The Rev. Lisa Hlass at St.Michael’s Episcopal Church in Little Rock provided an excellent example June 16, 2013 of a worship service focusing on “Caring for Creation.”
5th Sunday after Pentecost Year C, Proper 6: Creation: Celebration and Sorrow
Genesis 9:8-16; Psalm 36:5-9, Colossians 1:15-20; Luke 7:6-8:3
L. Hlass, St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, June 16, 2013
In today’s Holy Eucharist, we give special thanks for God’s creation, the beauty of which we are abundantly blessed here at St. Michael’s. Through word, song, communion, prayer, and fellowship we offer deep gratitude for the rich blessings we receive from the natural world in all its forms. We also recognize that we are not separate from Creation, but just one integral and interconnected part of it.
In the same way, in this sermon I cannot separate us from Creation and Creation from us. It’s all one. I’d like to focus on how the woman who wept and washed Jesus’ feet with her tears relates to Creation and our relationships with and within the great web of life.
What could this sinful woman possibly have to tell us about environmental awareness?
I think it has to do with the necessity, even while we’re enjoying and celebrating the beauty and wonder of Creation, of staring suffering straight in the face.
I’m going to use John Phillip Newell in his wonderful book, A New Harmony, to dig further into this theme. In the chapter, “Looking Suffering Straight in the Face,” Newell quotes Irish mystic and philosopher Noel O’Donoghue, saying, “Life is a gift shrouded in pain.” There is an ancient harmony deep within the matter of the universe. All things carry within themselves the sound of the One. But the gift of life’s essential harmony is broken. We hear only strains of it within us and between us as individuals and nations. The oneness of our relationship with the earth is broken by discord and suffering. The gift is shrouded in pain.
Newell goes on to say that life’s essential harmony is within each of us. But so is life’s brokenness. To be part of transformation is to look falseness in the face, to passionately name it and denounce it in our world, and at the same time to clearly identify its shadow within our own hearts and to do battle with it there.
Newell had this amazing dream: he was in Switzerland, sneaking up into the tower house of the famous psychotherapist and psychiatrist, Carl Jung. In the dream, the house had an exterior spiral staircase leading up to the tower, which was the place of Jung’s solitude and study. Newell is halfway up to the tower when he hears Jung’s voice above him say, “Come up.” Newell is embarrassed at being caught but delighted to be invited up.
The scene then changes. Newell and Jung are on top of the tower, looking out in all directions. They have this ancient French horn-type instrument, and they’re taking turns trying to sound the lowest note possible. Finally, during one of Jung’s attempts at the horn,
Newell stands behind him and massages his neck, thinking that if he could relax him,
Jung would be able to produce the sound, which he did – a full, clear vibrating of the lowest note resounded through them and all around, traveling from the tower out into the surrounding woods.
Then, as if in response to the sound, people come from all four directions carrying what look like ancient animal skins rolled up. They place these at the foot of the tower, and then those who had carried the animal hides unfurl them. Within each skin are human remains, thousands of years old. And it is clear that these human forbears had died from violence, from dismemberment and war.
The dream spoke to Newell of the depths of violence that we carry within us as the human species, as nations and religious traditions – layer upon layer of inherited violence.
And it spoke of the capacity for violence within each of us, in our thoughts and fears and struggles for survival.
But the presence of Dr. Jung in the dream also spoke of healing, and especially of the relationship between consciousness and healing. Jung represented the desire to reconnect with life’s deepest note, the One that unites all things.
Knowing and naming brokenness is essential in the journey toward wholeness. We will not be well by denying the wrongs that we carry within us as nations, religions, communities and individuals. Nor will we be well by downplaying them or projecting them onto others. The path to wholeness for us and for the earth will take us not around such awareness but through it, confronting the depths of our brokenness before being able to move toward healing.
Which brings us back to the sinful woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears. She was broken, and not in any way denying her brokenness. Perhaps knowing that she could be no lower in the depths of despair gave her the courage to go into a home where she would not be welcome and take the risk of laying it all out – her sinfulness and her vulnerability, before Jesus the Anointed One. What’s the worse that could happen? The religious leaders and townspeople would stone her? That would only bring relief from her torment.
In facing her brokenness, the woman shows tremendous love for Jesus, and comfort to him in his suffering, for he is on the way to his own violent death. Jesus looks into her face of pain and suffering, and offers her forgiveness and healing. She looks into his face and anoints his weary soul with the balm of God’s love.
It reminds me of a hall of mirrors, where everywhere you look you see your self reflected. Or the concept of the trinity of relationships, with us, God, all of Creation.
We look at the “other” and see our self reflected back. In so doing, we know the pain of Creation, the pain of others and our own pain as one, and our compassion is deepened.
In one of her dreamlike visions of Jesus, mystic Julian of Norwich realizes that he is handsome. And the “handsome mixture” that she notes in him is “partly sorrow” and “partly joy.” His face speaks of a knowledge of life’s delight and a knowledge of life’s pain. It is not a face that is naïve to the world’s sufferings or to the personal experience of sorrow. Nor is it a face that is so overwhelmed by sorrow that it loses its openness and wonder. To be truly beautiful and an instrument of healing in the world is to reflect in one’s countenance both life’s glory – Creation’s glory, and its pain. It is not simply a sweet face or a charming smile. It is a soul that has experienced the heights and the depths of life.
The woman in our gospel lesson looks her own sinfulness right in the face, and is forgiven and healed. Not only that, though –she is used as an instrument of God’s love, bringing hospitality and comfort to Jesus. With God’s grace, that’s how healing, reconciliation and new life come – to individuals, communities, nations, the earth. We have the opportunity and responsibility to do as the woman did. In fact, the healing of Creation depends on it. Amen.