The sermon for week November 06, 2011
In the novel Cutting For Stone, the character Ghosh tells this story he heard in prison.
"It was a tale well known to the children all over Africa: Abu Kassem, a miserly Baghdad merchant, had held on to his battered, much repaired slippers even though they were objects of derision. At last, even he couldn't stomach the sight of them. But his every attempt to get rid of them ended in disaster:
“When he tossed them out the window they landed on the head of a pregnant woman who miscarried, and Abu Kassem went to jail; when he dropped them into the canal the slippers choked off the main drain and caused flooding, and off Abu Kassem went to jail...
“One night, after the story was told, another prisoner, a quiet dignified old man, said, 'Abu Kassem might as well build a special room for his slippers. Why try to lose them? He'll never escape.' The old man laughed and seemed happy when he said that. That night the old man died in his sleep.
“The next night, out of respect for the old man, no stories were told. The prisoners pondered the meaning of the story and the old man's words.
“The next night, the prisoners couldn't wait to talk about Abu Kassem. They all saw it the same way. The old man was right. The slippers in the story mean that everything you see and do and touch, every seed you sow, or don't sow, becomes a part of your destiny.”
Ghosh says that he never knew his father, so he thought his father was irrelevant to him. Yet his sister felt their father's absence so strongly it made her sour, and no matter what she has or will ever have, it won't be enough. Ghosh made up for the absence by hoarding knowledge, skills, and seeking praise. What I finally understood in the prison, Ghosh states, is that my father's absence is our slippers. In order to start to get rid of your slippers you have to admit that they are yours, and if you do, then they will get rid of themselves.” (350-351)
It is my assumption that we all have slippers of one sort or another. What are your slippers? An absent father, a passive aggressive mother? An alcoholic in your family? Some past trauma? Those names you were called in high school? What sticks to you that you can’t seem to shake?
There is an element of dysfunction in each of our families. In my opinion, the best way to deal with this dysfunction is not to hide it or minimize it, it’s to be honest about it. Honesty is the first step in any 12 Step Program, and that leads to acceptance and acceptance leads to healing… or the process of healing. If we are to do as the writers of the Hebrews say, we must first accept there is a race to persevere through.
There is one pair of slippers we all share, and that is the slippers of our mortality. We all must deal with the fact that one day we will die. The gospel has two stories of Jesus struggling with this fact. We see one today with Lazarus. Jesus weeps at the death of his friend Lazarus. He grieves. And then in the garden of Gethsemane, he struggles, he states, “let this cup pass from me…” but in the end Jesus comes to terms with the fact that he will die. I believe this acceptance gave him the courage to endure what he endured, the whole process.
Now as a concept, we think acceptance means tolerance or resignation or passivity. So the question that comes up is how can I accept something I don’t like? If someone is beating me over the head should I accept that? If you tolerate someone beating you over the head–that is not acceptance. That is insanity.
Acceptance is not something we do. It is something we stop doing.
Acceptance happens when we let go of the inner resistance to what is happening anyway.
Notice that the ego always wants to resist. The ego thinks that by resisting it can muster up motivation and energy to change something. The ego feels if it does not resist, then things will never change.
Acceptance is simply letting go, it’s to stop picking at the scab of a past hurt. Accept that it is what it is, that the slippers are indeed yours, and then lock them in a room, or put them in a box in the attic, or high on the shelf where you hide your Christmas presents. Never wear the slippers again.
In Cutting for Stone, Ghosh goes on and states that, “The key to your happiness is to own your slippers, own who you are, own how you look, own your family, own the talents you have and the ones you don't. If you keep saying your slippers aren't yours, then you'll die searching, you'll die bitter, always feeling that you were promised more.” (351)
Own these things. Accept life as it comes. Accept your mortality and remember those who have died. And know that your relationship isn’t over, it has just changed. People who have died live on in our memory, in our remembrances. And in our remembering we may be able to get a sense of their real presence again, get some sign that they are in another life watching over us, loving us from there.
That is our hope as Christians. That there is something after death. There is a promise that life will somehow go on. What it looks like is a mystery, but it is a promise made to us by Jesus. Yet this promise didn’t keep Jesus from shedding tears over the loss of a loved one.
In that way, when we lose someone we love, we can remember Jesus shared in our grief. And grief is a pair of slippers that’s appropriate to wear. Yet, also remember to live life in a way that when your time comes, and it will come, you face it with thankfulness on your lips and a feeling that you got all you had out of life and no trace of bitterness or regret remains.
The best illustration I have heard about this way of living is like a dog at the door, wagging its tale. The dog has been out playing all day and it’s time to go in. When it hears the sound of the master’s voice, it comes running with great expectation, filled with joy at seeing the master again. May we run home in such a manner when our name is called. Amen.