discern this

We are an Easter People, and even at the grave, Alleluia is our song.

30th Sunday, Year C (October 27, 2013) October 27, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — discernthis @ 9:24 pm

Maybe it’s my other life as a therapist, but I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be happy, what it means to be depressed, what it means to be sad, or lonely, or anxious, or excited. Feelings are a funny thing. They’re not something we can easily control, and as I say very, very often, there are no wrong feelings. You can’t help how you feel.

We can, however, use those feels to do something. If it’s a good feeling, we can use it to encourage us, we can dwell in the happy. We can sing a little louder in the shower and smile a little more readily.

If it’s a “bad” feeling, a sad one or an angry one or an anxious one, we can use it to motivate us. If all we had were utopian feelings, we could get stuck into some pretty unhealthy patterns. I don’t have to think about the scary horrors happening in other parts of the world…or the city. I can tune it out, avoid paying attention to the news, and just be happy and settled and content in my happy, newly-wedded bliss of a life. But when I do listen to the news on my way to work, or read up on what’s happening outside my little circle of life, it’s harder to ignore the bad stuff. I feel anger and outrage at how a people are being treated, and I do something about it. I can’t fix it myself—I know that—but I can be a part of something trying to make a difference. I can contact my congressional representatives. I can participate—or even organize (yeah, right) a rally or demonstration. I can canvass a neighborhood, write a blog post, update my Facebook status, say a prayer. We can turn those uncomfortable feelings we have within us into something useful. We can do our part, whatever that may be, to make a difference.

I get a daily quote and reflection in my email from an organization called Peace on the Inside. It was this one that probably set the tone for today’s sermon; it was still ringing in my head long after I read it:

To experience peace does not mean that your life is always blissful. It means that you are capable of tapping into a blissful state of mind amidst the normal chaos of life. –Jill Bolte Taylor

If we expect the outside world to be our consistent source of comfort, peace, and joy, we will be chronically disappointed. Life is richer and more complicated than that. Today I nurture an inner wellspring and develop the capacity to touch joy.

It came a few minutes after I read a post on Facebook from Storypeople, which posts quirky drawings accompanying a quote. That one was:

Most people don’t know there are angels whose only job is to make sure you don’t get too comfortable & fall asleep & miss your life.

We get settled into our routines, our comfortable lives, and we forget a little bit what it can be like elsewhere. I’m not saying we don’t need that sometimes, but I do think that we need to constantly be aware of what’s going around us and remember that it can be the harder things in life, the things that make us actually weaker or just feel weaker, that enable us to grow. It’s the things that test us that help us to recognize that there is more to us than we realized or remembered. It’s the things that challenge us that make us better prepared to handle the next obstacle we come across.

Sometimes, we need to be a little uncomfortable in order to change things around us. I find I don’t really get the urge to clean until I feel like my house is training for the pigsty competition, but when I get that urge, man, does my house look good. Sometimes it takes something hitting a little too close to home to make us want to change. When we are vulnerable, we open ourselves up to receiving new information, or at least reexamining what we already knew or thought we knew. I have a print that I bought years ago at a festival after it stopped me in my tracks. I stared at it for several minutes, pondering it, reflecting on what it meant. It came home with me, where it reminds me to pause, sit with my feelings, and then look for what might come of it.

Barn’s burnt down. Now I can see the moon.

A tragedy occurs: something that destroys life as we’ve known it. God knows about it. God sees it. God knew it was going to happen and maybe just let it occur, knowing that something needed to happen in order to shake things up enough in our lives that we’d be able to face that next thing to come our way. When we play the what if game, we figure out how a thing could have been avoided, how that thing that causes all the painful feelings could have maybe not happened. What if we played the What If? game but with a different spin? What if the dog hadn’t woken me up when she did this morning? What if that horrible sequence of things that led to me leaving the RCC hadn’t happened? Would I have found St. Sebastian? Would I be preaching here today? What if I hadn’t had car trouble last week and waited a couple of hours for AAA to show up? What if I hadn’t curled up on the couch this afternoon with my cat Sheetrock? What if I had gone to the University of North Carolina instead of the University of Maryland for social work? What if Kevin hadn’t been out of work for a few weeks because of the shutdown? What if? What if the next thing that happens in my life changes the course of everything? What if it just makes me appreciate what I have right here, right now?

Amen.

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27th Sunday, Year C (October 6, 2013)

Filed under: Uncategorized — discernthis @ 9:12 pm
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I remember in college my best friend and I, along with several others at our campus ministry group, would often talk about, and joke about, “God’s Time.”All in God’s time, we’d say. Usually, it’d be followed by something along the lines of, “God’s time sucks.”  And then we’d laugh and move on.

I am a pretty frequent user of St. Anthony’s gift in finding things. Can’t find the car keys? St. Anthony, St. Anthony, Please come around. St. Anthony, St. Anthony, there’s something to be found. Please help me find my car keys.

And then, I have to repeat it. Even in this simple rhyme, I have built superstition. If I don’t say it right, then I can’t expect to find what I’m looking for. Also, sometimes St. Anthony goes on vacation or takes a break and that’s why it might take longer to find my stuff.

I kind of wish I was kidding with this, but I’m not. When I think about it when I’m not searching for my wallet, which I know I put back into my purse earlier,  or my phone, which fell down between the seats in my car again, I know that these are silly requirements I’ve put on a prayer. But why?

It helps me understand it. It helps me to accept why God—through St. Anthony—isn’t helping me at this moment when I’m asking for it. It’s easier for me to tell myself that I’m not doing it right than to accept that God isn’t listening.

Really though, maybe I just need to leave the house thirty seconds or three minutes later.

Paulo Coehlo is one of my favorite authors; I’ve mentioned him before in at least one sermon, I’m sure. When I catch myself getting frustrated because I’m late and I need to find something or someone else is holding me up and we have got to get moving NOW!, I sometimes remember a passage from The Valkyries, where the character is preparing to enter the dessert for a journey and his companion leaves something in the car and goes back for it. They weren’t far from the car, but the companion took far longer than necessary to retrieve whatever it was. When he finally returned, he explained: I always let a little extra time pass when I forget something. I figure it could be God holding me back a couple minutes to reset my course.

Maybe that brief pause before St. Anthony helps me find my keys is just the amount of time it takes for that distracted driver to get wherever he’s going. Maybe it’s enough time so that when I walk into work, I see the person I need to see—even if we don’t even greet each other…maybe catching sight of him reminds me of something I need to do, or reminds him that I’m a therapist and a resource for that kid in his class who really could use some extra support. Maybe the traffic frees up so that instead of spending all that time stuck on 695 I’ll be able to cruise right through. Maybe it’s just a reminder that I need to slow down, breathe, and thank God for the moment.

We have all these platitudes…God works in mysterious ways. God’s time isn’t the same as our time…it happens for a reason…God answers prayers in one of three ways: yes, no, and wait…with God, all things are possible…God has plans for you…

Habakkuk talks about this, begs God—why aren’t you listening?! Why aren’t you intervening? Why aren’t you fixing things? And God tells Habakkuk—and us—to be be patient. There is still time; I have a plan for you, for your neighbor, for the world. Things will improve, but first, you must wait.

Our faith…if we have faith the size of mustard seeds, we can move a mulberry tree to the ocean to take root and it would, giant root system and all. If we have faith the size of a mustard seed, we’d move the mountains. So do we not have faith? Is that what Jesus is telling us? Or is it that we need reminding that it is through God alone that the impossible happens.

There is a story in Mark where a father brings to Jesus his son, who was possessed by a demon who made the boy mute, and caused seizures which often nearly killed the boy. He had gone first to the disciples who were unable to cast out the demon. The man says, “if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus responds, “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.” And the father says, “I believe! Help my unbelief!”  And Jesus cast out the demon and healed the boy.

The disciples couldn’t understand it, couldn’t figure out why they were incapable of casting the demon out. Jesus responded, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”

Faith is believing in what cannot possibly be true. Faith is not knowing how something is going to turn out but putting our everything into it anyway.

I cannot move a mulberry tree alone; I can’t even get rid of that overgrown weed tree by the back porch. But with God, all things really are possible. We put our faith in God, and we make that faith active through prayer and our actions. And that is where miracles happen.

Amen.