First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Rev. Kent H. Little
Date: September 8, 2019
Wisdom Readings: Rumi, Isaiah 2:1-4, John 1:1-5
Message: “Dark Expectation”
Hardship may dishearten at first, but every hardship passes away. All despair is followed by hope; all darkness is followed by sunshine.
In days to come the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in
God’s paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. God shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through this Word, and without the Word not one thing came into being. What has come into being in the Word was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
Saint John of the Cross – selected readings from Sayings of Light and Love –
O my God and my delight, for your love I have also desired to give my soul to composing these sayings of light and love concerning you. Since, although I can express them in words, I do not have the works and virtues they imply (which is what pleases you, O my Lord, more than the words and wisdom they contain), may others, perhaps stirred by them, go forward in higher service and love – in which I am wanting. I will thereby find consolation, that these sayings be an occasion for your finding in others the things that I lack.
O Lord, my God, who will seek you with simple and pure love, and not find that you are all one can desire, for you show yourself first and go out to meet those who seek you.
Those who fall alone remain alone in their fall, and they value their soul little since they entrust it to themselves alone.
God is more pleased by one work, however small, done secretly, without desire that it be known, than a thousand done with the desire that people know of them. Those who work for God with purest love not only care nothing about whether others see their works, but do not even seek that God himself know of them. Such persons would not cease to render God the same services, with the same joy and purity of love, even if God were never to know of these.
Be attentive to your reason in order to do what it tells you concerning the way to God. It will be more valuable before your God than all the works you perform without this attentiveness and all the spiritual delights you seek.
Keep spirituality tranquil in a loving attentiveness to God, and when it is necessary to speak, let it be with the same calm and peace.
Biographical information taken from a variety of sources… Saint John of the Cross – June 24, 1542 – December 14, 1591… Ordained a Carmelite priest in 1567 at age 25, John met Teresa of Avila and like her, vowed himself to the primitive Rule of the Carmelites. As partner with Teresa and in his own right, John engaged in the work of reform, and came to experience the price of reform: increasing opposition, misunderstanding, persecution, imprisonment.
He came to know the cross acutely—to experience the dying of Jesus—as he sat month after month in his dark, damp, narrow cell with only God. Known primarily in his writings; poetry and prose In Medina he met the influential Carmelite nun, Teresa of Ávila (in religion, Teresa of Jesus). She was staying in Medina to found the second of her new convents. She immediately talked to him about her reformation projects for the Order: she was seeking to restore the purity of the Carmelite Order by reverting to the observance of its “Primitive Rule” of 1209.
He was jailed in a monastery where he was kept under a brutal regime that included public lashings before the community at least weekly and severe isolation in a tiny stifling cell measuring barely 10 feet by 6 feet. Except when rarely permitted an oil lamp, He had to stand on a bench to read his prayers by the light through the hole into the adjoining room. He had no change of clothing and a penitential diet of water, bread and scraps of salt fish.
John of the Cross is considered one of the foremost Spanish poets. Perhaps his most famous being The Dark Night, though it is often referred to as The Dark Night of the Soul, that is not the title John used. The Dark Night of the Soul which is the reference to the hardships and struggles encountered in the detachment from the world… it is not only about these struggles; the poem is about the journey with and through them in our search and encounter with the Divine. This darkness shapes and molds us, prepares us for the union with God.
1. One dark night,
fired with love’s urgent longings
— ah, the sheer grace! —
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.
2. In darkness, and secure,
by the secret ladder, disguised,
— ah, the sheer grace! —
in darkness and concealment,
my house being now all stilled.
3. On that glad night,
in secret, for no one saw me,
nor did I look at anything,
with no other light or guide
than the one that burned in my heart.
4. This guided me
more surely than the light of noon
to where he was awaiting me
— him I knew so well —
there in a place where no one appeared.
5. O guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united
the Lover with his beloved,
transforming the beloved in her Lover.
6. Upon my flowering breast
which I kept wholly for him alone,
there he lay sleeping,
and I caressing him
there in a breeze from the fanning cedars.
7. When the breeze blew from the turret,
as I parted his hair,
it wounded my neck
with its gentle hand,
suspending all my senses.
8. I abandoned and forgot myself,
laying my face on my Beloved;
all things ceased; I went out from myself,
leaving my cares
forgotten among the lilies.
~ St. John of the Cross
As I lay alone in bed about 3:30am Saturday morning with only the light of streetlights and the hall streaming into my room I tried to ponder this poem of the Dark Night. Thoughts wandered through my head of struggles and hardships, of losses and possibilities, and my own striving to encounter the Divine in my life. Words from my favorite seminary professor came to me as I lay there trying to meditate and clear my mind…
Tex Sample and Earthy Mysticism…
What follows here is a testimony of narrative where this strange God appears. Such appearances supply the mystical states that have come to shape my life. I am not helped much by conventional approaches to spirituality. I find it almost impossible to do “devotions.” Daily Bible study in the sense of devoting twenty to thirty minutes a day never worked for me. I cannot get around to scheduled times for prayer on my knees with head bowed. I find labyrinths and prayer beads boring. I am ever and again distracted in silent meditation. I simply cannot sustain a spirituality based in such things. Yet, Bible study, prayer, worship, and Eucharist form the heart of my practices, but it is a different spirituality.
I do not regard myself as unusual or special. My hunch, and it is more than that, is that a host of people will recognize themselves in what I describe here. What is here is, clearly my story, but it is not about me. It is about a God of surprises, of One who comes in the ordinary and the seamy. It is about a God who will goose you. It is about mystical moments when clearly the only thing that finally matters is this God who will never leave us alone, especially in the ordinary and anguar places of life. It is, I hope, a spirituality for unspiritual people.
It has been in these words, when I first read them, that I have so often found the presence of the Divine in my own journey through the Dark. In those times of loss and heartache as I have wrestled with my own faith, cast my own doubts, asked my own questions, curled up in the fetal position with the wonderings of life…
I have shared a bit of my journey in the loss of my brother with you… and the grace I found, not isolated in my room, but in a gathering of friends and strangers, others trying to make sense and put one foot in from of the other in a metaphorical darkness in the living room of our home.
I remember January 1992 and the death of TruDee’s mom after a long battle with cancer.
February 1992 and the death of my cousin at a much too young age.
March of 1992 and the death of a favorite uncle and fishing buddy of mine.
April of 1992 and the death of my grandmother.
It was a dark time… a difficult time of compounded grief and loss. I remember going to my aunt’s house after my grandmother had died and seeing the metal picnic table where my uncle and I used to clean fish and decided to take a walk. My sister caught up with me and said something to the effect of, “I know it is difficult, grandma was kind of the last connection we had with our mom.” I looked at Becky and said, “Grandma is going to have to get in line, I’m not done grieving uncle’s death yet.” And with that we walked back to the house filled with family.
Sometimes the darkness does not wait for the light before it layers another darkness upon us. It is important to remember the journey at some point in the midst of that grief… we are on our way somewhere… and I believe it is important to remember we are on our way somewhere together…
I understand the value of solitude and sitting with one’s pain in the darkness of life… However, even as a borderline introvert… I find the light of God in the darkness in and through my connections with others. For me, this Dark Night of the Soul is the journey toward God… yet, it is almost womblike in nature…a preparatory place from which we are born when the time is right.
I recall a year after the murder of Dr. Tiller in Wichita, KS and that dark time hosting a panel discussion at our church around a book and its author about the event and about the importance of women’s reproductive care. An attorney was talking about that dark time and said, “The pendulum always swings back.”
As I lay in my bed alone Saturday morning in the dark I thought of those words in relation to the world we live in…I am still waiting for the pendulum to swing… but it is here in community, together, we draw our power… it is here in community the pendulum begins to swing…Perhaps we are in this darkness filled with gun violence, children caged at our border, the limiting of refugees and asylum seekers,
Perhaps we are in this darkness of stripping away of the rights of our LGBTQIA+ siblings, blatant untruths told from the highest levels of our leadership, human trafficking, oppression and shaming of the poor and sick, religious attacks, white supremacy, racism, …the layer upon layer of darkness that continues to consume our nation and world …it is exhausting to wait for the pendulum to swing back… it can be soul sucking to journey with this darkness seeking and yearning for the presence of God.
However, perhaps if we join John in just that understanding… Perhaps we are in this darkness…this present darkness, because it is a path, a Way to the light, a precursor to the presence, a preparatory posture for what is to come, a purifying act to be in the … to BE the presence of the Divine… the presence of God in the world… Perhaps… we are in the darkness of the womb preparing to be justice, kindness, humility… to BE justice making, loving as God loves, the very reflection…. The very presence of God in the world today… perhaps it is the waiting that is the most difficult part… What is wrong with being born into the world here and now…. To make a difference in this moment. Our present darkness has a purpose for us… not to tear us down… but to build us up… to rise against the powers that be who want us to fear the dark, to fear the other, to get stuck in that dark place until we are broken… but I tell you…
Hardship may dishearten at first, but every hardship passes away.
All despair is followed by hope; all darkness is followed by sunshine!
It is here in community that hope and sunshine breaks forth…
It is here in community swords will be beat into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks. It is here in community where war will be learned no more! It is here in community the light will shine in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it!
It is time…. To be born anew from the preparatory darkness of the womb…the preparatory darkness of the soul… into the light of God. Tarry for a time in the darkness and then
RISE Up and Be the Light of the World! Make IT So!