Serenity. What does the word mean to you? Not likely that it's entered your consciousness much the last few weeks or, realistically, at any point in the last 4 months!...Unless, of course, you've heard it and been transported back to the late '90s and the popular sitcom "Seinfeld". In the show's last season, Frank Costanza (Jerry Stiller!), is advised by his doctor to say "serenity now" every time he gets angry, in order to keep his blood pressure down. The phrase is now embedded in pop culture, and something that connects all Seinfeld followers. Little-known fact: the episode's plot was inspired by Steven Koren's (the writer) experience driving with his arguing parents. On the advice of his physician, Koren's father used the phrase as a rage-controlling exercise. Steven questioned, however, whether the phrase was really meant to be shouted at the top of his father's lungs. Surely paying homage to Koren and Stiller by crying "SERENITY NOW!" is the next best thing to curing COVID! Right? LOL. (Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor, nor do I play one on tv. These statements are not scientifically tested.)
But, just what does serenity mean to you?...A green pasture with rolling hills and a cool stream?...The state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled? A little more subdued than rage control, one common sighting of the word "serenity" is that in the well-known Serenity Prayer. Penned by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr during the Great Depression and adopted by Twelve Step programs in the '50's, the Serenity Prayer is one that allows participants to reevaluate the way they approach life's problems: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference." But, the above version that appears in said Twelve Step books was actually adapted from Niebuhr's original, as follows:
God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
One notable difference in the original version is a request for courage to change the things which "should" be changed, rather than those that "can". The phrase might illustrate Niebuhr's active political stance and educational career at the time. During the rise in popularity of the Ku Klux Klan in America, Niebuhr was an evangelical protestant pastor in Detroit, Michigan. When membership in the Detroit KKK rocketed to an abominable 20,000 members and above, Niebuhr became active in local politics, speaking out against slavery and racism. He went on to become Professor of Practical Theology at a seminary in New York City. There, he influenced the likes of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (German Lutheran pastor who was hanged for plotting to assassinate Adolf Hitler). Niebuhr actively spoke out against racism and called the formation of the KKK *"one of the worst specific social phenomena which the religious pride of a people has ever developed".
My point in highlighting the author's backstory is that I believe true serenity is found when we first strive to "do our part" as Niebuhr did - in society, in our communities, and in our homes - to both make a positive impact and form a connection with those around us. A sense of responsibility toward others is all but absent in today's society - although, I do feel as though COVID, racial riots, and other events of late have presented opportunities for massive change in this regard.
I know it sounds cliche', but I really do see serenity as the rainbow at the end of the rainstorm. I feel as though it can be the needed interruption to the proverbial storms of life. Here's the scenario: It storms, violently. The storm cloud moves on, the sun appears, and dries the leaves and grass = serenity. Then, the next cloud-in-waiting arrives. The cycle continues. I'm finding serenity most days early in the morning, either by sculling at the lake nearby or with readings and meditations on my phone, but outside enjoying nature. Not gonna' lie, that's how I find serenity most mornings. Some mornings, though, it takes 3 strong cups of coffee and a few choice words with my teenagers to stop fighting for the bathroom. Whatever the word serenity means to you, I encourage you to explore different ways it might manifest in your life. And, seek out opportunities to savor those moments. Until then, "SERENITY NOW!!!"
*Jackson, Kenneth T. (1992) . The Ku Klux Klan in the City, 1915–1930. Chicago: Elephant Paperbacks.