July 8, 2007
Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Isaiah 66:10-14; Luke 10:1-20
Not long ago, I was on the coast. I had a new cell phone I wanted to test, and I knew that no one was home back at the house. So I decided, on a whim, to call my office at OSU. And when the call went through and I got my own answering machine, without thinking about it, without planning what I would say, I left myself message.
That evening I was having one of those moments we all have of sudden, unexpected peace and joy. The sun was setting in the ocean. Birds were hopping on the branches. I was feeling the abundant love of God all around me, like the abundant love of a mother, as Isaiah puts it, permeating everything, and I felt free of the pressures and the worries I usually feel. I had shaken that dust off my feet. I was eating what was set before me: living in the moment, accepting what was given, in that instant.
It was a wonderful moment, one I didn’t earn or deserve but that was just given to me, as such moments are given to all of us. And this is reality. This is the way things should always be and the way they really are, if we’d only keep our focus, if we’d only not get distracted.
So when I left myself a message, I told myself this. I said: remember, Chris, you are loved by God. I called myself by name like this. I hadn’t planned to. It just came out that way. I said, Chris, remember this Structure, this Ecology. Remember.
And then, of course, I forgot. I came back home the next day and time went on and I had various jobs to do and promises to keep. And about a week later summer school started. I went to school that first day. Walked into my office. Put my briefcase down and my mail. And then I saw the message light blinking on my phone.
I have a friend who is feeling attracted to faith again and thinking about going back to church, but who is burdened by the thought of what other people will think of this, by her friends’ skepticism and their stereotypes about Christianity, and I want her to let go of all that, not to live her life by what other people think of her, not to let that be her reality, because it isn’t real, I want to tell her. But I’m just the same way. I exchange the truth for a falsehood, a reality for a fantasy. The sheep of my joy get devoured by the wolves of the day. Or it’s a kind of idolatry and a kind of adultery. There, at the coast, in the sound of the waves, I had fallen in love again. But then, I betrayed her. I forgot her.
So what a shock it was when I picked up the phone and suddenly there was my own voice speaking to me and calling me by name. My real self, calling from my real place. Except that at the same time it didn’t feel like me. It was me and not me. It was like I had been in a time machine and had traveled into this future and now the former self was speaking to my present self, except that somehow something larger and other was involved, too. I sounded so wise and calm--and believe me, that’s very unusual. What I said to myself sounded so true. It was so helpful. It was like I was my own spiritual director and the advice I was giving myself was just exactly what I wanted and needed to hear. It was me and not me. It was the spirit, really, working through me in the past moment of peace and joy, when my defenses were down, when I was in the moment, not in my head, in the moment, not in the future, as the Spirit works through all of us in such moments.
Remember, you are beloved by God. Remember. And everything came flowing back, the ocean and the trees and the light.
To believe is to remember. That’s what the mass is about, in a way. Do this in memory of me, Jesus says. Do this. Because long ago in the past, around a table, we felt a wonder and an excitement and a seriousness that lifted us out of the ordinary and carried us up to an intense and privileged awareness of the presence of God and of the infinite value of our own given lives. So remember that. Never forget it. And if you remember it vividly enough and often enough, the past won’t be the past. Memory will become creative. I will be here, with you, Jesus says. Because I am here with you. Time doesn’t matter. The past doesn’t matter and it doesn’t limit us anymore. I have transcended all that, I have transcended time, and I am here, I am with you always.
To believe is to remember.
This is why I think it’s a good idea to keep a journal or do something like that everyday. Leave yourself a message. I really want to recommend that--some version of what the tradition calls the examen of conscience. St. Ignatius thought it was the most important kind of prayer of all. Do it at the end of the day, or the beginning of the next, and just remember what’s happened to you, just remember, in your head or on the page. Where was the light this day, the moments you felt joy and peace and rightness? Praise God for those, and pray that you can keep following the light, going deeper and deeper into the light, going where it leads you. Then think back on the moments of darkness, the moments when you didn’t feel right and didn’t do right, when others hurt you and you hurt others, when you felt angry or afraid or confused. Ask God to forgive you for what you’ve done and failed to do and ask God to give you strength to avoid these temptations, to resist the evil that is always in us, too, and in the world around us.
Do that every evening, or every morning, and your memory starts to sharpen, your perception starts to focus. There will be two narratives now, two stories, the external story of what you did on the surface and your accomplishments, what might go on your resume, what other people can see, and the inner story, the real one, the story of grace, the story that matters.
Because God is always speaking to us. Always pouring out his grace. And we just don’t know it.
And because we are all sent out, everyday. We are all of the 72. We have our moments of peace, our moments of being with Jesus, but then we have to take our peace on the road, back into the world. Jesus himself sends us. Peace itself sends us. It’s our mission: to be who we really are in the presence of so many people who aren’t being who they are, who are lost and lonely and angry and afraid, who don’t remember. That’s our job. To remember. To believe is to remember, and we must believe.
And with grace, we can do it, as the 72 did. With grace, with remembering, we can cast out all the demons, we can be not distracted or defeated, and the demons we cast out will first of all be our own.