His followers said to Jesus, “When will the Realm come?” “It will not come by looking for it. It will not be a matter of saying, ‘Here it is!’ Or ‘Look! There it is.’ Rather the Realm of the Father is spread out upon the earth, but people don’t see it.” – Gospel of Thomas 113
“God continually showers the fullness of God’s grace on every being in the universe. But we consent to a greater or lesser degree.” – Simone Weil
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.” -Psalm 22:1-2
“One who does not have God in them cannot feel God’s absence” – Simone Weil
“‘Tis the gift to be simple ‘Tis the gift to be free ‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be And when we find ourselves in the place just right It will be in the valley of love and delight When true simplicity is gained To bow and to bend, we will not be ashamed To turn, turn, will be our delight ‘Til by turning, turning, we come round right.” – “Simple Gifts” by Joseph Brackett Jr.
Simplicity. When we discover what is essential, and we hold fast to it, to what is true and good, and we let go of the rest… then we can be free, we can be grateful, we can have an open heart, we can take delight in being in the right place. That right place can serve as a center. And all the changes in our lives, everything thing we gain, everything we lose, everything that shifts suddenly or shifts slowly, these are all become the movement of our turning around the center, the center of what is essential. “’Tis a gift to be simple,” says the old Shaker song. We get clarity about what is essential through eclipses, when some things get blocked or blotted out, we discover what’s essential and what can go.
Clarity and eclipse… Well, we discovered the sun’s essential, right? Thank God it came back. But also thank God we all knew it would come back. We understand that we lost the sun for a bit because the moon passed between us and the sun, and we knew it would keep on moving, we would keep on turning, so whatever moments of sudden darkness came over us, they would pass, and the sun will keep shining.
And now we can be more grateful for it. And amazed by it.
Wasn’t it amazing up here in Walla Walla how light it still was even with just, what was it?, 3% of the sun peeking out from behind the moon? It was chilly and dusky, but I expected it to be much darker. Just that little sliver of the sun was enough to keep things pretty light. And the eclipsing helped us see differently how we see – light and color was different, and shadow, and our sense of volume and distance.
Then for those folks who were in the totality of the eclipse, you could really experience some of the weird, wild, and wonderful effects of light and shadow. There were reports of strange rippling bands of shimmering light. And scientists are now able to learn more about the corona of the sun. They need the sun to get blocked out in order to understand more about how it actually works. So all this is to say that after the eclipse, we’re all able to appreciate in a fuller way the amazing fact that the sun illuminates and animates everything. So, on our list to simplify our lives, our list of things we absolutely need, let’s not forget about the sun. We can know that, even if there’s so much about the sun that we don’t know.
So for me after the eclipse this past week some mornings I’d go outside and have this whole St. Francis kind of prayer: thank you, brother sun. Thank you sister moon. But, to be honest, that’s only if I don’t wake up with my head full of concerns about things that’ve gotta get done. Clutter can distract us from what is essential.
But we can know what is essential, and learn about it and appreciate it, when it gets eclipsed. And that can be scary. The work “eclipse” comes from the Greek word for “abandonment.” The belief was that the sun abandoned the world … and that was a terrifying time, because people didn’t know if it’d come back. Maybe it’s abandoned us for good? It takes a whole lot of experience, and thoughtfulness passed down through the ages to know that the eclipse is a passing experience.
Let’s go deep with this. Maybe you can see where I’m leading here. The “G word”: we can only talk about that whom we call “God” through symbols and images. We can’t look directly. We need pinholes and shadows. We need thick, thick lenses.
Or we can just close our eyes and bask.
The first readings we heard today are about the constant, enduring, eternal presence of, you could say, divine emanations. The light and warmth and energy of the sun of God. “The Realm of the Father,” Jesus said, “is spread out upon the earth.” And the quote for Simone Weil, the great Jewish-Christian thinker and mystic and radical humanitarian (who died in Nazi occupied France): “God continually showers the fullness of God’s grace on every being in the universe.” God’s realm, God’s grace is all the time everywhere with all of us … but, they both say, we don’t often notice it. We don’t let it in. Maybe we take it for granted or we get distracted or self-absorbed or if we’re looking out for God at all, we get too fixed on our own notions and expectations on who God is and how God comes to us. But the good news is that God’s grace is always here, and every moment can be an opportunity for us to consent, to say “Yes” to this grace.
But even when we have consented to God’s grace, to one degree or another, at one time or another …
The second readings are about the eclipse of God’s presence, and an eclipse that may not be just because of us not opening our eyes and opening our hearts. Psalm 22 … Oh, Pslam 22. Now, Psalm number 22 is often eclipsed by it’s famous neighbor, Psalm number 23: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want …” But Psalm 22 is actually the Psalm that is at the turning point of our faith as Christians. This is what Jesus cried from the Cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” On that darkest hour, that’s what came to Jesus’ mouth, a cry of abandonment. “God, Why have you forsaken me?” The Psalm goes on: “Why are you so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer. I cry by night, but find no rest.” Now, if Jesus cried out like that in utter despair, if Jesus the Christ himself cried out to a God he felt had completely abandoned him, then I think it’s okay if we do too, every now and again.
What Jesus discovered, what we all discover when we keep hanging on and crying out, is that what seems in the moment to be abandonment is an eclipse that passes on.
And after that eclipse we can be left with renewed clarity about what is true and good. We can bask in the warm bright presence of God’s grace, and we can consent to that placing that grace at the center of our lives. And as we turn, we’ll come round right.
Thanks be to God.
(Delivered August 27, 2017, at First Congregational Church of Walla Walla, by Rev. Nathaniel Mahlberg)