Reflections From The Clergy | What Does It Mean to Be A People of Resilience?

Rev. Dave Clements


On Oct. 29, 1999, former Archbishop Desmond Tutu officially presented President Mandela the five volumes of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report. Tutu, head of the TRC, had heard long hours of personal testimony from the victims of atrocities committed under the tyranny of apartheid. The investigation had reached its first stage of completion. When Mandela received the TRC Report from Tutu, before a global audience, Mandela and Tutu danced in celebration, not because the recovery from apartheid was complete –– far from it. They danced and sang in solidarity with those who marched and sang before them in the face of unspeakable injustice. They were celebrating the resilience of a people and of a nation.

What does resilience mean to you? Resilience comes from the Latin re “back” and saliens “the beginning,” the starting point. Saliens also holds the suggestion of movement; to leap, to flow, to run, to hurry. Resilience is not a passive idea; it asks us to take action to sustain that beginning point, that core essential self.

I believe that resilience is the strength and speed of our response to adversity. It isn’t about having a backbone. It’s about strengthening the muscles around our backbone. In your own lives when have there been times of resilience? Do you view resilience as a solo project?

It’s not that we consciously define resilience that way. It’s just what we were taught, from the time we were little is, “Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps;” “You’re stronger than you think;” “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” The cultural message is clear: resilience depends on you –– your individual toughness and inner strength. It’s a solo act.

And it’s not just our culture, but sometimes in our individual faiths too. We also prop up this heroic and individualistic form of resilience. Some of us might reject the idea that human beings are depraved, sinful and weak and have replaced it with the view that people are inherently worthy and strong. Sometimes at our best, we say two things at the same time: “You can do it.” and “You don’t have to do it on your own!”

Remember those sayings that hold up the image of a tree being able to bend with the wind? Remember how they end with a message about resilience resting in our ability to flexibly lean and bend? Well, for us today, another kind of leaning is just as important: the practice of leaning on those next to us! Yes, bend with the wind we say, but also remember that no one makes it through the windstorms alone.

It’s all a reminder that while resilience has a lot to do with what is inside us, it equally depends on what is between us. I believe that we are indeed a people of resilience. We survive our pain by having the strength to tell others about it. We find the courage to make our way through the dark only when we sense we are not alone. Resilience has everything to do with the water within which we swim and the web of connections that surround us. Resilient people arise from resilient relationships!

So, let’s look around as much as look within. Let’s let up on all the “grin and bear it” talk and instead grab the hand that is reaching our way. Let’s help each other remember that resilience arises not so much when we dig deep but when we remember we don’t have to do it all on our own! We are more resilient than we realize.

Rev. Dave Clements is senior interim minister at the Universalist Unitarian Church in Peoria.

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