"You that are his saints"-Sermon for All Saints' Sunday, Psalm 34:1-10, 22
So, I believe I have had a total of two poems published…and I use that term very loosely. And that probably makes sense for where I actually am as a poet. One was in a journal produced by the Seminary of the Southwest…the other…in the critically acclaimed, widely circulated All Saints’ Episcopal Day School Monthly Newsletter. All Saints’, as some of you know, is a small pre-school where my daughters attended, and I now serve on the Board of Trustees. And, as we return, once again, to the Feast of All Saints’ and celebrate our very first baptism in church (at our 11 AM service) following many, many difficult months apart…this pre-school inspired poem came to mind. It is titled: I-F-S (for our beloved).
Imagination, faith, song.
Three gifts to nurture.
I say nurture for each is already present at birth.
In-born, primordial, archetypal, DNA-ish, gut level sort of stuff.
Imbued by the Originator.
The Beautiful Mind behind all that is.
Her gifts to each of us from the beginning.
Thus, we but nurture what already is,
In those beloved ones who come from us.
Imagination that sees all things possible in the play-scape before them.
A pirate ship,
A space ship,
A vessel of discovery reaching worlds unseen.
The place where dreams become reality,
As real as you or I.
A world turned on its head with love on top.
Seeing through unrestrained confusion to what is essential.
Faith that is unafraid to ask for what is needed.
Unafraid of the answers we may discover.
Healing, relationship, change.
Trust in others and the Other to receive what we desire most.
Past simple pleasure and on to deep meaning.
Found in the ones in which our faith is placed.
Song bursting forth from soul’s deepest longings.
Sometimes a solo,
That speaks of the beauty and giftedness within.
Sometimes a duet,
The power of a shared creativity that remakes the moment.
Song that calls forth light in our pre-dawn darkness.
Thus, we offer nothing more lovely, one to another, than our song.
Imagination, faith, song.
Three things, eternal, we nurture in the ones that come from us.
Our sacred trust.
And, the wonder of it all,
In doing so each are born afresh in us.
Such it is in the Economy of God.
Eternally remaining beneficiaries of our own generosity.
Such it is in the Kingdom of God.
Three gifts hard written on hearts and bones,
Each with the power to make all things new.
Imagination, faith, song.
So, I wrote this poem with not just children in mind…but all of us. I was trying to just begin to answer the question of what it might mean…what it might look like to live the life for which we were made…as those, beloved ones, formed in the likeness and imagine of our Creator…the great Lover of our souls…what it means when Jesus calls children into his own arms as an example of those to whom the kingdom of Heaven belongs…what it means to be a saint of God. And I think imagination, faith and song are at least three of the key characteristics that shape and form a saintly life…our life…as friends and followers of Jesus…individually and together.
Imagination, being imaginative, requires something of us. A willingness to let go of things as they are, in order, to see what they might become. Being imaginative requires us to become unstuck to our self-imposed limitations and our all-consuming fear of scarcity. Just as a swing-set can become a rocket ship launching into outer space…so can a deeply conflicted relationship become an opportunity for speaking our truth, sharing our story, listening for understanding, developing our empathy muscles, working on our own bias, and, ultimately, a new relationship emerging from the ashes of the old…built on a more solid foundation of trust and understanding. But such transformation requires our willingness to imagine first what things could really be between us and them. Just as a playscape can become a pirate ship floating on uncharted waters…a neighboring community that is underserved and suffering from neglect can become an opportunity to make friends with those who look and live differently than we do, understand the world from their perspective, discern ways to work together, not determined by what we think they need but what we together can dream up, and then good, hard work can follow that has integrity and brings meaning in rebuilding a more equitable and unified community of the whole. But, again, such transformation requires our willingness to imagine first how things could really be for the communities we live in together. Imagination invites us to think like God…with creative love alone as our inspiration. George Barnard Shaw writes, “Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine, and at last, you create what you will.” God’s imagination, God’s creativity, God’s dreams are limitless…utterly unmoored from the pretensions and contentions that have human life so bound up. The kingdom of Heaven bursting forth into our new day is only limited when we forget how to dream. My favorite comedian and fellow Episcopalian, the late Robin Williams, said it best, “You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.”
And, faith…the ability to have faith, also, requires something of us. The willingness to trust in things yet unseen. The willingness to believe that the God of love is providential…that the God of love is on the move…that the God of love is empowering our work…near to us…working in time and out of time to make all things, as our patron saint Julian said, well. This faith I describe is not blind optimism…but the very source of hope…and hope, like imagination, is the genesis of creativity, God inspired, “roll up our sleeves and get it done” transformational work. Barbara Kingsolver writes, “The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.” And of the three characteristics I name in my poem, faith is where we have perhaps most lost our way. And, it’s not that we don’t have faith or lost the capacity to be faithful, but that we so often place our faith in all the wrong places. Fair markets and free elections are very important and we should be engaged with them, I have made that quite clear in my work and writing, but they should not be the hands in which we place our faith. Instead our faith, and the hope it births, should always face one direction alone…the God who made us, loves us, and sustains us through this life and the life yet to come.
And then there is song, our ability to sing…solos, duets, and in choirs. And, singing also requires something of us…the willingness to be vulnerable…to stand naked and unashamed before others. For vulnerability, being our true-selves standing before the other, creates the fertile soil required for authentic connection…for making meaning…which is always found in what we share…of ourselves…with each other. The music we make transcends all the artificial boundaries we have created to divide humans, one from another, in a false sense of safety and control. Music rarely divides and often connects.
I was with my family shopping in the market in San Antonio…when that parental sixth sense went off…though we were not physically touching…I knew that my daughter Amelia, who was about 3 at the time, was no longer next to me. I looked all around the store we were in and couldn’t find her. I rushed out into the market and quickly saw her standing about 25 yards away between two stalls…a crowd was beginning to gather around her…and she was singing. Like a street musician…all she was missing was the hat with loose change on the ground at her feet. She was singing “Part of Your World” from the Little Mermaid…every word by heart from the very beginning to the end. As my heart was warming, I just sort of melted into the crowd so as to not interrupt, and, at the conclusion, the busy shoppers who had stopped and formed a little audience, some who had joined in, began to clap. She was smiling. I slowly made my way over and took her hand, and we rejoined the family…and it was all so magical. A fearless moment of blessing and connection between perfect strangers…the rainbow-colored people of God. Martin Luther once wrote, “As long as we live, there is never enough singing.” There are never enough solos sung that reveal our true selves one to another. There are never enough duets performed that remind us of how instrumental it is to walk hand in hand. There is never enough choral music arranged and sung that reminds us of the life-changing beautiful things we can create when many people work together in harmony.
Three gifts hard written on hearts and bones, each with the power to make all things new. Imagination, faith, song…today (at the 11 AM service) we make our commitment to nurture each in Nora (Brusevold), and, as we do so, for her and all those entrusted into our care…all three are born afresh in each of us…a more perfectly God shaped, Jesus shaped, saintly life. Amen.