Adventures in Faith: Recovering from a Broken Heart
Scripture: Jeremiah 29:8-14
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Good morning. I’m Lynn Modell. I’m a dancer, choreographer and teacher. I first learned of United Parish when I was looking for a large space to celebrate my retirement from Brookline High School after 27 wonderful years of teaching dance. A few months later, I realized that I missed teaching and I learned I could rent Willett Hall to teach dance to adults, which I have been blessed to do for the last six years. When I first came to United Parish, everyone was so welcoming. Kent, Susan, Marla Walters. When Marla retired, I was moved by the warmth of her hug. Have you ever been hugged by Marla? It’s the best!
And David Flanagan, who always seems to be fixing something, graciously met with me and a lighting designer to educate us about the electrical power available for a dance performance in Willett Hall. He is a lovely man.
First, a poem.
“The Uses of Sorrow” by Mary Oliver
“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.”
And now, a story.
It is the mid-20th century. A child of immigrants makes good,
moves to the suburbs and joins the temple.
It’s newly built, a beautiful synagogue, designed by none other than Frank Lloyd
Wright. It’s a far cry from his parents’ synagogue in the old neighborhood or the
shul in Pinsk, Poland where they came from.
The Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe, approach and he thinks, “Wouldn’t it be
nice if we could all be together for the Holy Days?”
But his parents seem less than enthusiastic; they like their shul, their rabbi, and
all their friends will be there.
Undaunted, he decides he’ll take them for a visit. Once they see how beautiful
the temple is, they’ll surely change their minds and want to come.
So the next Sunday, he picks them up from the old neighborhood and takes
them to the temple. He shows them the beautiful sanctuary, modern aron
hakodesh (holy ark), the stained glass.
There are many “oohs and aahs,” but he senses that something is wrong and so
he asks, “Nu, what do you think?” This was their response: “It is lovely son, but
can we cry here?”
I’ve come to Sunday worship only a handful of times. Every time, at some point, I found myself crying. I’ve never understood why. Was it the beauty and grandeur of the sanctuary- was it the feeling that I was in the midst of a community that cared for each other and strived to address the injustices in the world. I was overcome with a sadness that I could not explain.
“Can we cry here?”
I have danced my whole life. It has been a source of joy, disappointment,
frustration and a means of expression. Dance has helped me get through
times of hardship. Last year was the most challenging I have ever experienced.
My husband moved out of our home last March. I was devastated, and I felt
such shame. I didn’t want to share my pain with my friends, my dance students
or my children. I was afraid of being judged. I couldn’t eat or sleep and I had
heart palpitations all the time. Creativity
and accountability to others helped my get through the first few months.
I planned to do a dance performance in this room in April and I stayed with the
Then 2 months later, I had surgery
for skin cancer and the next month I had open heart surgery. After the heart
surgery, I couldn’t dance or teach for 3 months. I didn’t know how to console
That summer, I needed something to do. I found a writing workshop
It was called “Taking your life story from the page to the stage”. It had my
name on it. It was the first time I felt the presence of a higher power. Someone
was looking out for me.
Several months later, I went to visit my son in NYC. Once there, I got into a taxi
and as I settled into my seat, I thought the driver spoke to me. But, no, he was
on his phone. I called my sister-in-law to continue a conversation about my
impending divorce. I mentioned the talk I had with my children a few day’s
earlier when I told them I was really hurt that their father had left, that I was
trying to move forward, and that I loved them very much.
I hung up and then the driver did speak to me. “ I wish I hadn’t been on the
phone when you got in my car. I would have liked to talk to you. My woman and
I have been having a hard time. She was going through some bad stuff but I
didn’t know. And now she won’t give me a chance to make things right.”
We pulled up in front of my son’s apartment building. The driver began to cry.
He was in so much pain.
And then he reached his hand toward me in the back seat. I took it in
both of mine. Our eyes met in the rear view mirror. I told him I was so glad to
We sat in silence for a minute. Then I asked him to pop the trunk.
It took me many months to get passed the shame I felt when my husband
left. It dissipated over time as I came to accept that the end of the
relationship was not just my fault. I learned self-compassion. I learned to
accept what is and be grateful for all that I have: my children, my friends
and family, my home.
And I learned how to be present in the moment, which is quite challenging
to do—-drop regrets of the past and let go of anxiety about the future.
Divorce has humbled me and it has opened my heart. I learned the
importance of vulnerability. I see how it helps me to connect with others.
And, as I also learned in the past year, what could be more important?