Hiding In and Hiding From
St. Paul's Episcopal Church | Louisburg, NC | June 12, 2016
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, oh Lord our strength and our redeemer.
My remarks this morning all are born of one short verse, three simple lines, verse 8, of Chapter 32, in the Book of Psalms.
You are my hiding place; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance.
Think about the idea of hiding.
I’m going to give you two of my memories from when I was a five year-old little boy. Remember your earliest constructions of being “hidden” during your childhood. When you get back to that place, remember your excitement and your thrill. Appreciate that this development of Self and Identity are crucial connections of forming our own unique personalities. Slow your mind down, do you remember such a moment… Here is mine:
William! William! My mother Eleanor was yelling, as she came through the kitchen door, which opened up to a screen porch with a fan pulling hot air through our little shingled home. William! William!, like it was one word rather than two. She didn’t see me because I was in a box; the box the vacuum cleaner came in. It was this box. It has been a long time since I could fit into that box.
But indeed I was on that Sat. in 1962. Three slivers of light narrowed my view on three sides as the top fit shut and I was inside. I sat there, hidden in my hinged secrecy, right in the middle of a sunlit room on a hot summer morning, listening to the timber of my mama’s voice increasing in urgency. I remember feeling so guilty, and knowing the right thing for me to do was to get out of that box. I was just a kid but I knew that my fun was coming from her fear and that that, was just, uh, no good. I was five.
But you know, most grown folks I know, we still got our boxes, and we use them to hide in all the time. Some boxes have tires, and some have bushes, some have gates, and some have monthly dues. We understand the deal. We manage to cope with our fears and call it making a living. I will call this HIDING FROM. And hiding from, well it is almost always up to no good.
My second memory of hiding comes from later that same year. Same small house, but now it is winter. Both the weather and the hiding going on here are far removed from the trickery, heat and humidity of my summer adventure. This is a different cold night, when the nights seemed long, with a constant humming, and a totally different kind of hiding going on.
That humming sound was the only source of heat in our home, an oil floor furnace that was in the center of the floor in our house. This cold night, like others just like it, would find my mom standing across the middle, being hugged by my younger brother in the front and me in the back. All three of us were on the grate of the furnace with warm air blowing up and through mama’s bare feet and our footed pajamas. My mama’s light blue nightgown billows around us like a cloud, with a growing volume of unconditional love, acceptance, and safety.
My formal education and experiencing a model of community outside of my family would begin the next year. My mother’s voice and heart would follow me from school to this day, echoing within me, “If anyone can do it, you can do it.” This kind of love, and this kind of hiding, I am going to call HIDING IN, not hiding from. All of you have a place where you have been engulfed by this kind of love. Hiding in, is about joining and becoming one, and being empowered. Hiding from is about being separate. And one thing is for sure if your faith journey ever calls you to build walls and separate you from a “them,” you can bet our Lord is over there with them, on the other side of that wall that you built.
We find a Biblical image of hiding in the Book of Exodus. Moses is the first person mentioned in the Bible who speaks to God in a face to face manner. God reveals God’s essence, hidden in a burning bush. HIDING IN this bush, God speaks to the fleeing murderer Moses as a person would speak to a friend. Moses is dumbfounded with the amazing intimacy in which he is addressed. What is this spirit, burning yet not consuming, giving, and not getting? An ongoing conversation takes place as Moses witnesses this glowing presence, this glowing heat which animates, yet does not tire this host of bramble. The fire and light is in God. God is in the fire and the light. The fire and the light and the Spirit and hidden in one, three in one, a pre-figuration of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit being hidden in our Jesus.
Moses removes his shoes, knowing he is on Holy Ground, yet does not know whether to flee or to draw closer. He experiences shame, then awe, then encouragement, as this dialogue continues. God is simultaneously hidden and revealed, as Moses is urged to speak truth to the power of the Pharaoh and the oppression of his Hebrew people.
Our Faith calls us to be like Moses, so doubtful, so perplexed, having such a wandering spirit hidden within us. He asks this flaming host the very same questions that each of us would have:
Who am I?
What if they don’t believe me?
Please send someone else.
And, who, are you?
Our God reveals only this: “I am who I am.”
This is what God says when asked “Who are you? What is your name?” God says “I am who I am.”
The Hebrew that God gives for God’s own here are four simple letters – in Hebrew, the consonants are Yud, Hey, Vahv, Hey, or in English, Y, H, W, H. Today, Jews do not try to pronounce this name. The Bible doesn’t give us vowels, only the consonants, and out of a respectful concern for accidentally mispronouncing God’s name, Jews don’t try and guess at the vowels. They instead refer to God with the Hebrew word “Ha-shem,” which literally means “The Name.”
But Christians have added the vowels of A and E, and thus sometimes identify God with the word “Yahweh.” But possibly Yahweh is not a word at all, but instead is simply the sound of our breathing.
Open your mouth and take a slow breath in and out. Do it again now with some intentional focus. Breathe in the collective air that surrounds us. YAH…. Exhale the warm air which your lungs have taken all of the oxygen out of WEH
YAH <<<<<<< WEH >> >>>>
YAH <<<<<<< WEH >>>>>>>
The name of our God is the sound of our breathing.
YAH <<<<<< WEH >>>>>>
Breathing, of all the things in our lives, we may take it most for granted. Why are we built this way, this soft body machine of ours always pumping oxygen in and out. Day in, night out, day in, night out. And most of the time we are not even aware we are doing it. It is our nature to breathe. You mean that God, hiding in that burning bush tells Moses his name is the sound of our breathing?
My father had COPD Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease the last ten years of his life and breathed through a clear plastic nasal tube connected either to an oxygen tank or an oxygen concentrator. If you smoke 2 packs of camels for 25 years this is what you get if cancer doesn’t knock on your door. I remember taking him to his Dr. for a regular checkup and privately inquiring as to my father’s constant anxiety and nervousness, his being fractious and on-edge so often. The Doc looked at me and said just a minute. He left the room and came back with a 10” piece of the clear tubing my daddy was breathing through. He said, “put this in your mouth Will and breathe out through it. I am going to speak with your dad and I’ll be back in 10 minutes.” Well I was fit to be tied by the time he returned and I clearly understood the declining quality of my daddy’s life. Breathing is not something to play with. It is how God is hiding in us.
When we are sad and alone, we breathe heavy sighs. When we celebrate in joy our lungs feel like they will burst. When in fear we hold our breath and have to be told to breathe slowly to help us calm down. When we are about to take on a difficult task, we take a deep breath to conjure up our courage. I sat next to my mother at the end of her life, as her breaths got further apart and left her body in a manner which had the same graceful components of ripples on a lake becoming glassy smooth. Her breathing was much older, much more spiritual, and stayed around longer than her conscious mind which had departed several hours before, or had it? Perhaps my shallowness of perception limited me. Perhaps the same woman, 40 years earlier, had known I was in the box and let me have time to grow into my own dignity, an investment she would be so proud of as I grew into being a parent myself?
When you think about it breathing is a lot like praying. And hidden in that burning bush was the name of God, and the name of God is the very sound of our breathing. The name of God is always on our lips, we simply are not aware.
YAH >>>>>> WEH >>>>>>
A baby is born and in their first breath they say the name of God. While on our deathbed, we breathe our last breath. As long as we are breathing God is living in us.
You are my hiding place; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance.
Albert Einstein said that, “no problem can be solved by the same consciousness that caused the problem. Our ego-centric mind usually thinks in terms of short term gratification. “What is in it for me?” ‘How can I look good?” When we are able to hide in God, we are not motivated by our short term ego, but by a long term arc of acceptance and wisdom. When we hide in God we move from the realm of achievement to the realm of acceptance. When we hide in God we are not seeking to be in charge or in control. Instead we are asking to be able to be strong enough to accept whatever life offers us. When I hide in God I detach from my own agenda to a much larger truth, and a much larger diaphanous light blue nightgown rises up, surrounds me with hope, and cradles me with forgiveness.
In healthy communities, the meaning of life is not the product of the individual. The true meaning of our lives is discovered through connection, not isolation. The meaning of our life is something we surrender to, not achieve. We need to work at being able to succumb, to be in awe of the events which shape me. God is calling from inside me to “respond to, not be in charge of.”
Our ego talks us into that we are piloting a kayak through the rapids on a timed course, when in fact we are sitting in a flat bottomed boat, looking to the rear and rowing our best to push us forward, blisters and all. I think this is what Jesus’s first idea of what church could be, not big and fancy and ornate, simply when two or three are gathered in his name. When we hide in the work of the spirit, we run into other folk hiding there also. With them we become a “living organism.”
Together we become the body of Christ. Our patron Saint, Saint Paul said it this way, “For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another. Our gifts differ according to the grace given us. At the heart of this body, providing our energy to build community is the love of God that is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”
Listen to Paul inviting us, to let this Spirit move through us, to let us receive and share, the patience and strength to play another childhood game into our adult lives, as people of faith. You remember the game.
HIDE AND GO SEEK.