion here… to define ourselves, to define UUCSH as a success no matter the circumstances, to adopt the “feeling” that we can do this, because we are adaptable.
It is a good story of survival, of creativity, of making do, and keeping on, and keeping on.
And yet, it is also true that it is sometimes difficult to hear what story we might tell about an experience in the future… when we are in the middle of it in the present. We are in still in the throes of a global—certainly a national—experience. When we don’t yet know fully what the story will be, how it will end, what it will teach us, how we will remember it—it might be hard to identify—to hear—a passion.
There was a documentary some years ago, produced by a daughter about her father. The title was The Stories We Tell.
In the early credits, these lines from Margaret Atwood rolled across the screen:
“When you’re in the middle of a story, it isn’t a story at all but rather a confusion, a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood, like a house in a whirlwind or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard are powerless to stop it. It’s only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all, when you’re telling it to yourself or someone else.”
There are stories, some horrifying, coming from those on the front lines of this pandemic, told by the doctors and the nurses and the workers in pork and chicken processing plants… stories about disease and human beings. You can hear the passion to let those of us staying at home know what it feels like to those who can’t, aren’t, wouldn’t—because of their passion—be where they are, telling the rest of us stories.
How have you, how are you, how will you tell your story about living through this pandemic? What is the compelling message you have, are, or will create for others, or for YOU to hear? Can you hear the passion of those who tell a completely different story than yours?
Many of us non-professional storytellers forget that telling stories is not an end in itself.
As any professional storyteller knows, the telling is an attempt to release one’s self and others from the story, an attempt most often meant to evoke evolution and growth. We tell stories to teach our history, to reinforce patterns, to communicate our passions, and to transform ourselves and others because of the stories we tell. Storytellers use their tales to make a difference, to broaden perspectives, to see farther than normal, to move beyond an old story that may have imprisoned or enslaved the teller; to free, to renew.
As Anne Lamott, the famous writer and teacher of wannabe writers says:
“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It is like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”
We are, in a way, in the midst of a raging storm. How will we tell the tale of survival?
What song are we singing? What conversation with death and life, with winter and spring, have we been invited into?
How you articulate your answers, how you take in the answers of those not like you, and let that transform you, how the life you are living creates you, can renew/refresh your passions. See the glory.
Another Strange Land: Downpour off Cape Hatteras (March, 1864) by Aaron Coleman
Follow this link to hear the author read his poem.
First a penny-sized hole in the hull
then eager saltwater rushing over
us and clouds swirling and clotting
the moonlight—no time to stop and look upon it
as the hole becomes an iron mouth,
makes strange sounds, peels and tears
open iron as iron should not open—
muffled and heavy us becoming underwater
we confused the metal echo and thunder
as the same death knell from God’s mouth—
we been done floated all this way down
in dark blue used
uniforms, how far from slavers’ dried-out fields
in Virginia, Pennsylvania—wherever
we came from now we
barely and only
see and hear an ocean
whipped into storm
not horror, not glory, but storm
not fear, not power, but focus
on the work of breathing, living as the storm
rocks us and our insides upside down turns
hard tack into empty nausea—
so close to death I thought I saw the blaze-
sick fields of Berryville again, the curling fingers
of tobacco, hurt fruit and flower—
but no, but no.
I say no to death now. I’m nobody’s slave
now. I’m alive and not alone,
one of those who escaped and made myself
a soldier a weapon a stone in David’s sling
riding the air above the deep. I grow more dangerous
to those who want me. I ain’t going back
to anywhere I been before.
I grab a bucket. You grab a bucket. We the 25th
Pennsylvania Colored Infantry, newly formed
and too alive and close to free
to sink below this midnight water. 36 hours—chaos
shoveling-lifting-throwing ocean back into ocean
to reach land and war in the Carolinas. I stole my body back from death and going down
more than once. I steal my breath
tonight and every night I will not drown.
Copyright © 2020 by Aaron Coleman. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 24, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.