What have you been learning about yourself during the pandemic?

(Video of this sermon is available here.)

What have you been learning about yourself during the pandemic?

This is a question that’s been posed to me, and I found it helpful. So, I’ve posed the question to you all at our church: What have you been learning about yourself during the pandemic?

The responses you’ve shared are really thoughtful and wise and honest and complex.

Thank you.

In a moment I’m going to share the responses I received, in a way that’s anonymous, so that you all can benefit from each other.

Please feel free to keep sharing how this question percolates with you.

What have you been learning about yourself?

Let me first just offer a few reflections.

According to the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus taught his disciples that the realm of God is inside us, as well as outside us. “When you know yourselves,” Jesus told them, “then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living God. But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you will be the poverty.” (Gospel of Thomas, Logion 3)

500 years before Jesus Socrates also famously taught: “Know thyself.”

Siddhartha Buddha also taught this in a radical way, and practiced total awareness of “the self,” in a way that reveals and transcends the illusion of the “self.”

For Christians and Jews, God is involved in this activity of self-knowing and of liberation from our small selves:

“When you know yourselves,” Jesus taught, “then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living God.”

“O God, you have searched me and known me” – as we hear from the Psalmist (Psalm 139) “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me… Where can I go from your spirit? Where can I flee from your presence.”

Prayer is our practice of being completely honest before God, and honest to ourselves, so we can grow in awareness and openness to the presence of the living God who draws us out more deeply into the realm of divine Love, in accordance with our true nature.

All great spiritual teachers are very clear that this process can become very uncomfortable, to say the least. It’s a process that takes dedication and take faith.

Knowing ourselves means not only knowing our strengths and gifts and delights, but also knowing those parts of ourselves that we’d rather not know. But as Jesus taught, knowing ourselves is really about allowing ourselves to be known, fully, to be known by the great all-knowing source of all being, the Holy Love Supreme.

Sometimes we experience this being known when we are alone, before God. And other times, maybe often times it’s through the eyes of another fellow creature that we can come to glimpse our true nature, and the true nature of all beings

As Martin Buber taught,

“I require a You to become. Becoming I, I say You. All actual life is encounter. … When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them.”

So, with all that in mind and in our hearts, let’s hear, let’s witness some of what folks have said they have been coming to know about themselves and about other people and our relationships and communities in these times.

You’ll see that there have been unsettling things that have come to the surface about ourselves and our society, as well as liberating realizations, and the nitty gritty good humor of everyday life.

Here’s what folks have shared. These are your responses to the question, What have you been learning about yourself during the pandemic?

I have learned really how interconnected we all are as global citizens as well as within our own immediate networks.

I’ve learned that I should just stop fighting it and embrace being a crazy cat lady.

I’ve learned that there’s a lot more hate in a lot more people than I ever thought there could be. I’ve also learned how wonderful it is to know and love many people who aren’t like that.

Re-examining my core beliefs and standing up for them.

Being less busy and less on the go has provided our family with true unstructured time, which has been so good for us all! The pace and rhythm of quarantine reminded me so much of my own childhood and I loved being reminded of that!

I hadn’t realized before how much I love hugs. I miss them.

Our garden is my happy place, and being an only child is good preparation for alone time.

That I am a really good at adapting to changing situations and finding the positive in them. I think that comes from being a teacher for 30 years.

I learned how persistent and important my need for alone time is. And also how much I treasure unstructured time with family.

I have found the time to connect more with friends and family and have enjoyed the extra time to garden

I am prone to loneliness and mild depression. I am losing ambition.

I’ve learned

1. I love being alone.

2. I hate being alone.

3. Sometimes I don’t feel like doing anything.

4. Sometimes I get a lot done in a day.

It is basically all or nothing

I’ve been reflecting on the old saying “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle”, but I don’t think that’s true. I think God routinely gives us more than we can handle but that’s why we have friends and neighbors.

It is devastating to watch the atrocities reported in the news play out in the daily lives of [people I meet in my work]. I am ever impressed with the resilience of this community and its ability to creatively knit together even when we need to stay physically apart.

I am working on patience and it’s reward has been an increased sense of Peace

Among the chaos there are nuggets of joy, peace and calm that we need to relish.

I’ve appreciated the stillness. I hadn’t been looking for so much of it, but it’s the best chance to take advantage of this moment to think of where I had been heading. And where I need to go as we all move forward.

I am learning how important it is to take care of myself first before I can take care of anyone else…..

I’ve learned that we as a people are destroying ourselves. One thing we are extremely good at: culling the heard. Beyond that, I’ve learned that family and friends are very important. Faith and giving yourself to God keeps you strong.

I’ve learned that I’m perfectly happy to stay home for extended amounts of time.

I have learned how little I need to be full of joy and that I still care deeply about the same issues I cared about before I was married and had children.

I’ve learned that the phrase “Avoid it like the plague” is irrelevant because as it turns out, we don’t.

I learned more of what Black people in America face every day, and learned more about what it means to truly listen and be present with a person as they tell their story.

I’m learning that this political season is bringing up a lot of anger in me.

I am learning through this pandemic that I have to be careful about judging others for the judgement/lack of judgement that they show in response to the Covid threat. Spiritually, it can be very damaging for me to conclude that my level of concern -and precautionary steps- are the only way to respond to the pandemic. It harkens back to my childhood of an evangelical/fundamentalist dogma. My challenge is to remain safe while retaining grace.

I’ve learned I’m a good listener but not much of a conversationalist.

I learned that I am an artist.

I learned that I was able to adapt to a whole new way of school pretty quickly and easily.

That I was more over-committed than I realized.

That people fall back into their tried and true friendships under crisis – and it’s doubly isolating to be new in a community during social distancing.

That I do better when everyday I ground myself in who and what I love.

That I can chose anger/denial, recoil/retreat, or move forward with as much courage as I can pray for and summon today.

That the dog you feed, is the dog who grows has been true, so I am consciously tying to feed the good dog and starve the one who encourages the blues, self-pity, and negativity. I am well aware that being able to stay home, having a reliable income and not being forced to risk my life on a dangerous job or in a dangerous crowd is a great privilege.

Much has been written and discussed about the cultural shift from “we are one” to “me”. The loss of believing we are a community of people living together, not apart. And the passing of the “greatest generation” who willingly made extreme sacrifices for one another.

Sadly, the pandemic has shown me that those old-fashioned values are in grave danger.

I pray for a new era following the pandemic. A new era when love and concern for one another is again a driving community force

For myself, how difficult it has been to not be able to see friends and family and really embracing them!!

I’ve been learning a lot during the pandemic, one lesson of which is liminal spaces tend to teach me the most, and intensively, about life, myself, others, the world, and God.

Love itself is a liminal space, and perhaps that’s why God comes so close in times like this… because God is Love. If love is itself a liminal space, then God dwells in such spaces.

God and i need quiet time to share. Even though it’s possible to connect with God as you go about your busy day, and I keep a running dialogue sometimes, the pre-verbal connection I still need with God doesn’t get a chance to blossom unless I have space and quiet.

I’ve learned I can be content with very little. Simplicity in lifestyle and hopefully maintaining as quiet a pace as possible after this is all over is important to me.

I’ve learned that human connection is so important to others who I thought were more detached.

I’ve learned that times like this bring out different parts of who a person is than what they usually show you.

I’ve learned that people really are resilient, and there is a goodness in people that steps up to stand with or kneel with their fellow people in more people than I expected.

I have learned that God IS still speaking, and God IS still listening, even in today’s times when we are in despair, thinking God isn’t. God is.

Thank you all for this.

Thank you for your wisdom, thank you for your honesty, thank you all the ways you are experiencing and sharing how God is still speaking and still listening.


(Delivered October 25, 2020, for First Congregational Church of Walla Walla by Rev. Nathaniel Mahlberg)

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