Philippians 4:4-7; Psalm 100
The Rev. Tom Herbek
August 9, 2015
Joan and I just returned from vacation in the middle of this past week. Vacations help you refocus, help you to rejoice in opportunities and experiences that you would not have noticed otherwise. One morning I got up at 5:45 and watched the sunrise over the ocean, complete with seagulls, crashing waves, some mist and an array of extraordinary clouds. It is not often that I take notice of the sunrise. When we drove home at the end of our vacation, we enjoyed it when we came down Bristol Street into the city. How often do I drive down Bristol Street each week? One of the great opportunities of living life fully is to rejoice in the experiences of life that you often take for granted.
One of the great opportunities of life is to see with new eyes, perhaps to be able to be creative in how we deal with frustrations and setbacks in our life.
One of my favorite stories about this is from Robert Fulgham:
On a hot summer’s day, late in August, I sought shade and a cool drink under the canvas awning of a waterfront café in the old harbor of the town of Chania, on the Greek island of Crete. More than 100 degrees in still air. Crowded. Tempers of both the tourists and waiters had risen to meet the circumstances, creating a tensely quarrelsome environment.
At the table next to mine sat an attractive young couple. Waiting for service, they held hands, whispered affections, kissed, giggled, and laughed.
Suddenly, they stood, picked up their metal table, and, carrying it with them, stepped together off the edge of the quay to place the table in the shallow water of the harbor. The man waded back for the two chairs. He gallantly seated his lady in the waist-high water and sat down himself.
The onlookers laughed, applauded, and cheered. A sour-faced waiter appeared. He paused for the briefest moment. Raised his eyebrows. Picked up a tablecloth, napkins, and silverware. Waded into the water to set the table and take their order. Waded back ashore to the ongoing cheers and applause of the rest of his customers.
Minutes later he returned with a tray carrying a bucket of iced champagne. The couple toasted each other, the waiter, and the crowd. And the crowd replied by cheering and throwing flowers from the table decorations. Three other tables joined in to have lunch in the sea. The atmosphere shifted from frustration to festival.
-From Maybe, (Maybe Not)
We all face frustrations in life. And we all face things in life which are much deeper, much more important and much stronger than frustrations. And yet we must also find ways to deal with these painful experiences of life in a creative way. For some of us, the pain of tragedy is paradoxically a way that we can learn some things about life and about who we are deep down that we could learn in no other way.
This week, I read a small book of essays called “Oneing”, and one section of the book used a word I had never put with one of the most important opportunities of life. One of the essays in the book was by Richard Rohr, talking about an opportunity to live life differently as we get older.
He refers to this process as “ripening.”
Ripening, at its best, is a slow, patient learning, and sometimes even a happy letting go -a seeming emptying out to create readiness for a new kind of fullness- which we are never sure about. If we do not allow our own ripening, and I do believe it is somewhat of a natural process, an ever-increasing resistance and denial sets in, an ever-increasing circling of the wagons around an over-defended self. At our very best, we learn how to hope as we ripen, to move outside and beyond self-created circles.
If we are to speak of a spirituality of ripening, we need to recognize that it is always (and I do mean always) characterized by an increasing tolerance for ambiguity, a growing sense of subtlety, an ever-larger ability to include and allow, and a capacity to live with contradictions and even to love them! I cannot imagine any other way of coming to those broad horizons except through many trials, unsolvable paradoxes, and errors in trying to resolve them.
I like this idea, one which Rohr attributes to old age, but one that I think has meaning for all ages, at least for all of our adult lives, no matter if we are 26 or 96. Our lives are often impacted by people and events and circumstances over which we have no control. How can we possibly rejoice in them? How can we, as Paul says, give thanks in them? Perhaps, as we ripen, we will discover creative responses that will change our perspective on these things. I am not suggesting that we naively ignore the tough issues and struggles we must face. Pretending that pain, frustration, sorrow, or anger does not exist often makes it even worse. Hidden feelings often erupt in ways that do great harm to us and people around us. Allowing these things to immobilize us, or pretending they are not there, are not healthy responses. Somehow, we must allow ourselves to ripen, to see with new eyes.
Another essay in this small book suggests one change that often occurs when we experience this process of ripening:
The lifelong process of ripening brings about a corresponding ripening of our ability to understand the fundamentals in a wiser, peace-giving manner. For example, when people who believe in God go through painful experiences, they are troubled. They say, “If God watches over me, how could God let this happen to me?” This is such an understandable response to suffering in the life of those who trust and believe in God’s providential care. However, as a person ripens in unsayable intimacies in God, they ripen in a paradoxical wisdom. They come to understand God as a presence that protects us from nothing, even as God unexplainably sustains us in all things. This is the Mystery of the Cross that reveals whatever it means that God watches over us; it does not mean that God prevents the tragic thing, the cruel thing, the unfair thing, from happening. Rather, it means that God is intimately hidden as a kind of profound, tender sweetness that flows and carries us along in the intimate depths of the tragic thing itself- and will continue to do so in every moment of our lives up to and through death, and beyond.
- James Finley
In the process of ripening, we experience the frustrations, pain, and suffering in life in new ways. We are able to see with new eyes. We are able to rejoice at the celebration of communion around a table that remembers the last meal Jesus had with his friends and followers. It is because we can see with new eyes, and can know that God is with us, even when it is frustrating and painful in life.
As we proceed in the process of ripening, we are able to realize again and again, the presence of God in our lives, in ways that enable us to become- even in the most difficult of circumstances- closer to all that we were created to be.