24 Mar 2019
I wonder how many people saw that burning bush and walked right on by. It must have been something to take your breath, and your nerve, away. I bet some folks walked with their heads down and never even saw it in the first place. But Moses…. Moses knew that God was in that place. This is how he entered the second part of his life, the part for which we were really born.
St. Francis was not a systemic theologian, thanks be to God, but was most interested in how we practiced our theology and how we lived our lives. He understood burning bushes and spent his life showing people where and how to find them. He would have known about growing up in a good way, a way that brought us closer to each other, our world, and to God. He would, I believe, have taught us that we should spend as much of our life as we can figuring out what is our divine purpose. I know it took me a great deal of time figuring out just who I am and I would daresay it is a task that is ongoing. It should be. The person that I call myself today is not the same person I was ten, or even five, years ago. I would like to say that I am a better person, having gone down several roads and backtracked on a good share of them. Some of which were pretty bumpy.
It is crucial we figure out just who we are; as humans we need a strong identity. Personality disorders stem in part from not figuring out who we are being unable to join in those external things that make us human: friends and family, physical and economic security to name a few. These are good and, one would hope, mostly joyful things. Once you get to a certain point in life you try to figure out what the world demands of you and you build as healthy an existence as you can. It is good to work and good to have friends and family. I would not give up any of it! But if we pour all our energy into those tasks we fail at the tasks that Jesus, and God, reveal to us. We need to turn from existing as human doings to becoming human beings.
Have you ever worked or been with someone who seems to exude negative energy? I have seen enough people who are sociopaths, blaming others for everything they don’t like about their lives. I have seen people in abusive relationships who cannot get to the point of thinking they are worthy human beings. It is difficult to be around someone who sucks the life out of you; it is also difficult to be around someone who is so enmeshed in their work or vocation that they cannot picture themselves as having any worth beyond what they do for a living!! All these things are the stuff of the first part of life, the part where we are creating our “containers”, that is all the structure that connects us to each other and society. If you live in a society where even survival is not taken for granted you may never get to a second part of life. I will call it the God part or the part where you see the burning bush for the first time.
We all know folks who fail retirement. For some it is a feeling that their worth was so tied up in what they did for a living that they cannot see themselves as beloved just for being!! For others they “fail” because they don’t see retirement as a time to sit in an easy chair, but time to get involved in something new or different. The second group is likely to thrive and grow and in fact is not a failure at all, but a growth into a whole new life. Many see the fire.
Church often does not help us. If I stand up here week after week and preach about sin as individual failings, usually based on something we do with our bodies that the church condemns, I am not helping you see that part of life that comes when you start listening to that small still voice that Elijah heard. What I am doing is giving a blueprint for model behavior and one that is impossible to follow. If you believe you cannot live up to the “must dos” you will soon find no reason to come on a Sunday morning and the presence of the living God will not be in your life.
But when we preach about those other voices, when you start to hear other voices, you realize perfection is not the answer any more than it was ever the question.
Do you have in inner voice? Do you listen? If so you have entered or are on the path to entering the second half of life, the part that ask you to give up much of what you have. I don’t mean separate from those you love but starting to embrace new values and putting aside the value you place on things. My step daughter just spent most of the winter getting rid of 40 years of unneeded stuff. Not only the stuff, but the idea of what was important.
Jesus once said to Martha she was distracted by many things; tying her value to her role as host rather than to nurturing the essence of the divine that was inside of her. I think of all the times I let myself be caught up in busy-ness because that is where I see my worth. My mother would not let me leave the house until my bed was made and to this day I always make up the bed in the morning. I tie part of my worth to how the house, and the bed, look! Francis would probably very patiently tell me I have a long way to go on my journey. He would say I am stuck in that first half of life, the part that is rule based and accumulation based.
Long ago I stopped going to church because I thought I was getting brownie points in heaven for attendance. People become trapped in their faith. We have all met folks unhappy with the place of worship they attend; they know it is no longer feeding them, but they are stuck in a type of spiritual inertia. They may feel in some way betrayed or hurt by their denomination, yet the leaving is hard. I wonder right now how many Methodists or Catholics are at that place, but it is not unique to any faith or denomination.
When that happens we are not looking at the cross and the lesson it teaches us: death and resurrection are true for each and every one of us and we must die so we are reborn. We must die to materialism; we must die to the belief that there is one way to salvation and it is through adherence to right rules. Showing us that through death we are led into life was what the cross was all about; can we not learn that death of our ego and our pride can lead us to a place of holiness? God loves us. If the cross was not proof of that I don’t know what is.
This is why Lent is so good. Most of us try to change something for Lent; changing and exterior behavior can make us realize what is truly important. Look inward; remember Martha and Mary. Take the best of what each woman did and you will see what life is all about. You will look out and there will be a burning bush.
This Lent journey to the second half of life.