23 January 2011
3rd Sunday after Epiphany
After we turned our oil headlights on, we stripped off a layer or two of cloths in the constant temperature of the cave’s 57 degrees. Nothing could stop us. We were going to conquer this cave! In reality, I entered a whole different world, a world that would teach me about relying on what I could not see more than what I could see.
So just about midnight my friend and I entered the cave, and found our first arrow etchings on the walls. We saw where we needed to go. We went deeper and deeper into the earth relying on what we saw on the walls. After about three hours I noticed that my head light was beginning to flicker on occasion. Then his did also. Soon, they both started to dim. By this time we knew we needed to get back, and fast. The problem, however, was that we couldn’t find any arrows pointing us in the right direction. For the longest time, and as streaks of panic began to settle in over our darkness, we finally smelled fresh cool air and found an arrow to guide us. It so happens, with just another 20 yards to go, our head lights went completely out. We managed to somehow make friends with the darkness, feeling the walls and floors until we reached the opening. I hear some of you say, “That’s the only light you brought?! True, an experienced caver brings at least three sources of light. But at that time, I wasn’t experienced in being in the darkness. When we came out, the only light we saw was that of a full moon and the glistening of the one-foot deep snow. We nearly peed in our pants we were so happy!
When we fast forwarded about thirty years I’m finding myself at the mouth of several caves, further exploring the mazes of light and darkness.
Today’s Scripture reading in Matthew told of Jesus fulfilling the prophesy to be a light in the land of darkness. At that point in his life he entered into a new stage of calling. He began to preach about darkness and death, i.e. the precursor to light and life.
His calling, in essence, was to get ready to die. In doing so, he began to call others to join him. Although they had no idea of what this service would entail, they (these ragtag, fishy, ordinary people) gallantly signed up for the mission; unbeknownst to them that they were also to learn how to die, i.e. to let go of what they thought was their spiritual reality.
All great spirituality seems to be about letting go. Letting go of our own egos and wills, and holding on only to the fresh cool air of God’s presence, in whatever form it may be. This letting go seems to take shape and break down our defensive dualistic thinking, as Richard Rohr states, only through the path of great love and/or the path of suffering. It’s not through great thinking, great programs, great books, etc. That tends to only feed our ego structure of what we believe to be “correct” thinking. True spirituality is an experience of deepening, opening, listening and waiting. It’s experiencing moments of letting go, dying if you will, to anything that may block or hinder our ability to experience God’s Presence on a moment by moment basis.
One way to deepen is to practice and experience ritual as a part of life. Just to be clear, ritual is seen differently than ceremony. Ceremonies are those times to celebrate and honor people or events or happenings. Whereas rituals take us to places that guide us to reflect on our own darkness and light. I only know of two, maybe three, rituals in the Christian church that are practiced regularly: Baptism, Ash Wednesday and Communion. I know, however, that Seekers also has many of our own rituals.
Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, about ten years ago began to offer a five day initiation model to help deepen male spirituality. It was simply called the Men’s Rites of Passage. Last November I took part in that program. It was a time, or really an experience, of using intentional ritual as a means to experience God’s presence. After I returned home, I shared with others that “I met God again.” By the way, the Rites of Passage will be held for the first time in the DC area in October of this year at Rolling Ridge. I hope that many of you men will be a part of it.
About two weeks ago I went to Arizona to be a part of another deepening process with Richard Rohr. Some of our time was spent in experiencing rituals to deepen the meaning of our personal shadows. While much of my time was spent in listening in solitude to my deeper voices, my shadows if you will, as I experienced various challenges in the wildly open deserts and mountains. The natural wild world is to me the greatest microphone of God’s Presence.
I believe it is important for us as a community and individually to be reminded of our darkness, our fragility, our false selves, in order to meet God again and again and again, while learning to live a resurrected life.
In a moment you will witness a short ritual. I invite you to use this time to not “watch” it, not analyze it, but rather (from your seats) allow yourself simply to enter into it. Empty yourself in order to be filled. Experience it. Deeply hear the music and the words. Take it in and let it go inside of you where it needs to go. At the end, you will recognize the song of celebration as it is sung in the Navajo language.
[As music starts (Sorrow/Gladiator), the walkers (dressed in black) begin to walk very slowly and in unison. As you walk, speak out the words below, softly at first, then louder, as you walk from the back of the sanctuary to the front. As you say each word, break off a piece of branch.]
[As the walkers reach the front, begin circling around the candle, speaking softly the four phrases.]
We are in this place, this space, at this moment in chronos time. We live our lives with the illusion that we can build our own castles, our own Kevlar kingdoms, with the intention to preserve our meager emotional and psychological rations, while at the same time guard us from the perceived threatening pain and suffering of the world.
Our feeble and often exhausting attempts usually disguise and suppress our deeper selves.
[Walkers speak louder the four phrases. 2x around the candle. Then softer, as Kevin reads.]
Did you not know
That you walk in darkness,
That your flame continues to go out?
Did you not know
That when you were baptized
You were lowered into your death? [Walkers abruptly stop and fall/kneel to the floor)
You went into the tomb with him,
And there joined Christ in death.
When you went under the water,
You left the old self behind,
Could it be any clearer?
Our old and false self has to be buried
Again and again!
Did you not know
That you have been crucified with Christ?
[Walkers abruptly stand up and confidently look around. After laying their branch on the altar, one at a time he/she will pick up a piece of cloth from the floor, look into the eyes of the one in front of you and humbly drape it over his/her shoulders.] When the fourth person is receiving their cloth, Kevin reads…
And, within your brokenness, you must seek
And live his resurrection in you
Again and again!
[Walkers: Reverently walk over and pick up another branch. Holding the branch in front of you, lined up facing the audience.]
When the false self is gone,
There is nothing more to die.
Only a new life to be experienced.
We are truly broken, and yet we live.
[After Kevin says, “We are truly broken, and yet we live,” walkers go the end of each row, breaking off a piece of branch. They give the piece to the person and bless him/her by saying, “We are broken, and yet we live” (instruct them to bless the next person) while the music plays (Amazing Grace in Navejo).]