Important Disclaimer

Since I currently have several employers/supervisors/churches/etc., please know that none of the words on my blog represent them or their beliefs. This blog is my own creation.

It also does not represent my children's perspective, nor my mother's; they think I am funny, but misguided.
(Quick update: only my mother thinks I'm funny now.)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Dropped Out of the Almighty's Pocket

Sunday, January 29, 2012
Sermon by Katie Mulligan

Scripture Readings: Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28 and Luke 15:1-10

I have often wondered what it means that there are three stories of being lost, one right after another, in the gospel of Luke. Often we focus on the prodigal son story—and why not? After all, there’s something for everybody in that story. The younger brother who gets too big for his britches, or just tired of sitting in the shadows, and goes off to see the world and find himself. He takes with him his inheritance, squanders it, and gets into trouble. We see the younger brother and see ourselves, or our loved ones, as we have been (or are perhaps now), wasteful, lost, sinful, bringing doom down upon ourselves. And who among us hasn’t had the opportunity to truly humble ourselves to another? The prodigal son’s return mirrors our own journeys back into relationship. Perhaps we’ve found such grace that he did, or perhaps not, but eating humble pie, well we’ve all had to do that.

And the older brother! Any takers? Oh, I know there’s some older brothers here! Worked HARD for his money. Every morning he got up and went all in. He worked 14 hour days. He put in his time, he earned his tenure, he saved into that retirement plan. He was in the union. He marched in the protests. He voted every year. He was dutiful toward his father and gave at the office AND at home. Perhaps you remember the song from the Kinks, “A Well Respected Man”?

'Cause he gets up in the morning,
And he goes to work at nine,
And he comes back home at five-thirty,
Gets the same train every time.
'Cause his world is built 'round punctuality,
It never fails.

And he's oh, so good,
And he's oh, so fine,
And he's oh, so healthy,
In his body and his mind.
He's a well respected man about town,
Doing the best things so conservatively.
Oh, we know the older brother—we have been the older brother. Well do we know the glorious feeling of being RIGHT. Why just last night I had such a moment. And so there is that sin too.

The story of these two brothers is full of the sorts of sins one willingly commits—full of the way we lose ourselves through our own willful and foolish actions. But the first two stories in this mini-series provide another perspective. Let us turn to the sheep.

I don’t know much about sheep, although my pastor friend George does. But I have heard that they wander sometimes and get themselves into trouble. They get stuck on overhangs and the shepherd has to get them out of whatever trouble they have wandered into. It’s not a malicious sort of thing—the sheep isn’t deliberately abandoning the flock to cause trouble, it just sort of makes it’s way, without care for what the other sheep are doing, or how much time and resources it might take, or how exasperated the shepherd might be at having to go after the sheep yet again. It just, wanders. And we’re like that sometimes aren’t we? We get into trouble without thinking. We were careless, we just didn’t know. We wander off and get lost, and possibly, if we just paid some attention, we might get ourselves back to the flock. But at any rate the shepherd comes along and saves the day and there is great rejoicing.

But there is another kind of being lost. And it is more common than we acknowledge. Think about the last time you were lost—truly lost! Perhaps you were in a strange city and suddenly the directions you had no longer made sense. Someone said, “turn right at the elm tree and then make a left at the gas station.” They uttered the kiss of death “You can’t miss it!” And you did miss it, because the elm tree had no leaves and the gas station was torn out last year. And you stood there, lost. You lost all sense of direction, you had no bearings, there was no way to tell which way you were supposed to go.

May we extend that? Have you had such a moment in your life—buffeted by the winds of change or sorrow? Every which way you turn there is another stumbling block? Nothing is going right—you’ve lost your job, your spouse, a pet? The bills are piling up, the money isn’t coming in to pay them? Suddenly it’s the year when people close to you are dying. Friends walk away for reasons you don’t quite understand. You wonder where you will live next month. Unemployment has run out. You think there’s something wrong with your body, but there isn’t health insurance. So you push that to the back of your mind.

People say to you “how do you get up in the morning?” And you look at them incredulously and think “by putting one foot on the floor and then the other. And then I stand up.” Or lost in your grief and pain, you are forced to hear for the 15th time in a week “God must have something special planned for you. He would not give you more than you can bear.” But no, really, we are often given more than we can bear. And yet still, we put one foot on the floor and then the other. And we stand.

Lost, lost beyond finding. At times we are not the willing wanderer, casually squandering our resources, seeking out trouble, stubbornly waltzing away from the rest of the flock. No there are times when we are the coin. The lost coin. Let us reflect on the lostness of a lost coin for a moment. Accidentally lost. Forgotten. There’s nothing significant or particularly distinguished about a lost coin—a little piece of metal so easily misplaced. Dropped out through a hole in the Almighty’s pocket, left unnoticed in a corner or under a rug...How long does a coin stay lost? Did the Almighty even notice? How long before the woman in the tent even notices the coin is gone? Is it an agony to be left there, hidden, uncontained, without purpose, without the capacity to find oneself? How does one get the attention of the woman—can you shine a little brighter? Wiggle a bit in the corner? What words does a coin have to express devotion or longing? Motionless, wordless, without breath. The coin is simply lost.

Sometimes we are lost because we did something we shouldn’t ought to have done. And sometimes we are lost because we dropped out of the Almighty’s pocket. Have you been there? Do you know someone who is there? Addiction, mental illness, disability, loss, natural disasters, death, divorce. A thousand ways we fall. And where is God?

While I was on vacation a couple of summers ago, I lost myself in New York City. It was a purposeful sort of lost. I wandered about and went to see a film in Spanish, where I would have been lost without the subtitles. And I found myself near NYU, although I hadn’t known it was where I was going, and there was a used bookstore, down the street from the movie theater. I have my particular book habits and tastes, and most of my purchases reflected them. But I wandered the sale rack and randomly picked up a book of stories called Julia and the Bazooka by Anna Kavan (née Helen Emily Woods). A British author she wrote several novels and short stories and essays. Collections of her work have been published posthumously, and this little book is one of those collections. I had supposed it was a book of short stories, but it turned out to be a series of autobiographical sketches detailing visions from her madness and heroin addiction. Julia’s bazooka was a syringe filled with heroin. Many times in these stories she left the room to shoot up, escaping the paranoid shadows in her mind into the euphoria of the drug. An elegant woman and prolific writer, her peculiar mix of intelligence, madness and addiction drew many people to her. She wrote this description of leaving a drug rehab, called “The Old Address”. Here is a small piece:
The day Sister come sin while I’m packing to leave. She’s about ten feet tall, and, as if to disguise the fact, usually adopts a slouch and keeps her hands in her pockets under the starched apron. Now, however, she has a big envelope marked Patient’s Property in one hand, which she holds out to me.

“You won’t need this, but we have to return it to you now you’re being discharged.”

I take it. How very odd. I get a sensation like dreaming as I feel through the paper the familiar barrel-shape of the syringe I haven’t felt for so long.

“It’s no use anyhow,” I say to her, “without something to put in it.” This doesn’t sound quite the right thing, so I add, “I may as well leave it here,” and drop it nonchalantly into the wastepaper basket.

She stares at me so hard that I wonder what’s in her mind. Finally she shrugs her shoulders and slouches out, omitting to say good-bye.

I wait until I’m sure she’s not coming back, then retrieve the envelope and put it into my bag. I’ve no particular object in doing so; the action seems pretty well automatic. I sit down to wait for someone to come and fetch me, but I’m too restless to keep still, so I put my coat on and walk out of the ward and along a passage, past a number of people, none of whom take the slightest notice of me.

Besides the syringe, the usual collection of things, including money, is in my bag. If anybody asks questions, I’m on my way to buy farewell presents for the nurses. Commendable, surely?

No questions are asked. The porter shoves the revolving door, I go down the steps of the main entrance and on to the pavement.

I’m outside again. Free. Also, of course, I’m still guilty, and always shall be. I don’t feel anything much, though, except it’s strange to be out here on my own. After a few steps strange equates with disturbing. This isn’t the world I know. I look all around, at the crowds, the skyscrapers, the mass of traffic. It all looks delirious, ominous, mad...
The rest of the short story is a delirious vision of disaster and death, fear and violence. She took her best stab at rehab, and yet the second she leaves the structure of that place she drops out of the pocket again. We’ve all been there, haven’t we? How many New Year’s Resolutions have you fallen away from? How many times have you determined to change your lifestyle? How many times have you said, “I’m going to change. It’s going to be different this time. You’ll see.” And how many times in a 70-year life do we fall back into old habits, old ways. In 70 years how many different ways are there to be lost to the Almight, lost to those we love, lost to our best hopes for ourselves? She closes the story with this:
So there’s to be no end to my incarceration in this abominable, disgusting world...My thoughts go around in circles. Mad with despair, I don’t know what I’m doing, I can’t remember or think any more. The terror of life imprisonment stupefies me, I feel it inside me like an intolerable pain. I only know that I must escape from this hell of hallucination and horror. I can’t endure my atrocious prison a moment longer.

There’s only one way of escape that I’ve ever discovered, and needless to say I haven’t forgotten that.

So now I wave my arm frantically at a passing taxi, fall inside, and tell the man to drive to the old address.
And off she goes to the old address, fresh out of rehab, to find heroin for her syringe, to escape the madness that presses in all around her. Lost, lovely lost coin, slipped out of the Almighty’s pocket—how long can we go before She notices we are gone?

We have lost so many people, haven’t we? Loved ones who just don’t do what we hoped they would...we lose them to addiction and mental illness, natural disaster, grief, job loss, distance and time. We lose our beloveds to death. Perhaps we too might go into death and be lost to those who have loved us so. We are sometimes simply lost because we have been discarded and forgotten, dully gathering dust in the corner. How long, O Lord?

But I have been reading Augustine’s Confessions. And I came across a passage. It is not much to go on, and yet perhaps it is everything for those of us lost:
Woe unto that audacious soul of mine, which hoped, that had it forsaken you, it should have had some better thing! Turned it has, and turned again, upon back, sides, and belly, yet found all places to be hard; and that you are her rest only. And behold, you are near at hand; and from our wretched errors you deliver us, and settle us in your own way, and do comfort, and say thus unto us: Run on, I will carry you: yea, I will bring you to your journey’s end, and there also will I carry you. (Confessions, Book VI, Chapter XVI)
We are reminded by Jesus that the Almighty will seek us out. No matter that we have no more voice to cry. No matter that we are paralyzed and strangling in the difficulties of this world. No matter how far we roam from God, from our loved ones, from ourselves, the Almighty will light a lamp and sweep the house until we are found.

Peace to you, beloveds.

6 comments:

  1. Inspired, and inspiring. Bless you, Katie!

    ReplyDelete
  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Inspired, and inspiring. Bless you, Katie!

    ReplyDelete
  4. oh beautiful. a thousand cupcakes. I've been feeling rather lost lately...lost and found...and this resonates. This is just, well, great.

    xo,
    SL

    ReplyDelete
  5. We're only ever where we are anyway. Peace be with you, Sarah.

    ReplyDelete

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.