November 11, 2017
Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, Raleigh, NC. Learn More »
This afternoon when Jennifer gave me a bit of a preview of her focus tonight, my mind turn immediately to a poem by the 12th century Sufi Muslim mystic and poet, Rumi. It’s known as “The Guest House."
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all.
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
This being my first time at Peace Camp, one of the things I’ve noticed about all of you is how you are unafraid to face the truth, whatever that truth may be – good, bad and everything in-between that goes on in life. And when we face the truth, especially the truth about what’s happening to people everywhere and the rest of life in Earth, it can lead to sadness, anger, pain, suffering, even despair. None of us like to go through this – not individually or as communities. It does a number on us internally which can push us into emotional, psychological, and spiritual states we’d rather not go.
But the truth of Rumi’s poem is that we are, in the words of Jesus, the Light of the world, and as the Light we are vessels of truth, and truth cannot, must not, deny what’s happening, the reality of where we are. We’re called to stand in the truth – the good and the not so good, the chaos and death and the harmony and new life – until our hearts break, as Jennifer said so well.
Usually, we consider the breaking of the heart as a negative thing, and that certainly can and often is the case but as Rumi again puts it, “God breaks open the heart again and again until it stays open.” There’s a lot to break our hearts at what’s happening to people and the planet – we’ve been talking about that, a lot – but only an open heart, one that has been broken open, can see the truth and live the truth.
You all know this: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.” Jesus isn’t talking about moral purity – at least that’s not the way I look at it. He’s talking about a heart that is open wide, a transformed heart, a heart that sees life as it is, in all its beauty and bounty, its devastation and evil, its death and resurrection. And when we have the courage to look clearly and honestly into life as it is, we will see the One who is alive and moving within all things, all beings, all situations.
This morning after spending some time with the youth, I went for a walk on a trail that leads below the Fire Pit where we met the first night. I walked for a while in the woods and at a place where the trail intersected another path, a blue jay flew close-by and landed on a branch about three feet off the ground no more than ten feet away from me. I stopped and I looked back at this beautiful bird looking at me – and the blue jay never said a word. Usually, blue jays will scream and squawk and holler and be rather aggressive; that’s my experience with blue jays but not this one. For maybe 45 seconds, she (or he) just perched on the branch, looking at me as I returned the gaze. Then, she flew in front of me to the other side of the trail and perched in another branch, this one about eye level – and she never chirped, screamed or squawked. She looked at me and I at her for another minute. Then, she flew upwards on the tree, perching maybe fifteen feet off the ground and continued to look at me as I did to her in return, this time for perhaps two minutes. Finally, she turned on the branch and flew away, never once acting as I’ve known blue jays near my home to act; she was simply there and so was I, in the presence of each other.
I learned that for some Native American traditions, the presence of the blue jay means vision, penetrating vision that sees through all masks, illusions, deceptions and falsehoods, seeing past the delusions with clarity. Blue jay shows the value of the power of presence with others, to be with others, knowing when to trust and when not to trust. They are often aggressive and that aggression can point to the truth.
To truly see – with the eyes in our heads and with the eyes of our hearts – is to see - and live! - truth and love. And when we truly see, there is hope.
It’s true that in the midst of all the stuff going on today, many people turn to denial which is a false “hopefulness” saying that things aren’t that bad, that all that’s needed is a bit of adjustment or return to the way it was; or they blame some group of people or say “If the government would just get out of the way” or “Get the government more involved in things,” then things would be much better. We see denial everywhere in North America in our rapidly changing society and rapidly changing world. But I’m with those of the 12-Step Groups who remind us that “’De-Nile’ is more than a river in Egypt.” Don’t let anyone fool you: denial is actually a refusal to hope because you cannot have hope until you look reality square in the face getting your ego out of the way and say, “This is the way it is, period; now, how will I live, how will we respond, how will we live in that truth?”
Hope criticizes what is when what is, is not life-giving, and there’s a ton of life-denying going on everywhere because hopelessness refuses to accept the truth of the way things are; it rationalizes and adapts in order to just get along. Hope resists what is when what is divides and oppresses. And then, hope gets down on its hands and knees and works for what is mutually enhancing for all.
Over the past decade, I’ve done presentations on climate change and/or environmental degradation and faith. About a month ago, I did one of these for about a dozen American Baptist clergy in Connecticut. Usually in these presentations, I set the context – where we are as people and planet – and that can be very depressing. Then we move into different ways of seeing, reflecting on what kind of worldview is needed for our time and a spirituality and faith to ground it all. On this occasion, I said made the statement: “I’m not optimistic, at all – but I have hope.” When I said that, there came an “Amen! Amen!” from Peter, an ordained American Baptist clergy, new to the United States from Nigeria. And so, I continued by saying that no one ever thought that we, in the United States, would ever end slavery because it would hurt the economy too much; but we did it. “At one time, Bald Eagles were nearly extinct in North America; today there are 65 nesting pairs in Connecticut alone. The same with the Gray Wolf and the North American Bison, once there were 60 million bison and by 1900 there were an estimated 500; but now, the Bison are coming back. At one time, the use of CFCs (Chloral Floral Carbons) was putting holes in the Ozone layer and nobody ever thought the world could come together to stop this disaster in the making; but in 1986, the Montreal Protocal was signed by the world’s largest countries who agreed to drastically reduce the use of CFCs and now, the holes have stopped expanding and are actually in the slow process of closing. And the Berlin Wall: who ever thought that the Wall would come down in their lifetimes?” We have created the problems we’re facing and we are the only ones who can make a difference in solving them.
We are in a crisis situation but as you know, the word for crisis in one of the Chinese languages is “Dangerous Opportunity.” This is an incredible opportunity for us and I have hope because hope is foundational to being a human being; it is part of our nature as children of God. I don’t know how we can live without hope. I have hope because hope is a gift of God, given to each person, given to all so that we might share this gift with one another. And I have hope because we have each other and there is nothing more powerful than turning to one another, staying together, listening to each other, sharing the wisdom and insight that each person brings, working together and praying together. When we hope, then – then! – as we sang in our opening song tonight, “We can live so God can use us.”