“Everything is Waiting for You” Reflections by the Rev. Joe Summers given at the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation on January 7th, 2018. (Readings for the 1st Sun Aft. Epiphany-B: Genesis 1:1-5, Psalm 89:20-29 , Acts 19:1-7, Mark 1:4-11)
Please sing with me: “Bless the Lord my soul and Bless God’s Holy Name.
Bless the Lord my soul, who leads me into life.” (Taize)
“Everything is Waiting for You” by David Whyte
Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the
conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.
For me this is a poem about taking our place in the world of things. The world of things the way Fran Mayes was talking about them last week, not as the world of materialism and it’s valuing of objects over people, but the world of creation, the world of physical and material reality.
I think Saint Augustine was speaking of this world when he said “Love calls us to the things of this world.” Richard Wilbur took that line as the title of a poem he wrote about seeing fresh laundry blowing in the wind on a roof top in Italy and it’s reminding him of visions of angels—only to come to conclude that seeing fresh laundry in the sunlight and wind is as good as seeing visions of angels. There is so much goodness and beauty and love in this world—if we can open ourselves to it. But there’s the rub—how can we be open to it—how can we let ourselves receive it.
“Bless the Lord my soul and Bless God’s Holy Name.
Bless the Lord my soul, who leads me into life.” (Taize)
For myself, faith is significantly about opening my heart to receiving the gift of this life, the gift of my humanity, this gift of this world, this universe. If someone would have said something to me like that when I was a child I would have said—“then who needs it?” because I was wide open to life when I was young. There were years when every day I woke up excited about what the day would bring, excited about this world and its peoples and its mysteries. I dwelt in that world that Wordsworth speaks of in “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Childhood” when he wrote:
There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore;—
Turn wheresoe’er I may,
By night or day.
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.
The Rainbow comes and goes,
And lovely is the Rose,
The Moon doth with delight
Look round her when the heavens are bare,
Waters on a starry night
Are beautiful and fair;
The sunshine is a glorious birth;
But yet I know, where’er I go,
That there hath past away a glory from the earth.
(And then he continues further on)
…..Where is it now, the glory and the dream?
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
Now I’m not going to say I understand why Wordsworth began to feel that loss of glory as he grew older. Elsewhere, in his sonnet, “The World is Too Much With Us” he speaks of how the world of business and materialism rob us of paradise:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
But for me it had to do with great losses: a neighborhood where I felt at home, a group of best friends, a beloved church—and without them the discovery of how cruel people could be, how terrifying life could be, how lonely life could be. Year by year after I left St. Louis my soul began to retreat further within me. What was once a daily experience of glory became rarer and rarer to the point where I could no longer remember the glory and thus became a dupe for those, including myself, who would sell me false versions of it. Ultimately, this led to the darkest night, a night in which I thought I had forever lost my humanity and this world and only the horror and terror of that sheer and utter desolation propelled me to begin my journey back to this world and back to my soul.
And in this place the Jesus story became a doorway back to the world and self that I had lost. Not a pretty story. Not a story with a happy ever after ending. But a story that spoke to my experience of life in this world and with it—the hope that death and meaninglessness might not be the final word.
As we hear in Genesis today it is story premised on the goodness of this world and creation. It also recognizes the world of oppression and death and I don’t find any clear explanation of how we got from one to the other—or more mysteriously how both can exist simultaneously.
In the midst of all that, we have these stories of The Human One, Jesus of Nazareth. Where John begins the story of Jesus before the beginning of time and space, and Matthew and Luke begin the story with Jesus’ birth, Mark, our earliest gospel, begins the story with this story of Jesus as an adult being baptized in the river Jordan by John and the revelation that happens in the midst of it. As he’s coming out of the water, Jesus sees the heavens “torn apart” and the spirit descending on him like a dove and he hears a voice from heaven proclaim: “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
Jesus baptism tells us what it means to be baptized by the Spirit: to be held in love, guided in love, educated in love and led and emboldened by the Spirit of Love. Mark then tells us the story how, in three short years, Jesus overturns the world. His gospel ends with the disciples fleeing the empty tomb in terror—leaving us to understand he was only writing the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ and we are to write the next part.
This cracking open/tearing open of that which separates us from heaven (it’s a violent image) somehow is key. In my experience, its partly about our need to be broken open if we are going to live being vulnerable, rather than in the prison cell of our trying to be safe by being in control of everything, so that we can experience again—or perhaps experience for the first time—the glory.
The glory, that it says in Psalm 29 is “a voice of splendor, a voice that splits flames of fire and shakes the wilderness and strips the forests bare.” The Letter to the Hebrews says “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31). It’s no wonder for falling into the hands of the living God, being truly alive, is to live in close proximity to the glory, is to see and know it around us and within us and have it shake us and strip us so that we are fully alive again.
And this is why most of us need help, need guidance, need support, need affirmation—to be able to enter into life, to be baptized into this world, this world as it is—without the blinkers that keep us from seeing it in all its fullness. To see this world the way we often are only able to see it in dramatic moments like when we are present to the birth of a child, or the death of a loved one, or looking out onto the milky way, so that we can learn to live not trying to tame the glory, not trying to control it, but appreciating it in all its wonder. So that, in David Whyte’s words, we can let this great mystery hold us and empower us so that we can become ourselves and let go of our aloneness and discover the intimacy and how much we belong in this world of things.
For if we are willing, God is able and if we are ready, God had already gone ahead to
prepare a way for us. Amen