…a place of peace and Presence by the sea
Focus: “When you regain a sense of your life as a journey of discovery, you return to rhythm with yourself. When you take the time to travel with reverence, a richer life unfolds before you. Moments of beauty begin to braid your days.”― John O’Donohue,
Threshold Moment: Autumn Leaves by Tim Janis
Music: IF (by Joni Mitchell, based on the poem IF by Rudyard Kipling) -Michelle Currie
Call To Worship:
L: And now bless the God of all,
who everywhere works great wonders,
who fosters our growth from birth,
who grants us mercy.
May God give us gladness of heart,
and may there be peace in our days
in Israel, as in the days of old.
May God entrust to us mercy,
deliver us in our days! Ecclesiasticus 50:22-24
All: And now we come to worship.
And now we are gathered as one.
And now we turn our hearts.
And now we bless the God of all,
who everywhere works great wonders.
O Holy One, we long for your deliverance
from this world’s sorrows and troubles:
in your mercy give us gladness and peace, Amen.
Come, worship the Lord
in the beauty of holiness.
Holiness present in the silent pulse
of the earth beneath us.
Holiness present in the beating
of the sun and stars.
Holiness present in the chorus of life,
breathing together, even here in this room.
God of creation,
open us to the beauty in and around us
in this time of worship. Amen.
Scripture: Psalm 145: 1-9, “Beauty: The Invisible Embrace” by John O’Donohue, Sabbaths 1999 VI,
Sermon: “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” Rich Westley
Music: Church of the Pines (by Kirtana) -Jen Comeau
Musical call to Prayer: (two times) Hush now in quiet peace, be still your mind at ease. The Spirit brings release, so wait upon the Lord.
Prayers of the People:
Closing Music: Thank You (by Ray Boltz) -Michelle Currie
Go into your week, knowing that you are embraced by the love of God; a love that is sweeter and more tender than any you have ever known. May you feel that love and share it with those you meet. Amen.
Postlude: Go In Peace
Our Readings for Today
1 I will extol you, my God and King,
and bless your name forever and ever.
2 Every day I will bless you,
and praise your name forever and ever.
3 Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
his greatness is unsearchable.
4 One generation shall laud your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts.
5 On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
6 The might of your awesome deeds shall be proclaimed,
and I will declare your greatness.
7 They shall celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness,
and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.
8 The Lord is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 The Lord is good to all,
and his compassion is over all that he has made.
“The earth is our origin and destination. The ancient rhythms of the earth have insinuated themselves into the rhythms of the human heart. The earth is not outside us; it is within: the clay from where the tree of the body grows. When we emerge from our offices, rooms and houses, we enter our natural element. We are children of the earth: people to whom the outdoors is home. Nothing can separate us from the vigour and vibrancy of this inheritance. In contrast to our frenetic, saturated lives, the earth offers a calming stillness. Movement and growth in nature takes time. The patience of nature enjoys the ease of trust and hope. There is something in our clay nature that needs to continually experience this ancient, outer ease of the world. It helps us remember who we are and why we are here.”
― John O’Donohue, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace
“We travelers, walking to the sun, can’t see
Ahead, but looking back the very light
That blinded us shows us the way we came,
Along which blessings now appear, risen
As if from sightlessness to sight, and we,
By blessing brightly lit, keep going toward
That blessed light that yet to us is dark.” -Sabbaths 1999 VI,
Sermon — September 20, 2020
How May We Heal?
Each week we pray what has been traditionally called ‘The Lord’s Prayer’, which scholars agree contains language actually used by Jesus of Nazareth; Jesus is its direct source. An important expression from the prayer, “thy Kingdom come”, suggests in a tantalizing way that God’s kingdom, also referred to as the kingdom of heaven, can be present among us, the beloved community, even as our troubled world in many ways stands in need of its arrival. This is what I term a ‘wonderful paradox’. God’s kingdom is both coming and already here. When I was younger, this kind of a paradox unsettled me because, having studied philosophy, I saw opposing terms or any experiences that were contradictory to each other as an either/or proposition. Either God’s kingdom was here, completely and irrevocably, OR it was perhaps on its way but definitely elsewhere. Thankfully I’m old enough now–some of you might join me in this thought–to see the kingdom paradox as a both/and situation. It doesn’t trouble me at all that the kingdom of heaven is present and still being built or created here on earth. And so let us pray:
O God of our kingdom, help us to realize and embrace that your reign is both present and available to us right now as well as the goal of our work as a faith community dedicated to building the kingdom of heaven as we move forward in our everyday lives.
For me poetry and spiritual life have always gone together. They’re blood brothers/sisters and express the deepest drives of human communities everywhere. Personally I have never experienced one without the other. This morning I will speak to why this may be so.
Emily Dickenson wrote: “The poets light but lamps–/Themselves go out.” In the presence of poetry like that, something akin to an inward nod takes place in us, or should. For the sake of discussion, I’m going to assume that is exactly what just went coursing through our Zoom worship group after I read Emily’s words. Now Emily’s couplet is genuinely witty, but it’s also a revealing bit of poetry. Poets, after all, do not literally light lamps; they can only do so figuratively. Notice too that it’s the poets who are extinguished–they “go out”–the very thing we would expect to happen to the lamps. Try to recall a favorite line of poetry or any you can remember and I’ll bet it employs some figure of speech in it.
However, Emily’s lines literally make no sense. And so we confront in poetry the poet’s constant effort to articulate more than, or beyond, what language can merely denote. Now it has always seemed to me that, in theory anyway, it should be impossible for us to comprehend, to take in, any figures of speech at all. In other words, why isn’t language only literal? And yet, as my reading of these few words from Emily suggests, we all do experience the inward nod of poetry because the poetry happens in us; it cannot happen in the artifact of a poem. And I believe this is why poetry is always experienced as a moment of self-recognition rooted in the awareness that we are much more than a body or bodily experiences, Hamlet’s “too too solid flesh”. Poetry, any poetry announces and reveals the fact of spiritual life, unless, of course you have no poetry in you to begin with, either because you’ve forgotten about it or repressed it. But you can’t really get rid of it–it’s in the blood, to use another figure of speech–and more than that, it”s in everything that we signify communally as meaningful.
But what I really want to emphasize today is the poetry inherent in the Gospels themselves. For quite some time now, I’ve been playing with the idea that Jesus of Nazareth could be mistaken for a really fine poet, or at least someone with a refined poetic sensibility. I think we can enjoy this idea of the poetry of Jesus. There are, of course, too many examples to draw upon them all but a few leap to mind: “Consider the lilies of the field. They neither toil nor do they weep.” But we toil and we weep (Many of us are weeping in this time following the death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and we will need to toil harder than ever to bring justice to our country). Notice that the unsaid meaning about the lilies, their figurative meaning, is immediately available to us. The lily patch is symbolic of paradise even though it’s still only a lily-heaven. Jesus reminds us that our paradise, the kingdom from The Lord’s Prayer is to be finer than any lily patch could ever be. And as the inward nodding should tell us, there’s real poetry in that.
Just after the parable of the sower and the seed that falls on various kinds of ground, itself worthy of its own sermon, occurs one of my favorite lines of poetry anywhere: “They who have ears to hear, let them hear.” A problematic line, it appears, but only if it is taken literally. It’s obvious that Jesus refers to a non-physical ear in this case, the auditory equivalent of vision as opposed to mere eyesight. In such a way is the life of spirit revealed.
And look at the audience to whom Jesus entrusts his poetic and religious truths–men and women who farmed, herded, fished, wove fabrics and sewed–the peasant stock of Israel. People who would have no trouble understanding the following: “I tell you it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” This analogy, another figure of speech, must have been a real crowd pleaser. ‘Rich man’ is to ‘camel’ just as ‘heaven’ is to the needle’s eye. I’ve always imagined the assembled crowd guffawing after these remarks. And what could be clearer? The individual inured to the life of material comfort can lose spiritual life altogether. They need less body, more spirit. Again, a poetic and religious truth is revealed.
So with this view as our context, let’s look at ‘the kingdom of heaven’, which is one of the common but also one of the most poetic phrases used in the Gospels. When I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal, West Africa, I had the opportunity to live among the Wolof, a black African tribal group most of whom practiced Mauridism, a branch of Islam so different that it is not recognized as authentic in comparison with, say, the Shiite and Sunni sects. Nearly every day for two years I had to respond to the question, always flatly asserted, “Why won’t you convert?” And just about everybody thought it was their right to demand this of me. At first I didn;t do well in these situations. If I told them I was Catholic, which is how I identified at the time, they said “So what?”, in Wolof, of course. If I said I would even consider converting to Mauridism, they wanted me to utter the conversion phrase on the spot: “There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is His Prophet”.
I finally struck upon an answer that achieved moderate success. I told them that my father was Catholic and that I was Catholic just as he was. People’s heads would start shaking up and down in understanding as I pointed this out. I then told my interrogators that whenever it was ‘Allah’s will’–I always included this phrase–that I should return to the United States, I would ask my father for his permission to allow me to convert to Mauridism. And now the villagers’ heads shaking was accompanied by tongue clucking and finger snapping, distinct signs of Wolof approval.
I was pretty self-satisfied over what I considered to be an elegant extraction from a nagging problem. That is, until N’Diasse Niass, a man in his forties whom I grew quite close to during my stay, showed up at my hut during the afternoon sieste, which is just after the noonday meal. N’Diasse looked troubled and since I didn’t usually see him at this time of day, I thought he might need my help. I was wrong. With a look of genuine concern, and considerable pain, N’Diasse wanted to know why I would not convert to Islam. And he waved aside my sophisticated answer before I could really launch into it. And then he startled me by saying, “Don;t you want to go to Paradise when you die?” Still trying to be clever, I turned th4e question back on him by asking what Paradise was like.
Well, N’Diasse said, warming up to the challenge, in Paradise they have fotoys, stuffed chairs far more comfortable than the hard wooden chairs the Wolof called siis. “And what else?” I asked N’Diasse. Boissons, N’Diasse replied, refreshing soft drinks of all kinds. “Is there alcohol in Paradise?” I inquired. “Muuk! (Never!),” N’Diasse clucked, obviously offended by my ignorance. But there were, he added, beautiful women to serve us our boissons while we lounged on our fotoys, and these same women would, at our leisure, fan us day and night while we sat drinking. Lovely music would also play all the time as well. “It sounds pretty nice,” I admitted. “But if you don’t convert,” N’Diasse was looking pained again, “you will burn forever in the inferne.” Hell, he meant, the inferno. I have to admit I ran out of clever things to say at this point and N’Diasse deserved better from me, so i told him the truth: that it just wasn’t in my heart to convert and therefore I couldn’t do so. Well, N’Diasse looked crushed, absolutely desolate. He clasped my right hand hard and with tears in his eyes–crying was taboo, it was one of the few things a Wolof man must never do in public–with tears in his eyes, N’Diasse blurted out, “But I must see you in Paradise!” And then he ran out of my hut.
N’Diasse’s outburst deeply moved me at the time, and I now know it was because the kingdom of heaven N’Diasse referenced as a beautiful form of the afterlife, what he knew as Islamic Paradise, had indeed come about just after he spoke his final words to me, right before he left my hut. We had both knocked on heaven’s door but it was N’Diasse who opened it up to me and invited me in. My only regret was not being able to tell N’Diasse that we had both entered the Paradise of the moment of his wonderful expression of love for me and that, because of our love for each other, we both would reach the kingdom of heaven again. N’Diasse didn’t use poetry, he didn’t use metaphors or proverbs or other figurative language in his efforts to save me. What he did was take me out of my literal existence by sharing God’s kingdom with me in that moment.
And that moment with N’Diasse, I think, is the poetry of Paradise, a kind of communcally lived poetry of the moment rooted in human existence. That is another way to enter the kingdom of heaven.