The sermon for week August 26, 2012
TAIZE MEDITATION, Psalm 84, Eph. 6:10-20
Sometimes falling asleep at night is hard for me to do. I lay in bed, the room is dark, the house is silent, but my brain is far from still. It is awake with thoughts, images, headlines, problems, fantasies, and the cares of the world. It is all disordered and chaotic in my head. Some nights it is more ordered but that is probably because I am obsessing over something and that too, keeps me awake. I try to calm the thoughts. I try to let loose of the obsessions. I try to pray. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but eventually, most nights, I fall asleep.
These battles may only last five minutes, on rare nights they might go on for some time and include only brief interludes of sleep. In either case, however, there is enough of a struggle that in a personal way I can identify with Paul’s words read this morning about the chaotic nature of our struggle. The struggle takes place both globally and personally, involving the the cosmos and the individual. It is the coming to be of life, the struggle for birth, both of the universe and the individual. It is in a battle, and as Paul says, the struggle isn’t just about flesh and blood, but this present darkness, and the rule of principalities and powers.
In the morning, the sun rises, the music of birds is heard outside, and the eyes awaken in peace, but alas it is not a peace that lasts. Already, competing with the music of the birds, is the voice of all the projects that have to be addressed that day, and still lingering from the day before, the shadow of guilt or disappointment in oneself or someone else.
At least two or three times a week, I do a combination of walking and jogging and count it as well a form of spiritual discipline. Sometimes it is just a run. Other times, however, I take each invasive worry or problem or concern and make it a matter of intentioned attention. I focus about it and think about it, try to figure it out, then I offer it as a prayer. I will visualize the concern or care and person in my head, seeing it in its wholeness, seeing the person healed, then in my visualization I give it up, I let go of it and try to see it in the wholeness of God’s perfect love. All the while, I am doing my walk/run.
I will see the name of a church member or family member. I will focus upon that person, seeing, perhaps, the illness that has afflicted him or her, or the sorrow or the disappointment, visualizing the person as I run, then as a kind of petition, seeing the wholeness brought by God’s desire for that person’s well being. Oh, if I could only be so saintly. It is the way I would pray, and pray for the world.
Instead, this is the way it most often happens. I begin my run. I gather together the people most on my mind and events such as this church’s search for a new pastor, or the areas of draught in large sections of this country or the war in Syria and all the innocent victims, and one by one, each demanding its own attention, I start to pray. I name the name, but then, here is what really happens. Out of nowhere comes the thought, “Do I really want to keep that green shirt that is hanging in my closet?” This, perhaps in the midst of praying for a church member or family member.
I think, what the heck, and I try to get back to the name of the person I am praying for. “Bill, Bill,” I think to myself. “You’re praying for Bill,” I reprimand.
“Right. Bill.” “Lord, I pray for Bill.” Boy you know, I really like driving my new car. I chastise myself, wondering, how do these thoughts get in my brain?
And on it goes, even when I try to pray the Lord’s Prayer.
“Our Father,” I’m making it, I think to myself.
“Who art in heaven.” I’m doing it. I’m praying.
“Hallowed be Thy name.” Yes, yes, yes, I’ve done three phrases in a row. Hurrah, I’m on a roll.” Then I realize, my awareness, my self consciousness that I am praying, is its own diversion, every phrase followed with an interruption of congratulations to myself
It is so frustrating. We are all so much less saintly than what we would appear to be or like to be, and when we come to church and enter into worship, we are the same people. It is no different here. Our mind is not going to stay focused on things spiritual. We are going to give the same kind of prayers that are constantly interrupted by other thoughts, and in the periods of silence, as we have in this service this morning, if the silence lingers too long, we will probably experience the same kind of chaos we sometimes experience when we try to fall asleep at night.
This is why I sometimes think the sermon rather than being illuminating, simply adds another voice to the running chattiness of our mind, just another voice, clamoring for attention, demanding to be heard.
But I am not dismayed. Instead, I see it all as part of the birthing of our lives. Out of the chaos of the cosmos is born a world and out of the chaos of our minds is born a life. It is all good. It is all part of creation, God bringing to be the reality of the world and our life. We are all in the midst of being birthed, and birthing, like the birth of the cosmos, might seem random and chaotic, but out of it is born a universe and out of each of us is born a new life, a life envisioned in the mind of God and revealed for us in Jesus Christ.
You are being born, you are in the midst of your own creation, you are in the birth channel of your own life and while in the midst of it you may only be aware of the chaos, in the completeness of it is a new heaven, a new earth and a new you. It is all a wrestling in your soul, ultimately leading to what the Bible refers to as a form of second birth where as seen in Jesus Christ, kindness breaks through and you become more loving in your heart.
Think of it, in all the chaos and randomness of what seems to be your life, like the apparent chaos out of which a world was formed, the new in you is being born. But here is the problem, my belief alone could not sustain me in such a thought. I am too easily swayed by self-doubt, moods of melancholy, the events of the world, and dark nights of the soul. It is not in our power, alone, to make us hopeful. The world is too grim. My own life too fractured and contradictory.
So what nurtures a hopeful, vital, living faith? What sustains us?
It is quite simple. It is being here. It is being with one another in worhship. It is in this place, when you sing, something happens, and I think this is what Brother Roger, the founder of Taize, understood. God’s Spirit takes over, and though I may still find it hard to pray, in the background I hear the sweet, sweet music that washes over me. I am soothed. I am calmed. I know there is a reality greater than my own. I feel myself to be as I always am but seldom fully comprehend, a child of God, the person I am, loved by God, forever and ever. The singing and the silences make it real, even when in the midst of it, I might be mightily distracted.
I hear the words of the psalmist and somehow what the psalmist wrote becomes the words that are my own:
“How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.
For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than live in the tents of wickedness.”
There is a difference between praying here and lying on my bed at night or even when I jog. It is in the music I hear. It is in the background, the chorus of heaven singing over and over again, “the Lord is a sun and shield, the Lord is a sun and shield.”
Brother Roger wrote, “We need to remember that it is not our faith that creates God, and it is not our doubts (and I would include our distractions) that can cast him into nothingness. Even were we to feel no apparent resonance, the mysterious presence of Christ never disappears. Although we may have the impression of an absence (caused, I would say, a lot because we can not focus), there is above,” says Brother Roger, “all the wonder of his continual presence.” And I believe, it is the singing that makes us mindful, The Lord is near, the Lord is in this place.
This morning the sermon is not the point. It is being here. It is resting here. It is simply sitting, singing and being with God and when you try to focus, truly listen, or pray but still find your thoughts going off in all directions, or even at this moment thinking about what restaurant to go to after worship, or whatever else might be in your mind or heart, still the music goes on, reminding you, even though your thoughts might be far away, God is close, God is in this place, God is Loving you.
“Oh Lord, Happy are those who live in your house, ever
singing your praise
O Lord of hosts, happy is everyone who trusts in You.”