Homily given by Rev. Frank Clarkson, September 8, 2019
I am one who’s drawn to water, especially to moving water. There’s something compelling about the fact that a whole unseen world is right there, under the surface. Sometimes it seems that there is nothing down there, that there are no fish anywhere! The invitation is to have faith; to trust that there is something there, under the surface, even you see no sign or evidence to reassure you. It’s like the spiritual life—if you keep showing up, if you keep seeking, in time you do get glimpses of that Mystery, it does reveal itself, from time to time, like a fish quietly appearing out of the deep.
Our worship theme for September is “Deeper Understanding,” and doesn’t our world need more of that right now? More listening and less shouting, more trying to understand and less trying to convince. I don’t hear this as a call to more rigorous thinking, though there’s nothing wrong with that. No, I hear the invitation to deeper understanding as a call to open our hearts and minds and head into the depths, into that place where we open ourselves up to what we need to hear and need to know, even though it may feel risky and uncomfortable.
Because that is where we will stretch and mature, and where we are most awake and alive, in that place of deeper connection and understanding. And these days our world needs us to be mature and awake and alive. Isn’t that why you are here? To be reminded of who you are, and what you aspire to, and who you are accountable to? To get some encouragement and hope and strength so you can live a better life? A more generous, more joyful, more purposeful life?
Earlier our choir sang a song that was written as a response to recent events of violence and unrest in our world, and it is a prayer, really: "Let peace, like welcome rain, flow freely down, to heal this dry, parched land. Come soothe the summer's wounded soul and flood the burning fears we hold with truth and hope, and deeper understanding” (“Peace Like Welcome Rain,” by Mark Patterson).
The way to truth and hope and deeper understanding is by being in touch with your own hopes and fears and longings, and then, letting them draw you into deeper connection with other people and with our world and with the Spirit that is moving in our midst. This is what we do here, when we gather for worship, when we sing or pray or sit in silence together. It’s what you do when you look into each other’s eyes, and take another’s hands, when you reach out to someone you don’t know yet, when you pray for or help someone in trouble, when you do your best to live our values out in the world.
I want to ask you young people: have you taken swimming lessons? You start off in the shallow end of the pool, right? And even there can feel kind of risky at the start. But as you learn to swim, you gradually stronger, and you get to swim in deeper water; you get to go where you can’t touch the bottom! Eventually you get to go into the deep end, where you can even jump or dive into the water! And that’s fun, for most of us, being in the deep end. Because it’s where we feel more alive.
I feel these depths lying under a starry night sky, and I feel them when I miss my children, who live far away now. I felt it the other night here, singing with the choir, as the setting sun shone through those windows, and the other day, visiting Lisa Compton’s husband and daughter. This sense that life is so precious and fleeting. The reminder that this moment is all we really have.
Deeper understanding isn’t a walk in the park, because it asks you to see things as they are. It makes you more aware of the suffering and the injustice, as well as the goodness and the joy. But what’s the alternative? Living a shallow and insulated life? And if you wanted that, why are you here?
Thousands of years ago, the psalmist wrote, “deep calls to deep” (Psalm 42:7) What this means is that there is a depth moving around us, and moving in the universe. Whether you call it the Spirit of Life, or God, or by no name at all, if you want to be in touch with that depth, the way to do that is to cultivate depth in yourself. If we spend our days in the shallow end, with too much noise and too much busyness and too much attention to inconsequential things, then we will not be able to hear that voice that comes out of the depths. And that’s why we are here, my companions, to be as connected and as committed and as joyful as we can stand.
Deep calls to deep in the heart of the world.
The creative energy of the universe
throbs to those who listen.
Put your trust there. You will not be forsaken.
(Improvisation on Psalm 42 by Christine Robinson)