[You can watch a video recording of this Call to Worship at the end of this text. To see the entire service, click here.]
This week we learned of the first confirmed coronavirus case in Strafford—a woman who is part of our wider church community. It remains a mystery how she became infected. She and her husband have done everything right, and now they are living with this terrible fear and grief. There are tens of thousands going through this, more every day. We feel fear, grief and compassion for them and for our world and ourselves.
Meanwhile the White House is rushing the country to reopen, not caring how many more die, and Strafford’s Emergency Management Director is reminding us of the devastation that came when the nation reopened too soon in the midst of the 1918 flu. We are weary of isolation, many are suffering financial hardship, our children are suffering, we miss our communities of connection, and yet the virus has not disappeared.
We need to find a way through this time, not only to endure it but to build a better world, because this crisis has made clear how broken the old one was in its social injustice and environmental destruction. We know we need to find a new way, and yet we have doubts and obstacles to overcome.
Today I hope to offer you reassurance, comfort and wisdom from tradition and experience that can help you find your way and help the world find its way.
The first source is the 84th Psalm, which begins “How lovely is your dwelling place, O God of hosts! My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of my God.” Scholars hear the echo of exile in that longing, from the time when the temple had been destroyed, homes and farms put to the torch and most of the population carried off in captivity to Babylon.
Since then many have turned to Psalm 84 at the worst of times and found comfort. It says to the hurting, “Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O God. Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise. Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.”
We may be traveling through the worst of times, but if we are turning to God in our heart, then every step we take is on the highway to Zion, every step leads to the realm of God’s love on earth, no matter how hard things are around us.
My mother received a diagnosis of an incurable cancer when she was 65. My father was not ready to let go, so at his urging she underwent an extremely brutal series of experimental chemotherapies and had five major operations in five months, and then died.
My mother was a leading church lady and choir member, and she was a contemplative and a mystic back when few Protestant Christians were. She was my first spiritual teacher.
She lamented to me in the middle of her treatments that all the drugs were making it impossible for her to pray. She kept trying to connect with the Spirit, but felt frustrated and scared, cut off from what had been her greatest source of comfort, guidance and strength.
She ended up in Intensive Care, haggard and barely alive. My father and I left one night expecting a call summoning us back for her final hours.
The call didn’t come, and the next morning we were shocked to see her literally shining. She was sitting up giving off light, full of her old vitality, eyes sparkling. She explained that she had finally broken through to God. She had seen a vision of Christ taking from her all her selfish attachment to this world. She was free she said, and healed. She was ready to live a new life. And in fact she did.
The next three weeks were amazing. I would come in to find nurses having deep conversations with her, moved to tears or radiant with light that she had helped them find. The love streaming from her did not diminish even in the hour of her death.
She had found a way through the worst, she had reached that lovely dwelling place the Psalm describes, and she had done it by turning again and again in weakness and doubt, in great pain and great need, emptying herself and seeking to be filled with the source of light and love. She kept searching until the way opened to her.
My mother was a spiritual master. She had spent decades practicing so she was prepared when the worst of times came. She had used her smaller challenges over the years as opportunities to learn the sacred way, letting go and self-emptying little by little, turning each time toward the source of love and light.
Jesus said, “I am the way” in a gospel my mother loved. She was following his way, and it led where he said it would, to an experience of oneness with God and to creating God’s realm of love on earth around her.
The world desperately needs people who have the faith and will to follow this way now. The music and words and videos today are designed to help you find that way, so I invite you to open your heart to receive whatever the Spirit would have you receive on this stage of your pilgrim journey.
Mel Goertz’s haiku for this week relates to the the way of nature, one of the things that is helping some of us find our way through this time. Here it is:
That night I saw the moon
come out through the clouds
boat-shaped it came and went.