Sunday, September 1, 2013

Humility and True Religion

The start of September always brings around that "Collect of the Day" in the church calendar with the peculiar phrase:

"Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works..."

The grafting, nourishing and bringing forth bits I get.  But "increase in us 'true religion' "?   For anyone who has ever felt the sting of a church so convinced of its own righteousness that it has let you know how "untrue" you are... well, that phrase is a little frightening.  The origins of that phrase may have come from a tumultous period in Anglican Church history.  According to Marion Hatchett's "Commentary on the American Prayer Book," the insertion of the word "true" before religion was done by Thomas Cranmer, and may have been a reflection of controversies occuring within the church in the16th century.  Perhaps there's a reason some of us who have been seen as the "unclean" might do a quick intake of breath at that phrase!

But as I listened to that collect this morning, and heard it in the context of our Sunday lectionary which focused on a theme of welcoming strangers and waiting for the invitation to have a seat at the banquet table, I had a new take on what "true religion" might mean in our context today.  It came as I listened to Jesus' parable in Luke about waiting for the host of a wedding banquet to beckon you to a seat of greater prominence rather than just plopping yourself down in the chair closest to the head of the table.

 "But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, "Friend, move up higher'; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." --Luke 14:10-11 

All who exalt themselves will be humbled.  Those who humble themselves will be exalted.   

I heard those words and I felt a wave of emotion run through my body.  I am in a point in my journey with God where I feel very vulnerable.  I have been haunted by another piece of Scripture, from John's Gospel, in which Jesus informs Peter out on the beach, "When you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt, and to go wherever you wished.  But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go."  This particular verse came up last week when I was on the campus of the School of Theology at Sewanee for my re-certification as an EfM mentor.  It was this verse, when read aloud by Rev. Lee Graham one Friday in the St. John's chapel, that figuratively pinned me against the wall, and sent me on a trek down to the labyrinth at the Florida School of Massage.  Coming out of that meditative walk, I reached the inescapable conclusion that I had to contact a spiritual director.  I did, thinking that the woman would certainly ignore me.   Instead, she set up an appointment to meet her in Thomasville.   To have this same Scripture come up again, at this point of vulnerability and in that place of Sewanee, rattled my cage so hard that I was speechless.  Like so many times in this journey, all I wanted to do was run away, find a big fish that would swallow me whole, duck inside a cave and wait for the strong winds to pass.  Name your biblical metaphor for people saying "Please, God: not me!" and that's the mantra of me all over.  

Before I left Sewanee, I went to the Chapel of the Apostles.   There is a Corpus Christi in the chapel that I approached somewhat cautiously, unsure of just how close one was supposed to get to it.  I decided to stay at the altar and stare at it, softening my gaze, the same way I have done many times with my two statues at the opening to the labyrinth in Gainesville.  Silently, I recited to this Christ all my fears, all my inadequacies, my failures, anything that I believed should surely cast me into the outer darkness.  Instead, what I saw--strange as this is--was the Christ on the cross gave out a heavy sigh as if to say, "Just let it go!"  

All my fighting, digging my heels in, stiff-arming: just let it go.  
Every doubt, all the focus on my every fault: just let it go.
My excuses, my fears, my "but what if's": just let it go.

Accept grace.  And quit resisting.

I believe this, like other experiences and encounters I have had this year, are part of the process of humbling me to the point of realizing that the host, aka God, is ready for me to move a few chairs up the table.  All I have to do is move.   And this is where the 'true religion' phrase comes into play.  Because, in this time, in September 2013, I believe that 'true' religion is about taking that scary step of abandoning the ego's desire to "know" and "be sure" about what is to come in this journey with God, and instead accept that God has always sought and found the weirdest, the biggest screw-ups, the least likely... and exalted them.  All they had to do was say, "Yes, Lord."  And trust that God wasn't pulling a fast one with the promise to be with us always to the end of the age.

So, here I am.   And, as they said on Star Trek: Next Generation: "Resistance is futile."

Yes, Lord.        


Phoebe McFarlin said...

James Russell Lowell says it best. Many a time I have referred to these words during my journey. Except for the fact that the decision often needs to be made over and over again especially when it seems there must be an easier way then cruifixion.. but then the last four lines are the most important..

Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision, offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever, ’twixt that darkness and that light.

Then to side with truth is noble, when we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit, and ’tis prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave man chooses while the coward stands aside,
Till the multitude make virtue of the faith they had denied.

By the light of burning martyrs, Christ, Thy bleeding feet we track,
Toiling up new Calv’ries ever with the cross that turns not back;
New occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth,
They must upward still and onward, who would keep abreast of truth.

Though the cause of evil prosper, yet the truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong;
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own.

SCG said...

Thanks for this, Phoebe+.