Sunday, October 15, 2006

when the shadow falls (m4a)

“When the Shadow Falls”

The Rev. Robert G. Moore III
Sunday, October 15, 2006
Proper 23 (28) Year B

A Reading from the Hebrew Scriptures:

Job 23:1-9, 16-17: Then Job answered: "Today also my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy despite my groaning. Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling! I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments. I would learn what he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me. Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; but he would give heed to me.” There an upright person could reason with him, and I should be acquitted forever by my judge. "If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him. God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me; If only I could vanish in darkness, and thick darkness would cover my face!

A Reading from Psalm:

Psalm 22:1-15: 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. Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame. But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people. All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads; "Commit your cause to the LORD; let him deliver-- let him rescue the one in whom he delights!" Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother's breast. On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me; they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.

A Reading from the Christian Gospel:

Mark 10:17-31: As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: 'You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.'" He said to him, "Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth." Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." They were greatly astounded and said to one another, "Then who can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible." Peter began to say to him, "Look, we have left everything and followed you." Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age--houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions--and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first."

Okay, our readings for this day aren’t exactly the “feel-good-hit” of the church year. I suppose our gospel gets around to something that might be considered “good news,” toward the end, kind of, but not until we’ve likely stopped listening, pummeled to bits by the moans and groans of our good buddy Job and the Psalmist.

I stopped reading them and decided to put off thinking about them too much. Surfed on over to the New York Times page, checked out the front page, the science section, the technologly section, and finally the health section. I’ve got a pretty well-worn path in my daily procrastination routine, and there is perhaps nothing more suited to the vice of procrastination than a laptop tethered to cyberspace. I’ve counted them. There are about six or seven sites I regularly peruse when I’m trying to divert myself. And only six or seven, among the untold riches of human and technological interest that make up the ADD mushroom cloud and climbing columnar stellar nursery that is the internet. The New York Times, Salon, the Drudge Report (I like to tell myself its for opposition research, but the fact is its sensationalist headlines and the tantalizingly uncommon animated sirens and uniquely effective digest of tabloid blather mostly keep me coming back) the Richmond Times-Dispatch, a couple of discussion forums, alma mater-related and mac-related, mark the width and breadth of my little myopic corner of vast ocean of new and unheard of stuff that comprises what used to be called the world-wide-web. If I’m really, really bored, or really, really trying to avoid something I should be doing, I’ll throw in a few more newspaper and magazine sites, or wikipedia, looking for something I’d like to think I’m drawn to because its fresh and undeniably, universally interesting. But really I’m drawn to many somethings because they glimmer of an unconscious promise in propping up my world view ~ already constructed and rehearsed over and over and over already, for many years. My mind tries to break out of this monotonous routine, and on rare occasions it does, but much more often fails and it falls back into the deep rut of expectation and something approaching an apathy that feels itself a lot like comfort and safety.

And I’m like this in a lot of ways. Maybe you are too? I listen to CDs over and over. I find myself looking for books that will might make me feel like lots of books I’ve read before did. I find myself gravitating to the same few shards of holy scripture that also promise to prop up my world view, like a pavlovian dog licking the electric pleasure switch, salivating on cue at the ring of the church bell, the dinner bell, the telephone bell, but who always has an unsatiated belly as the ringing fades to memory.

And, perhaps as a result, I’m bored a lot. Maybe you are too? Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard this before. This or that was a fine and grand thought, a brilliant celestial supernova, almost sensual in its allure – when I was nineteen. Now, it flickers and dies the death of a flashlight bulb hooked up to the anemic juice of an overused battery. I keep licking the electric pleasure switch, slapping the food door lever even more fiercely for an ever lesser reward. And I chant the real chorus of my generation and the ones to follow, “What can you say now that I haven’t heard a trillion times before, what can you play now that will move me to tears and leave me wanting more?"1

So I read today’s scriptures and I think the same tired old thoughts, hearing this stuff that I’ve heard a trillion times before. Yep. Job’s got it right. I don’t care what the rest of this little parable has to say. Job’s got it. God is nowhere to be found. The psalmist wants to know why God has forsaken him. ‘Cause God’s not there, you jerk. Shut up, already.’ And the gospel’s got the greatest hits record, worn clean through by the scratchy little needle. Last shall be first, fat man and camels in the eye of a needle, go sell it all and give it to the poor, follow me!

This article in the Health section of the New York Times site caught my attention. “Out-of-Body Experience? Your Brain is to Blame”2 screamed the headline to that vast region of my brain that is simultaneously embarrassed by and craves high-minded articles about the supernatural and scientific testing, paranormal studies and the like. Just can’t get enough of this all too credulous stuff. Would have been right at home in the theosophical society hokum of latter nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By accident of birth I missed it, though, so I have to settle for this stuff in the New York Times once in a blue moon.

Turns out that doctors accidentally discovered a rather curious phenomenon while testing epileptic patients who had electrodes implanted in their brains. The doctors were of course trying to help explain seizures through pinpointing possible abnormal brain tissue. Instead, when they sent mild electric current to the electrodes that were implanted in the angular gyrus in the temporal parietal junction of the brain, and asked the conscious patient to describe what she experienced when this happened, as they had with many other areas of the brain, they got a response they weren’t expecting so much. “When the current flowed, she said: 'I am at the ceiling. I am looking down at my legs.’ When the current ceased, she said: ‘I'm back on the table now. What happened?’3 Out of body experience at the flip of a switch. Another lady with an ever so slightly different electrode location reported that she “had a weird sensation that another person was lying beneath her on the bed. The figure, she said, felt like a ''shadow'' that did not speak or move; it was young, more like a man than a woman, and it wanted to interfere with her.”4 One of the doctors said, ''The research shows that the self can be detached from the body and can live a phantom existence on its own, as in an out-of-body experience, or it can be felt outside of personal space, as in a sense of a presence.”5

Near-Death, Out-of-Body and Transcendent-Mystic Experience. Ghosts and goblins and God. Maybe all just a broken little circuit station in our wrinkled, fatty, soaked brains; flickering flashlight bulbs and psychotic schizophrenic supernovas; chemicals and blood and electricity and quivering, wet, tender flesh.

I guess there was a time in which I would have found all this pretty depressing and would have spent some significant time looking for some other take on this, thinking through alternative explanations that would allow me to keep my world-view propped up, that would let mystery and the supernatural hinter-lands shine on over the horizon of secured and locked-up truth. And I guess I still do, only I’m a little more (but not much more) sophisticated about it. But I do find mystery and magic here. And when I slip into Being John Malcovitch’s little portal door on the 7 and ½ floor, I get spit back out on the Jersey Turnpike of Job and Psalm 22 and Mark 10.

And here I read the pain when the electricity is turned off: when that shadowy, slippery menacing God slips from behind us and the incarnation happens, when the shadow slips into our flesh and bones and pumping hearts, when God ceases to float in the happy ether up there on the ceiling and tumbles into the tube-tied corpse below, excrement and urine bags hanging on the side of the bed. When the stranger approaches us from behind and crashes into us, we might wonder with Job where the stranger went, why the stranger can no longer be felt, why he is no longer there to reason with to argue with, plead with, beg for mercy. When the shadow falls, we might wonder with the Psalmist why it has forsaken us, why it must be that when “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death” that it disappears from our sight like a roach running from the light.

But Jesus says we should not call him good, for only God floating happy up there on the ceiling and lurking behind me in the shadow is good. Jesus might even say the difference between him and us is in degree and not kind. And when asked how one might be saved, Jesus prescribes painful loss, the soul blowing wind of torment that is a rich man falling into poverty, that is the loss of family and friend, kin and ally, a shadow falling into a corpse, a stranger merging from behind, a camel sifted and filtered, sinew and muscle and bone and blood, through the eye of a needle, a man nailed to a bloody cross. That is how we might be saved. Not that we should seek it, who in their right mind would seek it?!? We’d only seek it if we didn’t know that life itself will deal the blow for every single one of us in its own sweet time. God disappears from our sight in such times because those are the times in which God’s eye opens in us, in which God breathes through our mouths, when God screams with our tongue and in which God tastes for God’s self the throbbing pain that can be human life.

When the electric current stops, it reveals the utter fiction that there is some sort of divide between a phantom God and God’s children, Jesus Christ and all of us. We are one in the same. Has not our faith taught us through recitation on thousands upon thousands upon thousands of lips that Jesus the Christ is 100% Divine; that Jesus the Christ is 100% human? God lives in our pain and barters in the bargain God’s love for this painfully beautiful world and for the tender, vulnerable creatures who share our lot, doomed to rise up, to live and fall into dust. And God lives in our temporal suffering and barters in the bargain for but moments lived in pain, in doubt, in loss, in agony the one birthright promised to the children of God: an eternal life, lived in the fullness of time, lived long enough to be the arch that bends toward justice, that bends to forgiveness, that bends to a transforming, soul-shaking, universe creating and destroying love. That it might be true, Amen.

1 Brendan Benson, “Them and Me,” The Alternative to Love, 2005.
2 Sandra Blakeslee, NYTimes, October 3, 2006.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.

1 Comments:

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