United Church of Jaffrey
Have you ever been to a county fair at noon?
But go at dusk, and the circling lights of the ferris wheel will beckon you in. The concessions are all a-clatter with spatulas and deep fryers. The cotton candy machine is whirring. French fries, corndogs, funnel cakes. Somewhere in the distance, a spooky tarantella plays out over the gaudy painted horses of the carousel. The clang of bells. Kids yelling at the bumper cars. The tilt-a-whirl spinning neon against the sky.
It’s all there during the day, but minus the magic.
There is something about dusk that makes things beautiful.
I am a crepuscular creature…
Do you know what I mean by that?
The word “crepuscular” is not often used, so you may not be familiar with what a “crepuscular creature” is.
Some creatures, like possums, bushbabies, hedgehogs, raccoons, and of course, bats and owls, only come out at night.
These are nocturnal creatures.
Other creatures, like ostriches, chimpanzees, elephants, squirrels and butterflies, prefer to be active during the day. Biologists refer to these creatures as “diurnal.”
What then, is a crepuscular creature?
The word “Crepuscular” comes from the Latin word crepusculum which means “twilight.”
A crepuscular creature, than, is a creature that is active at dawn and at dusk – the times when the world transitions from dark to light, or from light to dark.
Rabbit. Barn swallow. Deer. Wombat, chinchilla and Ocelot. These creatures are all crepuscular.
And if I may, I would like to add myself to that list…
Moose, Capybara, skunk and Mark.
I claim a crepuscular nature for two reasons.
The first is aesthetic: the world is more lovely at these “in-between” times,
Because, at first light, the mist rises from the surface of the lake…
Because the hummocky old pasture, transforms, at dusk, into a miraculous festival of fireflies…
And because, in the half-light, the doe and her fawn wander out from the far line of trees…
I claim to be crepuscular…
for the sake of beauty.
And secondly, I am crepuscular, for a religious reason.
Dawn and dusk are mysterious,
Dawn and dusk are neither this or that.
They do not state the truth outright – they whisper hints of the truth from the shadows, or from the distance.
“Tell all the truth, but tell it slant” said Emily Dickinson. “The Truth must dazzle gradually / Or every man be blind”
As a poet, I am a lover of dawn and duck – the countries uncertainty.
The hours of hope and despair.
Let us turn, now to the two scripture passages that Brenda read for us this morning.
One was from the Book of Jeremiah
And the other was a psalm. Psalm 1.
These passages have some strong similarities.
Both are concerned with the ideas of blessing and curse.
Both use the metaphor of growing things
Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals
They shall be like a shrub in the desert…
They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.
The message is quite clear.
If you place your trust in mortals, Jeremiah says, you will be perpetually in need. Always thirsty. Never at ease.
Those who trust in the LORD, though, enjoy a different life. Jeremiah says that such blessed people are…
like a tree planted by water,
sending out its roots by the stream.
It shall not fear when heat comes,
and its leaves shall stay green;
in the year of drought it is not anxious,
and it does not cease to bear fruit.
Blessing and curse.
The blessed are planted by water.
They have no fear.
The cursed live in parched land
Perpetually in need
Truth, here, is stark.
You are either active during the day or active during the night.
There is nothing crepuscular about it.
The same can be said of Psalm 1:
Those who pay no heed to the wicked are like
trees planted by streams of water
While, on the other hand,
The wicked are like chaff that the wind drives away.
But this way of thinking is not unfamiliar to us…
It is all too familiar!
As soon as we learn to walk, we start playing the games:
Cops and Robbers
Cowboys and Indians
As soon as we are old enough to go into a movie theater, the message is spoon fed to us over and over again:
Luke Skywalker versus Darth Vader
Spiderman versus the Green Goblin
Superman versus Lex Luthor.
There are good guys – who are blessed
And there are bad guys – who are cursed.
And there are reasons why this stark non-crepuscular message is everywhere.
It’s everywhere, because it’s easy.
And since its easy… it’s comforting.
If everything is as simple as good versus bad, all you have to do is say:
and you’re all set.
If you want to control someone else, that’s its easy too. Just say “They’re bad.”
And your all set.
And if you want to get rid of the person you don’t like, no problem.
If you are an elf, killing an orc is not a problem.
If you are Han Solo, killing a storm trooper is no problem.
These deaths carry no moral weight. Orcs and storm troopers have no value.
Because they are “bad.”
Why are they bad?
Because you say so!
Like every other religion in the world…
Has been ill-used.
On innumerable occasions, in the last 2000 years, since the Christ walked the earth, Christians have proclaimed themselves good, and used that simple proclamation to justify oppressing and even killing others.
Of this painful irony, the great Frederick Douglass, may have put it best when he described the pious Christian slaveowner who would “wield the blood-clotted cowskin during the week and fill the pulpit on a Sunday, claiming to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus…”
But though Christianity, like all religions, is susceptible to hypocrisy, this does not mean that Christ himself was a hypocrite.
Christ himself, who taught us that we must love our enemies …
Christ himself who taught us to love God and in the next breath taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves.
This Christ was not a hypocrite.
His lessons were not the easy lessons.
He did not say: “Don’t worry, you’re good.”
He said: “Feed the hungry.”
He did not say “Imprison bad people”
He said: “Visit the prisoner.”
He did not come for vengeance…
He came “for the forgiveness of sins”
These were the innovations of heart
The hard lessons.
They were not comforting because they were easy.
They were worth it because they were hard.
From where I sit, I can feel the warmth of a log burning in the woodstove.
Beyond the stove, the windows frame the limbs of our Norway Maple, drawn dark against the clean winter sky.
In the middle of February, the land lies beneath a blanket of snow.
As the day recedes…
the outline of the trees sharpen in twilight’s brittle chill.
winter trees — so austere. So withdrawn.
As the day comes to a close, they reach into a cold sky.
Denuded, they seem almost dead.
But they are not.
A winter tree is not only a winter tree.
Add only some time, and the angle of the sun, and this same tree will burst forth in bud.
The full summer canopy trembles now – a memory, and a potential.
To love an enemy is to see them truly, in their despair, and know also their hope for fullness.
our enemy is just a tree in winter, stripped, by the season, off all its leaves.
Let us see them in their fallow, and love them for their bursting forth – the lush canopy of their midsummer.