“A Fresh Start”
by the Reverend Doctor Peter W. Allen
Hingham Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
January 3, 2016
She was 47 years old and reasonably happy. Her three kids, who were in high school and college, were all doing fine, but still needed lots of guidance and financial support from her and her husband. Her marriage was solid enough, but she couldn’t help feeling that the possibilities for marriage were far deeper and broader than that which she and her husband shared.
She felt so-so about her job, which was an administrative position in a local shipping company. The pay was pretty good, but she wasn’t learning anything anymore and there was no outlet for her creativity. She found meaning in her volunteer work and in the few times a year when she sat down to make the beautiful jewelry that flowed from her fingertips like a painting flowed from the paintbrush of a master.
Physically, she was rarely sick, but had stopped exercising years earlier and she felt kind of blah.
Then, blah turned into a generalized depression. Then came the diagnosis.
Breast cancer. And it was pretty far along. Her doctors were aggressive, and the treatment made her feel even more ill. Her husband was wonderful and her kids took it well. They were old enough and mature enough to be able to be supportive and not require too much reassurance from her.
Most of her friends were terrific as well, but her very best friend, the one from whom she need the most, simply fell apart. Every time she visited, she wept and clung and asked a million questions. With her best friend acting like this, she felt very much alone and the depression deepened.
After she recovered from the surgery and picked out a wig, she returned to work. Her husband, who continued to be great in most ways, was afraid to touch her and studiously avoided talking about the cancer unless she brought it up.
Her feeling of isolation grew, until, one day, she got in the car and drove to New Hampshire. She had heard that there was an auto road to the summit of Mount Washington, so that’s where she headed. For some reason she was craving altitude.
As she steered the car up and up and around turn after turn, she thought of her family. She hadn’t told anyone where she was going. She hadn’t even told her boss, who, on this Tuesday morning, had called her cell phone seven times and had probably gone from disappointment to anger to concern by this time in the day. She pulled over and texted him to say that she was OK, just under the weather, and had slept late. She’d be in tomorrow.
She though about calling her husband, but didn’t want to further interrupt the exhilaration of climbing, climbing, climbing, above everything, above her office and her boss, above the clinic where she received her chemo, above just about everyone in New England.
Once she reached the top of the mountain, she parked her car and got out. She looked north along the Presidential Ridge toward Jefferson and Adams. She looked east across Pinkham Notch toward Wildcat and the Carter Range. Just a short distance below the summit, she could see a tiny pond and the Lakes of the Clouds Hut where you could stay the night. uIt was a rare clear day on the summit and she could see for miles and miles in every direction. She looked far for something new.
She thought hard about her life. What would she do when she left the summit? Whether she had a year or forty years left in her life, what would fill that time? She prayed hard to God for guidance and strength.
The late summer wind that whipped through the collection of buildings on the top of the mountain interrupted her contemplations. She hadn’t dressed appropriately, so she decided to get back into her car to warm up.
She started the engine and headed back down. She didn’t have a plan, but she knew one thing for sure: she was not going back to her old life.
The Israelites who lived in exile, first in Assyria and then in Babylon, also knew that, even if they would be allowed to return to their homeland, they wouldn’t ever get their old lives back.
Their homes and businesses were gone. Their friends and families had scattered. They could still taste the foods they used to eat and they remembered what everything looked like in the old days, but they were very sure that the old days were not coming back.
We know from scripture and from archeology that they did, eventually, make it back to Judah and Jerusalem in particular. We don’t know what was left of their neighborhoods and farms, but we know that they got very busy building dwellings and other structures. We do know that the Temple had been destroyed and that they built a new one, and that it was not exactly the same as the old one.
But rebuilding a community takes more than a series of construction projects. Institutions and commerce have to be re-established. Supply lines renegotiated. Leaders identified and convinced to lead. Friendships and partnerships to be forged.
Over time, Jerusalem became Jerusalem again, but with a new cast of characters, a new sense of gratitude for home, and a determination to get it right this time.
In our lives today, things can get stale or even rotten. Sometimes we do this to ourselves and sometimes other people bring us down. We can get into the wrong kinds of habits. We can lose direction and forget who we really are and who God is calling us to be.
Once we realize the need for a fresh start, actually making changes takes courage, discipline, and support from others. We need Divine inspiration and we need inner strength, and we need community.
The prophets’ tales of returning exiles gives us hope that we, too, can return to the kind of life that we know is best for us, even if it is quite different from the good old days. We can co-create marriages, families, and homes that are healthy and life-giving, even if they are very different from the homes in which we were raised and learned our basic values.
What do you think happened to the woman after she drove down the Mount Washington Auto Road? Did she take a left and head to Canada, or did she take a right an d head back home to re-engage with her husband and her community? Did she stay with the safety of her old job, or did she start a jewelry making business? Did she start caring for her body and nurturing her spirit?
I offer you the opportunity to use your imagination to write the end of her story. My understanding of Jesus’ ministry is that it is a ministry of empowerment. He inspired the broken ones, the least and the lost to return to God, to heal themselves, to heal their relationships, to connect with their neighbors in a loving way rather than mistrusting or mistreating them. It was and is a ministry focused on the transformation of individuals and communities.
You and I, we can be those individuals. And collectively, we as a church can experience transformation as well in the coming year. We can look to the hills and wonder and pray. We can open our hearts more fully to the urgings of the Spirit. We can engage in risky generosity. We can stop doing things that no longer work for us and start doing things that will make everything new again. It is a new year and the Spirit of God is singing a new song within each of our hearts. Let’s listen and enjoy and live.