EASTHAM — My grandfather was a Congregational minister. I never met him. He died of pneumonia in the 1920s. Two stories I heard growing up about Robert Hillis Goldsmith: in 1913 he integrated his Little Rock, Ark., church, welcoming traveling “Negro” salesmen in. For this, the family, including my infant mother, were “driven out of town on a rail.”
The other story was the book he wrote: A League to Enforce Peace, about the proposed League of Nations, precursor to the United Nations, was published in 1917. I think about him, and my mother, during Easter season.
My other grandparents, the ones with roots in Eastham, were my dad’s parents. They moved the family smartly out of Providence, R.I., to Woonsocket to escape the terrifying Spanish flu epidemic of 1918. May be why I’m here.
I, like much of my generation, grew up in a secular household. Mother and I went to church on Easter Sunday, to Eastham Methodist, or later, First Parish in Brewster. Other than some Sunday school and choir at the Chapel in the Pines, that was about it for churchgoing.
I learned about “sacred relations” with the land from my dad, though not from his words. He taught me to be quiet and listen to the natural world walking in the woods, fishing from a rowboat, searching the flats for quahogs. I absorbed early how deeply my nature is linked to that of the natural world.
With the social, psycho-spiritual, and drug-evoked effects of the 1960s and ’70s came a turn on my path to counting myself as a person of faith, which may be how I find hope for our human family right now. Beloved community arose out of the civil rights movement. Dancing for peace came from close encounters with a Sufi community north of San Francisco.
Inspired by the Indian rights movement, some of us banded together, lived simply, close to the land, as we learned about the American genocide of indigenous people. Along with our right reverend rock ’n’ roll pastors, many of us chose to incorporate the idea that “We are stardust/ Billion year old carbon/ We are golden/ Caught in the devil’s bargain/ And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.”
But which garden is that again? The one where sex is the sin for which we need forgiveness? And women are to blame? Maybe not.
“And I feel to be a cog in something turning.”
Today, Bob Dylan writes to us evoking the Deep State in his compelling new 16-minute-long talking blues: “Murder Most Foul.” The media impart stories of a dysfunctional state. How do we make sense of our situation?
Where is hope to be found in these suddenly radically changed and perilous moments of our lives, of this civilization? Is my nontraditional, polydoxy faith able to serve as antidote for suspicious, divisive, and worried feelings among us?
What we see nationwide right now is workers organizing, together addressing safety and justice for each other in ways we’ve not seen in this country perhaps ever. People are attending to something that feels soundly human — empathy and love, and how to grow it in word and deed.
In my Nauset UU Fellowship, hope is found in the bluebirds at the bird feeders, in ways to serve each other, and in grieving together about family, friends, and others in peril, in New York and elsewhere, via Zoom and phone.
With our human capacity for caring, for loving each other so much that it hurts, perhaps relationships maintained or redeveloped via phone and internet have become our best choice for now.
The ability to grieve our losses with others, not to become numb to possibilities of a different society crafted on the other side of all this — that is where hope and faith reside in me these early weeks of spring.