Change. Many people dislike it and resist it. Others, wishing hard that it will not happen, actually deny that it is occurring. Our attitude of resisting change is not new to the modern world. Greek philosopher Heraclitus (535 B.C – 475 B.C.) said, “The only thing constant in life is change,” and it is certain that he was not the first to say so. Humans have a natural affinity for the familiar. Most of the time, we know what we like and we like what we know. When we are faced with uncertainty, anxiety can arise.
In March of this year, Rev. Joanne Rowden announced to our congregation that she will be retiring from ministry at the end of July. A minister’s retirement, transfer, or transition is about as significant a change a spiritual community experiences. To assist our congregation with processing what we thinking and feeling during this transition period, Rev. Greg Coles, from Unity Worldwide Ministries’ Great Lakes Region, talks to us about holding sacred space.
Rev. Greg asks us to consider, “How do we use change for our own spiritual growth as individuals and as a ministry?” Quoting Rachel Naomi Remen, professor of integrative medicine at UC-San Francisco - The most important thing we can ever give each other is our attention. Rev. Greg is careful to point out giving others our attention does not mean giving them our judgment. What does it mean? It means not giving them our judgment, not having to agree or disagree with their story or experience, and not trying to fix or change their experience.
Internationally known speaker and teacher Heather Plett gives the following definition of Holding Sacred Space:
Holding sacred space means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgment and control.
There will come a time when we will need to discuss how we will move into our future together as a spiritual community. Our conversations will be more fruitful and produce much less anxiety if, as Rev. Greg says, we first do the work of holding sacred space.
In any situation in life where we find ourselves wanting to move from where we are (point A) to where we would like to be (point B) it is natural to want to take a linear approach. Do x first, y second, etc. and eventually we will achieve our goal. In this way, we attempt to remain in control of what is occurring. This is not always the best method to get where we want to go. There are factors that are often outside our control. There are other people who will have different, often opposite, opinions about how to proceed.
Managing change often takes place with three distinct phases: analysis of the situation, visioning, and strategic planning. Corporations and organizations will often take this approach because it is something that can be mapped, tracked, and evaluated throughout the process, allowing for adjustments along the way.
Rev. Greg tells us of a non-linear way of managing change called Theory U1, created by Otto Scharmer, so called because of the shape of the diagram that illustrates the three phases of the method: Letting Go – Presencing – Letting Come. Letting go is the process that begins with the universe telling us that what we are experiencing no longer serves us. This is the thing we must let go of.
Once we complete the letting go, we see at the bottom of the U, Presencing. Rev. Greg uses the analogy of a Bowl for our Presencing. Because we need to gather up all of the pieces and put them somewhere. A bowl is really a perfect analogy for Holding Sacred Space because: it holds things; it doesn’t try to fix anything; it doesn’t try to change or force a direction; it simply holds the pieces, just as they have fallen.
This is a difficult phase for many people, Rev. Greg explains, because being in this place can be uncomfortable, and vulnerable and because we don’t have any idea of what point B looks like yet. And when some people look at the bowl of pieces they will see destruction, and they might feel grief, anger, sadness, or anger, even regret that the pieces are no longer what they were. While others will look at that very same bowl of pieces and see wow, look at all the possibilities.
And they are going to feel excited, creative, anxious to get started. The time required for Presencing can be a few hours, or weeks. Sometimes it takes years. For that creative tension to unfold and fully emerge into something new.
And then we move into this third phase which is letting come. Rev. Greg asks us to notice that the language Letting Come is not strategic planning. It is an organic process of emergence that comes from within. When anything is being birthed, it happens on its own timeline and not ours, and we don’t know exactly what its going to look like when it comes. We don’t make something come, we let it come. Letting Come is managed in three stages: The first is the process of having an Open Mind. So I may not fully grasp or understand it, but I can have an open mind. The second is that we need to also have an Open Heart - to surrender to the feeling nature of this process. Third, we get to an Open Will. It is no longer my will but God’s will, allowing something greater that wants to emerge have its way.
The process is not without its challenges. Along the U we are also going to have to overcome some obstacles: The first obstacle is our voice of judgment, which comes from the ego, because the ego fears all change. Rather than simply feeling our feelings about change, the mind is going to want to find someone or something to blame, rather than remain open.
The next challenge is cynicism. The Cynicism that wants to close down an open heart from feeling and moving through this process. We would rather be cynical than vulnerable. The final obstacle is fear of surrendering our will to a greater will, of being out of control, and knowing something much greater than us has this handled.
As students of Truth, we know that when we embrace change and allow our Faith to support all of the other Twelve Powers we have inherent in our beings, that we know that a new and wonderful future awaits us. These are the Truths that Rev. Joanne has taught us during her time with us, and we look forward to the next two months as she will be sharing her knowledge and loving wisdom with us.
Now Go and Be the Light.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7
Dag Hammarskjöld, former head of the United Nations, once said, “To everything that has been, I say, ‘Thank you.’ To everything before me, I say, ‘Yes!’” Yes changes the energy in our body, and our courageous heart opens up to expressing something creative and different.
This week, find ways to say “yes!” to life, and embrace those times as opportunities for personal and spiritual growth. You will be happier, healthier, and more prosperous and as a result the world will be a better place for you being in it!
1Theory U, Scharmer, C. Otto (2007) The original project also incorporated artwork by Andrew James Campbell, Oxford. Theory U: Leading from the Future as it Emerges. The Society for Organizational Learning, Cambridge, USA.