Matthew 13: 31-33; Romans 5: 1-5
One of the delights of being away on holiday is these consecutive days of not listening to the news, coupled with this emersion in breath-taking beauty … the sparkling ocean, the deep greens of the forest floor and towering trees. There’s a kind of cleansing of body, mind and spirit.
So it only follows, I suppose, that coming back from holidays involves re-engaging with what was left behind and whatever else has transpired in the meantime … some of which is channeled through the news. So in case you’re on holiday right now and not listening to the news, you might close your ears for 15 seconds …
Bill 17 ... have you heard about Bill 17 … that it’s actually being proposed that we buy electricity from California while refusing to buy power from solar farms that a number of First Nations in our province have recently developed? Whatever happened to a Just Recovery … to pursuing a way forward that pulls on the wisdom and practices that support the health and well-being of the planet and Earth’s peoples.
It’s not really the news I want to speak of this morning, but rather this question of how do we work with our discouragement?
Yesterday it just came to me --which is another way of saying it was given to me-- to recall Bev’s and my visit to Corrymeela … a community in Ireland we visited 2 years ago that, for 50 years, has been about the work of reconciliation … training people in this work; hosting groups of people whose histories are scarred by violence, longstanding hostility. The center is located in Ballycastle, and it sits up on a hill, the sea below, with a view on a clear day across to islands of Scotland. As Ellis was touring us about and we were standing on the cliff-side taking in the beauty of the surround, he told us, “for a while it was thought that the word Corrymeela meant ‘hills of harmony’ --wow, what a great name it seemed for a place like this. But in time, he said, “they came to realize the truer meaning of Corrymeela is ‘place of lumpy crossings’” … and while not so “nice” it is in fact a far more fitting name for this place that hosts and invites the hard work of reconciliation that is anything but smooth sailing.
Yesterday, within a few minutes of that description coming back to me, in popped an email from Barbara Whitney … our resident cartoonist. The subject line reads “After the vacation comes …” So I open the note to find this brilliant sketch of a close-line, and this person pinning up from her heaping laundry basket multiple face masks! After the vacation comes … the laundry-- reminding me of Jack Cornfield’s After the ecstasy, the laundry.
The vacation AND the laundry … the wondrous and the mundane; the sparkling and the filthy. This is life! The trouble and the beauty, both. It’s our world. We ourselves are this mix. While we might dream of “hills of harmony,” vacation all the way, we actually live in the “place of lumpy crossings” where things are disturbed and disturbing. Disappointment and discouragement are part of the scene.
For myself, that’s the reminder I need to hold onto, a truth I need accept, so when things go south so to speak, I’m not thrown off course, not plunged into despair. Which is different than saying there’s no place for discouragement, or that we should rise above our discouragement. Allowing ourselves to feel discouraged is I think to be awake to what’s happening, alert to something’s wrong here. Our work is not about rising above our discouragement, but how we rise through it. How do we stay energized, focused in the face of it, without ourselves becoming dispirited?
This week I came upon a reflection by Anna Blaedel, entitled Life in Seeds and Soil. She begins by taking us with her on her early morning walk through her small garden, as she touches and greets, smells and savours all that is there, all that has yet to come, and even that which has escaped and mysteriously seeded itself elsewhere in a place where it can flourish.
“There is so much I have yet to learn,” she writes, “about how to tend the soil, the seedlings, the plants. How to prune, when to pluck, where to water, when to leave be. There is so much we have yet to learn about how to tend life, about liberation, about survival, about joy.”
And then, a little further along she describes this: “Even small seedlings have the power to grow through concrete. The seeds don’t actually have the power to crack the concrete, but they use the energy from their roots to seek out and find existing microscopic cracks. New growth occurs at the tips of plant roots. These tips act as feelers, seeking out paths of possibility. Once they find a crack, they lean in. The small seedling’s soft and persistent power, surviving however and wherever it can, can eventually break a concrete slab into pieces.”
Seems to me there’s a clue for us here when we hit a wall. “The seeds don’t actually have the power to crack the concrete, but they use the energy from their roots” to find a way. So what about our roots, I wonder … if our roots go down deep in Jesus’ way? What is that we see in Jesus himself?
He’s steeped in the stories of God’s way among the Jewish people, and has himself experienced the touch, the call and the love of God. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” he affirms, and then trusts with his whole being. He fosters this connection --an intimate connection really-- with the one he calls Abba, to whom he is forever turning and returning. Through this connection he is filled with Love’s presence and power such that it is this presence and power that he radiates. There were those for whom this way of love brought life, healing and hope; and there were others for whom this way of love was threatening enough to have him killed. And even as those destructive forces were closing in, we see Jesus refusing to back away, to change his tune. Yet what strength, what hope is there in this way of love in the face of such power to destroy? Even then, staring into defeat, into the end, into total loss, he entrusts himself to God. And this too is part of the story into which our roots go down deep: Friday, it turns out, was not the last day. God’s power for life won’t finally be squeezed out of the world by violence or death.
It’s this this life-giving power beyond all imagining that Jesus has already spoken of in these parables we hear him tell. “God’s reign of love is like this,” he says, holding before us a small seed, some yeast, the tiniest of things … ingredients we know well and how they work… except that the outcome, as he paints the picture, is way beyond our expectation. As if to say, when it comes to God’s reign of love, don’t be fooled by what may appear too little or insignificant … as if to encourage us in our discouragement: “Never mind the smallness of your witness. Immeasurable divine fruit is hidden in the smallest acts of love and courage for through God’s power for life, there’s far more going on than you might imagine. Even you in your smallness amidst the big guns, you are a mustard seed of justice … but only when you are sown."
All of this and more… it’s there, as we reach deep into our roots where there’s all energy that’s needed to access the cracks and to rise through our discouragement.
It is true that we are small in the face of all that would overwhelm us and our world. AND this too is true … that God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom she has given us. The same Spirit who hovered over the face of the deep bringing the whole creation, the universe, into being, that same Spirit, she breathes deeply in us! That love that raises the dead, that love has been poured into our hearts flooding our beings, this same infinite love.
“Poured in,” writes Steve Garnaas Holmes,
“not a trickle or a little cupful, but a deep river,
a Niagara Falls of love, an Amazon of grace,
swirling with unseen currents, eddies whirling,
curling about the stones and banks of our hearts,
Jordan of promise, Red Sea of freedom,
deep enough for Jonah's whale,
pouring into our hearts, meeting every space,
taking the shape of our hearts, welling up
with the living water of the well at Sychar,
Jesus and the woman dipping deeply,
this love that bears us through all suffering,
for “when you pass through the waters
I will be with you,” still pouring,
even the suffering with the love in it;
and our only life purpose is to drink,
to let the love pour in and soak us, overflow
and spill out in every possible way,
because this is what the Spirit is doing in us”
Tapping into that love, opening to it … this is the journey! … this is the life we can be and are swept up into with and through Jesus.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow.