Tanzina Vega: You're listening to The Takeaway, I'm Tanzina Vega. We're almost at the end of 2020, and boy, it's been a year. I've had some tough years, but 2020 has definitely been one of the hardest and I know I'm not alone and even though people are starting to get the vaccine by many estimations, we're still going to have a long way to go before life can go back to relatively normal. We're going to take some time today to talk about hope and resilience and those things that got us through the collective trauma and devastation of 2020 and for many of you like me, help and support came from unexpected places.
Speaker 2: Hi to the veteran representative at the Brooklyn Tillary Women's Help Center. Thank you so much for reaching out to me during the COVID lockdown. It lifted my spirits and made me hopeful again. Feliz Navidad, Happy New Year, retired Sergeant Butler Maria [unintelligible 00:00:59].
Speaker 3: I want to give a shout out to my colleague, Natasha because she really carried me this semester. We're both public high school math teachers. It was incredibly difficult managing all the new software and the lesson plans and trying to do it well. Her help was invaluable and I'm so grateful.
Speaker 4: I share property with four other people here in Point Reyes Station, California. We have been eating dinner together every night, four, five, six years. We laugh with each other so hard. It's remarkable, every single night and saved my bacon. Thank you, Jerry, Susie, and Bruce.
Tanzina: Sonya Lott is a licensed psychologist specializing in grief. Sonya, welcome back to The Takeaway.
Sonya Lott: Hi.
Tanzina: The Reverend Jacqui Lewis is the senior minister at Middle Collegiate Church in New York City. Jacqui, thanks for joining today.
Jacqui Lewis: I'm so glad to be with you. Thank you.
Tanzina: Jacqui, your congregation had a fire that destroyed the church building. Do you ever feel like your faith was being tested in moments like this? What did you say to congregants who were having trouble keeping their faith, particularly when they saw the building just burn?
Jacqui: Thank you for that question. I'd say 2020, in total, has been a wild, horrific, hot mess of a year but faith is for just a time as this, faith is for the times of grief. Faith is for the times when a fire burns down your building and what I've said to my congregation is what I say to myself. We're going to grieve. We're going to cry. We're going to mourn. We're going to find joy in the morning, but the morning, the grief is the healing process. To feel it fully, to not be ashamed of it, to embrace it and walk through it together as a community.
Tanzina: Sonya, so it's okay to cry and feel these feelings?
Sonya: Absolutely. It's essential to moving through and integrating your grief.
Tanzina: What's the difference, Sonya, between faith and hope and Jacqui, I'm going to ask you the same question.
Sonya: I spent a lot of time really thinking about that question because we sometimes use them interchangeably. Hope is more of a cognitive construct in which an individual believes they have whatever they need, the wherewithal to create a plan or have a goal and be able to reach that goal. They have to feel that they have that capacity, but also, that there are pathways that they can see to reach the goal. I believe faith, I'm thinking about Hebrew 11 from the Bible that says that faith is a substance of things not yet seen and so its faith is more of a belief in some power greater than oneself or outside oneself that may be able to co-create or create for you what it is that you are "hoping for."
Tanzina: Jacqui, this is a moment particularly when the church itself burned down and so many things have happened this year. You said it's a hot mess. I think so many people would agree, dumpster fire, all the things you want to call it, but faith and hope? How do we get those? How do you get faith?
Jacqui: Faith is a gift. I think faith is a gift that comes to us like a spiritual gift. We open up our hearts, we make ourselves available, a vessel. I think in faith communities, we discover faith if you will. We put our children in synagogue, mosque congregations, [unintelligible 00:05:06] so that they get to rehearse faith, oversee faith, and then it becomes a part of their narrative. It grows in us, in community, in relationship through experience and it's a gift. Hope to me is about resilience.
I think hope is a practice. Hope is a practice that comes from stories. My ancestors survive the middle passage and they survive chattel slavery. That story gives me hope. The people who are responding to us with so much love and support, that gives me hope. That's how I think about them. I think they go hand in hand. I think people can have hope who don't really have faith in a deity, quite frankly. Maybe hope is this a secular practice that leads to resilience because of the stories we rehearse.
Tanzina: We've heard the word resilience a few times. Sonya, we've got about a minute in this part of the conversation to go, but resilience, define that for us because it's something that gets tossed around a lot.
Sonya: Yes, it's essentially a characteristic or it's a belief also, but a way of coping really, it's a hardiness, if you will, it's a way of surviving trauma or really adverse experiences. In surviving trauma or adverse experiences, it doesn't necessarily mean that we're thriving and that's a concept that we talk about as post-traumatic growth, where we not just survive, but we can thrive. We can move beyond the adversity and function perhaps even better than we did before. Resilience is more than coping, making it through.
Tanzina: Jacqui and Sonya, I have to say that our guests, for me, have been such a light through this year teaching us so many things. I'm going to ask each of you the same question. Sonya, from a psychological standpoint, how do we remain resilient? Jacqui, I'll ask you the same question from a spiritual standpoint.
Sonya: Well, we're challenged right now due to the pandemic in regards to the ways that we typically build resilience because one of the primary ways we do that is by building our support system. We can't gather together safely. We haven't been able to do that and at least, nine months. Building our support system is really, really important, having some faith-based or spiritual-based practices are really important, trying to take care of ourselves as best we can getting adequate sleep, trying not to indulge in the types of things that help us to cope in the moment like smoking or drinking.
Instead, trying to exercise as much as possible to try to narrate, to change the narrative, if you will, of what has happened that we cannot change and try to adapt in that way while at the same time, trying to change as recognize what we can change and then being able to practice doing that, that builds our sense of resilience and success and coping.
Tanzina: Jacqui, the same question to you reference.
Jacqui: Thank you, Tanzina. I think and I like to think about psyche, [unintelligible 00:08:51], psychology, and faith as a one whole thing that somehow Western culture has separated. I think resilience and from a spiritual sense is changing the story we tell ourselves. Cultivating a belief in our ability to cope. We tell ourselves we're resilient, we tell ourselves we can get through this and it helps us get through with it. I agree that we need to be in community. There's a sense of community resilience.
You look at your neighbor and you say, today, I feel unable to cope. I feel hopeless. I feel desperate, but I look at my neighbor and my neighbor is holding my hand and reminding me, we can do this together. Resilience isn't an individual project, it's also a shared project. I think the third thing I'd want to say about it and maybe thinking about Sonya too, is there's a physicality to resilience.
When we eat well, rest well, exercise well, our bodies are able to bounce back, which is what resilience literally means, is the ability to bounce back. The sense of stories we tell ourselves, the sense of doing this in community, and the sense that our bodies are a temple and if we treat our bodies well, our bodies will bounce back and help our hearts to bounce back.
Tanzina: The Reverend Jacqui Lewis is a senior minister at Middle Collegiate Church in New York City and Sonya Lott is a licensed psychologist specializing in grief. Sonya, Reverend Jacqui, thanks to you both.
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