St. Paul's Episcopal Church | Louisburg, NC | May 3, 2015
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in
your sight, our Lord, our strength, and our redeemer. AMEN
Good Morning. The reason that I stand and share my thoughts with you all about
once a quarter is that I’m always trying to see the map of my life a little more
clearly. Growing up in rural Northeastern North Carolina we young folk had a
greeting; when you saw someone that you already knew, you’d say, “What it be
like?” It gives me some clarity to understand that the truth of my life map, since
I was a kid, depended on my listening to how YOU are “being.” This is an
important step in learning how “To Abide.”
The maps of our lives grow organically. It often occurs to me that different groups of people that I know; childhood friends, artist friends, neighbors, work friends, community friends, St. Paul’s friends; well, ya’ll don’t know each other. I am what you call in math terms a Least Common Denominator. The same is true in YOUR lives. It is not something lifeless like a chain, or a rope, or duct tape which binds us together. Instead, it is a living and breathing conduit. The Jewish people of the Old Testament called this relationship a vine. The writer of the Gospel of John calls this invitation a vine. When we “get” this, we understand the words of the French Philosopher Teilhard de Chardin when he said, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, instead we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” That is the real invitation, to grow our capacity to abide. To abide with Christ is to sit with him, to breathe in and out with him.
The South Vietnamese Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh writes in his book Peace is Every Step says, “If our love is only a will to possess, it is not love. We must look deeply in order to understand the needs of the person we love. This is the ground of real love. This is not a burden but a presence.”
Think about the word ABIDE. For most of us abide is mighty close to the word wait. We are often waiting for the time to make our move. But when we abide, we are simply being. To wait is to judge. To abide is to listen.
At mid-life I am getting just a glimpse of this. Boy, I hate to wait. Waiting has always been about being weak and vulnerable for me. To tell you the truth, I am a slow learner at this peaceful lesson table.
But to ABIDE is not something to be endured like waiting. To abide is to worship. We each learn patience in our own way, walking our own path. And at the best of times, we share our paths with each other.
To Abide is to understand to flee just enough to detach yourself from excessive ego and the emotions that attach to it; and fight just enough to stand up with courage against evil, paying the price for change yourself. This is the pattern of the Vines growing in the Gospel. They play neither the victim, nor create victims of others. How do these branches grow into our understanding of Easter and the Paschal Mystery?
What exactly is the Paschal Mystery?
We are familiar with the second word mystery and its’ seeming opposition to rational thought. A mystery is something that cannot be grasped by mere human reasoning.
But what about the word Paschal? Paschal comes from the Aramaic and Hebrew terms “to pass over” and it refers to God’s passing over the houses of the Israelites, sparing them from death while visiting death upon their captors, the Egyptians.
Together these words Paschal Mystery serve to reveal and offer God’s Grace to us. In this meaning mystery doesn’t describe an idea that must be solved like a mystery novel. Instead, Jesus sacrificed his life by freely accepting death on the cross, is then buried, and resurrected from his tomb. What does this ask of us?
Even once we can understand this in our head, it is still difficult to follow. This Paschal Mystery teaches us that the way up is the way down. Who wants to follow that willingly? We find ourselves troubled, and standing among Jesus’s Apostles when he explains, “Anyone who wants to be the most important has to be the least important, has to be a servant to the others. You know what it feels like when those in power lord it over the people? You know how those at the top make their authority felt? With my people it has to be different. If you want to be important, serve others. I came not to be served but to serve.” Jesus offered the world a new pattern of power and leadership. Sadly, for large segments of our lives, we just don’t get it.
I was recently honored to be able to attend the North Carolina pottery Conference in Asheboro, NC. The entire conference was based on the Japanese Pottery and the Tea Ceremony. I met and spoke via interpreter with a half dozen Japanese clay artists but had my most revealing dialogue with Mr. Hasu Yoshitaka. He spoke at length about his apprenticeship with a Japanese Tea Master and the main different between his culture in Kyoto and America. Humbly he said, “we in the East have a different perception of “time.”
After attending college in engineering he said no thank-you to the corporate world. In some very specific ways, listen to his story of Abiding. Once he gained acceptance to work with his Tea Master, a living treasure in Japan, he swept floors in the studio and tea room for 2 ½ years. For the next 2 ½ years he prepared the meals of the day, learning the texture of the rice, the cut of the salmon, the texture of the watercress, and their presentation. For the next 2 ½ years he dug the clays from different locations on the hillside, learning the properties of each vein, its plasticity, and its fired color. The next 2 ½ years found him wedging and preparing the clay for the master and firing the kilns.
At the end of these 10 years, and only then, did Mr. Hasu work beside his Master. Only then was he ready to respond to the potential in the clay and to form tea bowls. Only then was he ready to be a vessel, and to form a vessel which was to nourish others. Mr. Hasu’s life was one in which he was Abiding. He was not impatiently waiting for his “turn.” He was listening. He was porous. He was abiding in every sense of the word. I saw some of my potential in his story and I believe each of you can also.
I have grown to cherish the accumulation of memories which are stored in our hands. Building an object affirms we are part of nature. Over these three days I was exposed to a manner of focus and acceptance which Mr. Hasu, and the other Japanese artists called Wabi-sabi. Wabi-sabi represents a life style and an aesthetic centered on transience and imperfection. For it to blossom vanity must not be present. Humility is the ground from which it grows. Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include irregularity, simplicity, modesty, intimacy, and the appreciation of process. True meaning must be experienced. Learning is a result of reaching consensus. Light falls on a stone in one way and on a flower in another. Each accepts the warmth in their own way. In Wabi-sabi, you are an individual, but you are never alone. This is almost identical to Abide to me. This is a move from the realm of Achievement to the realm of Acceptance.
It is a very short walk from this reality to the writer in the book of John’s Gospel. Jesus said, “I am the true vine and my Father is the vine grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch in me that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. Abide in me as I abide in you. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”
We see a very similar story of Abiding in this dream from the German psycho-analyst Carl Jung called: Cutting a Path.
No matter where we dig or climb, we come upon the fire we left untended.
Jung had a dream that he was cutting a path in the woods, unsure where it was leading, but working hard at it nonetheless. Tired and sweating, he came upon a cabin in a clearing. He dropped his tools and approached the cabin. Through the window he saw a person in prayer at a simple altar. The door was open and he went in. As he drew closer, he realized that the person in prayer was himself and that his life of cutting a path was his own dream.
What Jung brings to us is the never ending of deciding to whom we entrust our life; our true self or our false self; what separates us or what connects us. We run around all our life-fixing, denying, projecting, and sacrificing-for all of our schemes and our strategies. We position ourselves for our rewards. We impatiently wait for the weak to catch up. This is all an unreal dream.
Without knowing it, we, like Jung, work hard at cutting a path to our deeper self which waits patiently for us to arrive, and once the being at our center is discovered, we can return to the world in relationship with our soul and with others. We can discover a deeper, more peaceful sense of simply Being. This is the relationship Jesus is inviting us to.
Perhaps learning how to Abide, instead of to Wait reveals how we interpret power, and how we are bound to it. Originally, the word Power meant “able to be” a state of being. Over the passage of time, the meaning of Power was contracted to mean “to be able” a state of doing. We are human beings, not human doers.
Today’s invitation is not about being passive though. The German Priest Dietrich Bonhoeffer urges us forward, saying that, “Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.” He is talking about a power to be in the breach, to occupy the gap that only love and a prayer can fill.
Maybe the Gospel is really asking me to track the vine back to the rich earth from which it grows? Maybe only by getting our hands down in the soil, the clay, can I do the lowly work of shaping myself into a vessel of connectedness. Maybe this is not an individual invitation, but a gesture to a communal response. We spend so much of our lives on the run. If only we could coast to a stop, to a quiet stop, and dwell peacefully in the present moment. If only we could just abide!
Lord, may we be one with you in all that we say and do. Draw us like water to the low places and let us settle there with your people. Let us we send DOWN deep roots, and then grow UP towards you, bearing the good fruit, of our true nature.