Year C, Second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 7)
June 23, 2019
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
“I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me.”
Let’s take a second to breathe. AMEN.
It is summer. The Solstice was Friday, so it’s official. And School’s out, so it feels official. Nothing says summer like sweaty people in caps and gowns. We saw a lot of that up in Portland last week with Christopher, our former resident here. He graduated with a BSW PSU, and begins his MSW studies tomorrow. Windy and I were like proud parents all teared up watching him receive his diploma. You all did some good with that young man and he is very grateful.
It is summer! People are already travelling, seeing the world. I’m trying to take two summer-tide days off a week. (I’ll get there). We had a great parish (sort of) camp out up at Silver Falls. There were 35 of us. We ate well. Hiked far. Prayed and chatted and laughed. We made an altar of stacked coolers and said Mass in a hundred acre field with birdsong filling the silences. It was everything that it should have been and barely any mosquitos. It is summer. And liturgically, this is the first Sunday of Ordinary Time. Trinity Sunday, last week, is in the season after Pentecost, but it is a solemnity, a major feast of the church, which is, by design, rather extraordinary. But here we are now. And Oregon summer. Crisp mornings. Clear blue skies. The life-giving sun giving growth to the grass and the trees and the kale and strawberries. It is Ordinary time. Breathe in. Breathe out.
What we mean, technically, by ordinary time is that it is not a season of feast or fast. It is ordinary. More than half the year is ordinary (29 weeks total). There are the few weeks between the Epiphany and Ash Wednesday, and then the long stretch between Pentecost and Advent. Our calendar models existence. It begins in the beginning, with Advent, the preparation for the entrance of God into the world. He comes at Christmas. The incarnation is revealed in the Epiphany. The Season after Epiphany, that blip of Ordinary Time, represents the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Lent marks His turn towards Jerusalem and the atoning sacrifice He was to make for us all. Easter marks His resurrection and the Easter season His time amongst us resurrected. He Ascends, then the Holy Spirit descends on Pentecost, infusing us, Christ’s church, with the Holy Spirit of God’s love. And now, in the wake of the Christ event, we live and work while we wait for the fulness of time, the Second Coming, the closing of the circle in the fulfilment of the promises of Christ. Breathe in. Breathe out.
There was a great paint store I used to go to a lot when I was the caretaker of the monastery before we came here. (It all does come around, I’m spending a fair amount of time in paint stores here in Eugene lately). In any case, there was a framed quote on the wall of that shop that I think of regularly. It read, “Any idiot can juggle chainsaws, it’s the day to day balloon animals that wear you down. – Bozo the Clown.”
In the same vein, the brilliant Annie Dillard, in her book, The Writing Life, wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.” I remember so clearly the moment I knew I had to leave the Marine Corps. We were patrolling the Los Padres National Forest down near Ojai, California (Ventura County), looking for the industrial scale cannabis plantations the Tijuana cartel was operating on federal land. We found one with 12,000 plants, which is a lot. Our mission was dangerous enough to be very exciting for a 26 year old, but not so dangerous that it wasn’t also actually fun. I didn’t particularly believe in it, the Tijuana cartels were enemies, but the poor peasants tending the plants and the plants themselves were not, but it was exciting and it was fun, and I was under orders, so there I was.
On one patrol, we took a break at a beautiful little creek, a rare find in the Los Padres, and a sure sign cannabis might be found. The setting wasstraight out of a Steinbeck novel. The scrub brush, the sage and live oaks. My boots were off, my feet were dangling in the cool, fresh water. At that point I was just bee-bopping along with my life, not particularly mindful, about anything, and it struck me: “This is my life. This is my life happening.” My whole life had been preparing for the next thing. School. All the right, well-rounding activities. The right university. The Marines. Everything I did was intended to open opportunities for the future, for the next big thing. I didn’t know what that was supposed to be, so I kept preparing, kept keeping those options open. But in that moment, in the heat of the day, the cool of the water, the sharpness of the plants (I think every plant in SoCal sharp), the Marines in their quiet tactical seriousness mixed with foul language and fouler humor… in that moment I knew that this was my life. And I saw that I was living for an unrealized future rather than a very present present. When we got back to base camp the next day I told my commander I wanted to resign my commission, which, eventually, they accepted. That was one of my better moments. One of my clearer moments, more present ones. Breathe in. Breathe out.
The prophet Isaiah said “I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me.” That’s most of us, most of the time. Living our lives, day in, day out. Not asking for much. Not seeking anything extraordinary, just living, and loving, and fulfilling our responsibilities, avoiding suffering, maybe seeking some fun or pleasure or distraction… maybe seeking that a little too much, but then that is the fabric of American consumer culture in which we are definitively immersed. Maybe we rise to the occasion when called, most of us do, those chain saws and all, but usually it is just life, one little balloon giraffe after another, with an occasional doggie or crown for variety. For most of us our lives are a life time of Tuesday mornings, life immersed in what Wendell Berry calls it the “Art of the Commonplace.” For most of us, most of life is quiet ordinary. Breathe in. Breathe out.
We don’t value the ordinary in our society. Going along to get along is not a virtue. Being a good follower is not a virtue. Ordinary things, ordinary lives, ordinary talents and gifts and blessings and curses are not cultural ideals, but it is what most of us have for most of our lives. Everyone loves a party, a feast season; many of us appreciate a fast, a season of heightened devotion, but more than half of the year is neither, it is ordinary time. Breathe in. Breathe out. That is what most of us spend most of our time doing: breathing. Oh there is sleeping, and gathering and preparing food, digesting it, cleaning up after ourselves and others, working, in one way or another, to collect the resources we need to live. We have relationships of all sorts: some mundane, some thrilling, some infuriating, most a little of each. We have joy, we have grief. We have memories, we have hopes for the future. We have enough of some things, too much of others, not enough of yet others. There is good news. There is bad news. There is just news. The sky is falling. The sky has always been falling. (Let’s take a big breath for that one). In general, most of our lives, most of the time, are quite ordinary, in the ecclesiastical as well as cultural sense.
“I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me.” With all of that above, all the ordinariness of most of our lives, the Word of God on the lips of the prophet is very good news, because that is us, most of us, most of the time. Sure you come here and spend our hour and a half at prayer together most weeks, and we do pray well together here. A few gather more frequently, and many of us have solitary devotional practices of our own, but most of us don’t make most of our decisions based on our faith, certainly not the ordinary day to day, the how to spend your time and energy and material resources decisions, you know, most of the decisions we make in our lives. We might consider God, right and wrong in big relationship moments, or in discerning vocation moments, or voting or making a major purchase moments. But in the ordinary decisions our lives are made up of? To buy it on Amazon v. find it locally v. do without? Buying conventional v. organic v. local? Most of us don’t do a lot of seeking or asking, we usually steer our lives by habit, by convention, by the way-points laid out by our culture and its corporate overlords. Most of us waste a lot of time. And yet, always, God is ready to be to be sought out by those who do not ask, to be found by those who do not seek God. Most of our time, most of our life is ordinary. And if God is with us all of the time, then mostly, God is found in the ordinary right now of life. In the walk to the mail box, the fixing of breakfast, the pecks on the cheek on your way out the door. Where you are, God is.
Another ordinary time commences. On this lovely and ordinary summer morning, my prayer for you is to really remember that how you spend your days is how you spend your lives. That the everyday balloon animals are the challenge most of us face most of the time, and in that, in the ordinary, in the day to day, in the common place is the stuff of life, it is life as it happens, and in that, God is with you. Breathe in. Breathe out.
Now I’ll end with the poet saying it so much better than I. This is Wendell Berry’s “The Farmer, Speaking of Monuments.” It was first published in his 1971 collection Farming: A Handbook. It is slightly edited for Sunday morning appropriateness’ sake. Nothing scandalous, but maybe a bit too direct about an aspect of human sexuality that I feel good speaking aloud this morning.
Always, on their generation’s breaking wave,
men think to be immortal in the world,
as though to leap from water and stand
in air were simple for a man. But the farmer
knows no work or act of his can keep him
here. He remains in what he serves
by vanishing in it, becoming what he never was.
He will not be immortal in words.
All his sentences serve an art of the commonplace,
[to open the body of a women or a field
to take him in]. His words turn
to leaves, answering the sun with mute
quick reflections. Leaving their seed
his hands have a million graves, from which wonders
rose, bearing him no likeness. At summers
height he surrounded by green, his doing,
standing for him, awake and orderly.
In autumn all his monuments fall.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. AMEN