Sermon for Sunday, February 9, 2014

Psalm 46 and selections from T.S. Eliot’s poem “Burnt Norton”

“Away From Our Twittering World”

         Today is the first sermon of a four-part series: “On The Journey With Faith & Poetry: A Faith-Based Study Of T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

www.FranklinCircleChurch.org

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher; Twitter: @FranklinCircle, #TSE4quartets

Pastor’s Blog: https://nearwestclevepastor.wordpress.com

To hear T. S. Eliot read his poem “Burnt Norton,” go online to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9xDpueV1U8k

To see a video of this sermon, go online here: http://youtu.be/7Nxc2kT3ThQ

g9510.20_mindful.inddApparently 2014 has been named “The Year Of Mindfulness.”  I’m not sure if it was just the good editors at Time Magazine or some larger, greater, wiser body that has picked the term and the year, but there it is.  If you haven’t started being “mindful” then you better get cracking, cause you only have 11 more months to do so! (1)

I just love it when ancient practices and rituals become hip and trendy again.  “Mindfulness” is just a fancy word for contemplative prayer and meditation.  The Hebrew and Christian scriptures are filled with examples, both good and not so good, of mindfulness, Jesus IconGardenGethsemanehimself being a preeminent example of one who was mindful.  From his heading out into the wilderness alone at the start of his ministry, to his taking a handful of disciples to Gethsemane to pray that fateful night he was to be betrayed, Jesus understood the best way to deal with the whirlwind of our world was to “steal away.”

Besides the fact that our culture loves trends, fads, and anything hip, there is something to be said for a greater need for mindfulness in our day, especially in a technology-inundated world like ours.  Trend-spotter Ann Mack noted, “[Mindful living] has staying power, because our world is only going to become more saturated with technology, and therefore people content young man sitting meditating in comfy chair on whitehave to find ways to counteract that.  We’re reassessing our relationship with technology.  Over the last decade, we’ve allowed technology to rule us.  Now we’re trying to be more mindful in the way we use technology and find more balance.” (2)

No one knows this more than I do, social media and technology buff that I am.  It is very hard to be mindful of just one thing or ponder just one thought when you have the world at your fingertips.

T.S. Eliot, 1930

T.S. Eliot, 1930

But poet T.S. Eliot nonetheless captured the timeless human struggle eloquently 70 years ago, in a less-technologically-driven age, when he wrote:

 “Distracted from distraction by distraction

           Filled with fancies and empty of meaning

           Tumid apathy with no concentration

           Men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind

           That blows before and after time,… Not here.

           Not here the darkness, in this twittering world.”

anxietyWhatever our distractions that distract us by distracting are, whether our obsession with love lost or family in need; our worries about work, health, or politics; or the agitation that comes from too much twittering technology too close and too tempting, our anxieties can get the best of us and make our days long and our nights exhausting.  I daresay not one of us doesn’t long for more moments of peace, focus, and self-assurance, so that, in the words of mystic Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Eliot expresses our yearning so well.  He describes what we long for by writing,

         “The inner freedom from the practical desire,

The release from action and suffering, release from the inner

           And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded

           By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving,

           … both a new world

           And the old made explicit, understood

           In the completion of partial ecstasy,

           The resolution of its partial horror.”

Alas, that sounds so exquisite and calming: freedom… release… grace…  and the coming together of new and old, the fulfillment of ecstasy and the letting go of horror.  From a purely non-spiritual standpoint, this kind of mindfulness has proven to offer very real and tangible benefits!  Recent studies have linked mindfulness with emotional stability and improved sleep, increased focus and memory, enhanced creativity, and lower stress levels, among a host of other positive health outcomes.

But we know there is more to this mindfulness than just reduced blood pressure and a more time in the REM phase of sleep.  We know that to be deeply and profoundly aware of life, ourselves included, is to be more deeply and profoundly aware of the divine, and the undeniable fact that we were created by God to thrive and flourish.  The ancient poet sang the truth that all of us find when we are deep in meditation, filled by contemplative prayer, fully mindful:

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;

though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.

Cleveland Skyline, by Allen V. Harris

Cleveland Skyline, by Allen V. Harris

God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns…

“Be still, and know that I am God!”… The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

 

The psalmist helps us answer the plaintive question, “But how?!?” How can we become more mindful, centered, and spiritually aware?  Do we have to get away and immerse ourselves in nature to be mindful.  No, not necessarily, for “God is in the midst of the city,” also!  Are we more spiritually grounded when our security is assured first?  Not necessarily for God is the one who “breaks the bow, and shatters the spear, [God] burns the shields with fire.”  How do we trust that God is our refuge and strength?  The answer is as challenging as well as it is simple: “‘Be still, and know that I am God!” the voice says to us when we slow down enough to listen.

keep-calm-and-be-yourselfThe secret to being mindful, to countering the effects of anxiety, distraction, and compulsion, doesn’t lie in some new fangled technique or the latest guru, although they may help.  Finding inner peace doesn’t require you go here or leave there.  For the psalmist and, indeed, Jesus, it is to simply be.  We don’t have to be God.  That job is filled.  We just have to be ourselves.  The greatest spiritual challenge is the one most easily accomplished.

My mother taught me this.  No, not that she was the model of tranquility, but she did know this truth when she entered the doors of the hospital, and then later the nursing home, where she worked.  Both from how she talked about patients and how I observed her with residents, I saw the most amazingly centered woman allow people to simply be.  If they could chat with her, she chatted.  If they were in a coma or simply could not move nor respond in any way, she treated them just the same.  She let them be, and they responded with the gift of letting my mom be.  I saw Christ in the way my mother treated her patients, and this gave them, her, and me great serenity.

Let’s make a promise to each other: Let’s not only make 2014 the year of mindfulness, let’s make the rest of our lives the lifetime of mindfulness.  Grounded in the knowledge of God’s creating love, Christ’s redeeming love, and the Holy Spirit’s empowering love, let us simply be, and allow others the grace to be also.

Let me end with one very practical suggestion.  There is the opportunity for the practice of mindfulness that happens regularly here at Franklin Circle every week.  Joan McGuire leads a Near West Yoga group Monday’s at 5:30 p.m. and Wednesdays at 6:00 p.m., both in our parlor on the first floor.

Let it be.  Amen.

(1) For more on “mindfulness,” go online to: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/04/this-is-proof-that-mindfu_n_4697734.html?&ncid=tweetlnkushpmg00000033

(2) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/02/will-2014-be-the-year-of-_0_n_4523975.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000003

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