Listen to this sermon:
Outside the window, the night has begun to suspect that another day will find its way over the mountains. In the darkness, I slip out of bed, climb into some warm layers. My towel and swimsuit are where I placed them last night, at the foot of the bed. Cary stirs, turns over, and goes back to sleep.
It is a little over half a mile to the pond, mostly downhill. Even in midsummer, these woods are a bit chilly. The tannic smell of pine, where the pools in collect in the shoulderblades of the hills. Yellow and orange mushrooms crane their necks around the edges of fallen trees, peak out from beds of moss. My footsteps offer a steady rhythm – the melody instruments are the damn mosquito attacking my ears, the call of a wood thrush, and, now and then, the shudder and wheeze of an 18 wheeler on route 16, hurtling out of the industrial night.
Soon, down where the path dips, I can make out the glint of water through the trees.
At the shore, I change into my swimsuit, leave a small pile of clothes on the bench, and walk out onto the dock.
It’s cold. The water is still.
My body resists.
But I have come to the pond because down here, at dawn, I can be sure no other human soul will bother me. I come here to surrender utterly to the most delicious solitude.
I have come in search of Pond Solitary.
I have come for this quiet – this alone that has within it a barely perceptible sadness. A sadness that sounds like a cello – riven through with deep resonance. I come here to see what the pond will tell me with its unhurried poem of eternity, its dark mystery, its trembling equilibrium.
And so I shudder, take a breath, and slip into the water.
I need you!
Leave me alone!
Has this ever happened to you? At the very moment that you need someone – someone you depend on – that person wants to be left alone.
Each of us responds to a kind of internal rhythm. One of the tough things about being in a meaningful relationship with another human being is learning, understanding, and respecting – moving in sync with – that person’s particular rhythm.
And, to make matters even more complicated, it must be acknowledged that it works the other way around too. At the very time you are trying to figure out how to move in time with your loved one they are also trying, and sometimes failing, to understand your rhythm.
It reminds me of that “push-me-pull-me” creature from Doctor Doolittle.
When we get it right, it feels wonderful. When our rhythm is off, it feels terrible.
There are, of course, many reasons why the rhythm of a relationship may be off. It could be just that one of you has had a hard day and is just spacing out a little bit, while the other is in need of consolation.
And, of course, there are the serious causes too – problems that have to do with violence or abuse. In cases like these, the most effective way to get in rhythm with the other person, may be to stop the dance altogether. Love that is expressed through violence does not seek rhythm, it seeks dominance and as such, it cannot rightly be called love.
Underneath all of this is the question of human desire – that mischievous sprite that is forever causing drama. In the language of today’s scripture lesson, we could recognize this desire as it is expressed through the idea of searching.
After a long day and a long night of healing people, this story tells of a worn out Jesus, who, in a desperate search for some peace, gets up before dawn to find a deserted place to pray.
When Simon and his companions wake up to find Jesus gone, they go in search of him.
We should not blame them.
No doubt they are frightened that something bad has happened to their beloved teacher. They do not know that the poor man just needs a few minutes of quiet to regroup and find that well of inner strength that will keep him going.
We all need that at times, don’t we.
We all need to get up before dawn and find our deserted place, where our souls can find nourishment.
But this, by nature, is a personal need. It is a response to an inner call that, if we are honest with ourselves, we doubt anyone else will ever get.
Maybe… do you suppose, we are all attuned – as Jesus was – to rhythms that move far beyond each other, to the mysterious, primordial rhythms of the earth?
I believe it is so.
How could we not be? For there can be no doubt that our substance – the stuff from which we were molded – is the same stuff that gathered to form the stars.
We are the earth. We are eternity. We came from thence, and into it we shall return.
I have a peculiar feeling, then, that Jesus, and his disciples were both in search… in search of that eternal, mysterious, rhythm that the soul calls out to.
Jesus, responding to his pre-dawn summons, goes out to a deserted place – there to pray – to communicate directly with the Divine.
His disciples too, are in search of God – their limited understanding of God, somehow incarnate in the person of Jesus.
“Everyone is searching for you!” they say…
But are they?
In another tale – the one I put on the back of today’s bulletin, we are given another story… if you want, feel free to following along as I tell of
Rabbi Barukh’s grandson Yehiel who was playing hide and seek with another boy. He hid himself well and waited for his playmate to find him. When he had waited for a long time, he came out of his hiding place, but the other was nowhere to be seen.
Yehiel realized that [his friend] had not looked for him from the very beginning. This made him cry, and crying he ran to his grandfather and complained about his faithless friend.
Then tears brimmed in Rabbi Barukh’s eyes and he said: “God says the same thing: ‘I hide, but no one wants to seek me.’”
Finding him, Christ’s disciples say “Everyone is searching for you.”
His eyes brimming with tears, Rabbi Barukh says the opposite:
“God says the same thing: ‘I hide, but no one wants to seek me.’”
The old man’s tears are not for his Grandson’s mistreatment. His tears are shed for our human souls – how, lost in distraction, we are no longer in search of the divine.
Today, more than ever, we are distracted.
We have based our global economy upon the science of distraction.
We are so hunched in ourselves, we are incapable of looking up. We are insensible to surroundings, numb to any possibility of wonder that is beyond our own invention. Virtual reality! Virtual? Yes. Reality? No.
If sin is our prideful intention to usurp the rightful place of God, then we, in the information age, are hopelessly mired. We are so in love with our fearsomely impressive, inexhaustibly fascinating selves that we have forgotten all about the very habitat that gave rise to us, and sustains us.
Toddlers now learn to swipe an IPad before they learn to make eye contact with their parents. Teenagers plug into their phones before getting out of bed in the morning. Middle schoolers measure their self-worth through the unforgiving blunt instrument of social media “likes.”
As a people – as a species – we have shown no willingness to question the absolute power of cool.
Rabbi Barukh’s tears are for this new creature – the one that believes not in God, but in Google. Homo Incurvatus – a species curved into itself, cheerfully forsaking intention and free will in favor of the screen’s next captivating banality.
This in-curving is not just a social concern, it’s a spiritual one
After 20 summers of dawn swims, I know this pond well. Just past the mouth of the inlet – sighted off the pair of scraggly firs on shore, there is a boulder that I can stand on.
I reach down to find it with my toe, and grazing its surface, I stop swimming.
It is cool enough this morning, that the surface of the water dances with wisps of mist. I watch them, knowing that when the sun breaks over the farther shore, they will disappear like so many ghosts looking for places to hide from the light.
My body has become accustomed to the temperature of the water.
My nose, just out of the water, I can breathe without effort, while remaining completely immersed.
Now, here, I am no longer the heavy man, the size forty, extra large, the third grader whose chair collapsed beneath him. Here, I am held up by the water. I am light. I can lift off this rock and fly out over the depths that recede beneath me.
I am in the world.
The world is I
I am transformed.