As I sit here and try to write my Ash Wednesday sermon (and fail miserably, btw) I figured I would share the two of today.
In the first one, we have our own personal mountain. This was one of those 3am sermons (read: I get up at 3am on Sunday morning in order to write it), and I thought it was, accordingly, a piece of crap. The congregation, however, loved it. Looking back on it, I will admit that it’s succinct and pointy, which is nice.
Last Sunday in Epiphany, 2007
In the readings today we hear about Moses and Jesus both doing a very similar thing. They both go up to the mountain, they both pray, they both return transformed (in this case, their transformation is marked physically by a glowing face), and they both go from there and act. Their actions are slightly different from one another – Moses goes on to lead his people in a wise and just manner. Jesus goes on to be crucified by the Roman Authorities for being a trouble-maker.
Now, I don’t know about you, but when I read this, I occasionally fall into a pretty common trap. I get this misty-eyed and wistful desire to just chuck this crazy, consumer-driven life and go live on a mountain top in Tibet. But you know, I think this is unhelpful in a number of ways.
One of those ways in which this is an unhelpful thought, is this: If I have managed to distill this text down to one misty-eyed and wistful desire that I’m never going to fulfill, then what I’ve really done is taken a wise text that could provide insight into my life and turned it instead into a Disney World fantasy that is as unhelpful as it is unreal. And so long as I focus on the Disney World fantasy version, I don’t have to worry about any kind of self-examination that this text might be leading me to.
That’s one trap, but there’s another too. Cam hit on it last week as well, when he pointed out that not everyone is called to be a disciple of Jesus. There are people that are called to go live on a mountain top, just as Jesus and Moses were called to go and retreat to a mountain top to pray. And then there are the rest of us, for whom mountains are limited to skiing, hiking, and the occasional postcard from a friend. No, the wisdom of this passage isn’t about encouraging us to sell our belongings and move to the mountains, whether they be the Himalayas, the Alps, or the Rockies. For us, the mountain is a metaphor, and a useful one, too.
And in fact, we’ve got a metaphorical mountain coming up this Wednesday. This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, and it’s the beginning of Lent. It starts this Wednesday, and it ends on Easter Morning, April 8th.
Now, I know that the chocolate industry takes a hit every time Lent comes around, but I deeply suspect that Lent isn’t about giving up chocolate, or caffeine, or deserts. It’s a tradition, to be sure, to give things up for Lent. But it’s also a tradition to think of ourselves as inherently sinful beings, hence our desire to give something up, a symbolic gesture of our desire to be ever-so-slightly less sinful. But you know, neither one of those are traditions are supported by the Gospels, and neither one of those traditions lead to healthy transformation.
So then, if Lent isn’t about giving something up, if Lent isn’t about a symbolic gesture, then it must be something concrete, something real – something that isn’t symbolic, but actual. To understand what that actual thing is, I suggest we revisit Jesus, and Moses.
They went to the mountain. They had an encounter with God. They were transformed. They acted.
Let me say that again:
• They went to the mountain.
• They had an encounter with God.
• They were transformed.
• They acted.
Now, this? This is a four-fold plan I can get behind.
So how do we do it? We know what it looked like for Jesus and Moses, but since we’re neither Jesus nor Moses, how will it look for us?
Well, our mountain is coming up. Lent. And in lieu of giving up chocolate or caffeine, or whatever thing it’s typical for you to give up, I suggest something more in line with what Jesus and Moses did on that mountain: pray.
Praying is the A, Number 1 method of putting yourself in the way of an encounter with God, just like stepping out into oncoming traffic puts you in the way of an encounter with a car. But be warned: this prayer may not be what you suspect.
By this I mean, if you have a method of prayer that works for you, do it. Pray everyday. If you already pray everyday, step it up this Lent: pray twice a day. But if you don’t, if you don’t have a method of prayer that works for you, or if you find your prayers leaving you cold, I suggest you think outside the box and try something new.
Ever tried silent meditation? What about painting? Yes, painting as prayer. Or sculpture. Working with wood, or pen and paper. Pray with a mantra, or a crayon. Pray with movement: a knitting needle, or a snow shovel, or a sponge and soap. Pray with an animal, or a child. Pray with music: whether you listen to someone else or create it yourself, let it fill your senses.
Prayer: it’s not about asking for what you want. It’s about encountering God. And that is step two.
Step three: Allow yourself to be transformed. Listen with all your senses. Have your ears pricked to the wind, your skin sensitive to the brush of a feather, your eyes adjusted to the darkness, your tongue and nose sensitive to the scent within the scent, the taste within the taste. Prayer helps with the listening, and the transformation, which looks different for everyone, comes naturally afterwards.
And after the transformation, comes action. And the action will come, because it naturally follows transformation. And the transformation will come if we allow it, because it naturally follows encounter with God.
What is up to us, is to pray – to set ourselves in the path of an encounter with God. That is where our choice lies. We can do this, or we can not do this.
And so, I encourage you: make this Lent your mountain. Find a way to pray, or experiment with a new way to pray. Allow yourself to be transformed. And when April 8th, Easter Morning comes around, let’s take an inventory and see where we need to act, and what we need to do.
And in the second one, we have a more favorable view of dragons (you know, compared to the last sermon in which dragons had a role). The theme for this service is “Lost Inside”, and all the music is Jimi Hendrix. Readings range from Hafiz to Carl Jung. Tho, my favorite line from one of the readings is, To the worldly masses, Nirvana is a joke. To the enlightened, Nirvana is also a joke.
Trinity @ 7
February 18, 2007
There was a woman who lived long ago named Theresa, and she had a vision of the inner life that I’ve always found compelling. She saw the soul as a castle – a huge, beautiful, solid crystal castle that glowed from some inner light. The Interior Castle. Like any such fortress it had many different areas, and different lines of defenses. There were the fields outside the moat, there were the courtyards within the outer wall. There were rooms, each one holding something interesting and beautiful. The farther you went in, past more and more defenses, the more beautiful the rooms became.
She had a theory that some people never got beyond the moat of their own castle.
I think she may be right.
I mean, sure it may sound silly at first – who would be stuck outside the castle of their own soul? But it’s not like locking your keys inside your car. Anyone who clamors to have the drawbridge lowered – they’re not ignored. So you see, it’s not a matter of being trapped outside, but choosing to remain outside, choosing not to explore, discover, and adventure inside. Literally, they choose not to search their soul.
Because of course, along with beautiful rooms inside this castle, there are dragons as well.
Dragons. Kind of a dramatic metaphor, but then, so’s a castle.
Dragons – I’m sure you could name a few, if you thought about it. Maybe you already have. I can think of a few. The Dragon of Fear. The Dragon of Anxiety. The Dragon of Self-Loathing. The Dragon of Apathy and Indifference.
But these dragons don’t work like the ones in the fairy tales, where you need a hero to slay in them in mortal combat. In fact, these dragons may be the of the cuddly and misunderstood sort, because you don’t have to kill them to disarm them. No, you just have to have the courage to face up to them. To look them in the eye and dare them to tell the truth – about themselves, about their placement in this castle of your soul. All you, all I have to do, is look them in the eye and dare them to tell the truth about ourselves.
When that happens, fear turns into love, anxiety into joy, self-loathing turns into inner peace, and apathy and indifference turn into boundless compassion.
But of course, none of that happens if we don’t dare to venture inside. Because, without having stared the dragon down, it rampages, and it rampages with our permission – tacit though it may be.
So I invite you, as you come up to light a candle or two, light a candle for your own interior castle – for its sheer beauty, for the wonder of its rooms, for the light that shines throughout it, and for the dragons, each one for you to face.