Reflections to start the week
Monday, July 14, 2014
Recent experiences lead this morning to a favorite spiritual growth opportunity: air travel. I’m choosing to regard recent random and unexplained flight cancellations as the work of the Holy Spirit, offering time (actually lots of it) for reflection, affording opportunity to embrace the Serenity Prayer, and calling me to consider the particular liturgy that begins each flight, as the attendant at the head of the aisle showing everyone how to fasten a seat belt as if I could not have figured that out on my own. Youtube has recently featured videos of flight attendants who have taken that liturgy to new heights, witty and whimsical variations on important messages we all need to hear (for the billionth time). I recommend these videos. They will lift your spirits.
They stand in contrast to my experience on a recent flight, as the attendant at the head of the aisle showed safety cards, seat belt fastening technique, oxygen masks and seat cushions that become life preservers. I ached for this woman who was clearly really unhappy to be doing what she was doing, going through the motions, droning on about how to be saved in emergency. The repetition had gotten to her. I think in the moment, if I was a billionaire, I would have given her enough money to stop doing this job she hated because she was inflicting her unhappiness on a planeload of people who were already feeling like claustrophobic cattle. As we sometimes say in our family, this woman needed the joy of the Lord. Big time. No wonder. She had no sense of wonder. I compared her demeanor to the elderly women in another Youtube video, showing them on a flight for the very first time. Their sense of wonder about the experience was uplifting, as it should be, when you think about that mysterious miracle, all that metal, all that luggage, all those people lifting off the ground, up through clouds to the place where sun shines unobstructed and life is seen from new perspective.
Where am I going with this, you rightly ask? I do have a point.
When I watched the flight attendant droning on in rote misery, inflicting that on others, I thought about how familiar I have become with sacred text in scripture, Prayer Book, hymnal, and in creation that surrounds us, preaching a loving creator. I thought about how I use words like awesome and amazing to describe a cup of coffee. I thought about how perhaps in my own spiritual journey I prattle on mindlessly, self-absorbed, captive of habit and ritual, and really expect little to happen. I thought about how I take grace for granted, all of which stands in contrast to folks in the Bible who meet the Holy One and are overcome with a mix of holy fear and praise. When I was ordained to the priesthood, my sister gave me an illustrated quote, Annie Dillard’s widely circulated critique of the ways we worship. It came to mind when I thought about the flight attendant.
I also thought about a letter that the mystic Evelyn Underhill wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury in the 1930’s as she observed clergy of her day and concluded that they had lost a sense of wonder. She wrote: “We look to the church to give us an experience of God, mystery, holiness, and prayer, which though it may not solve the antinomies of the natural world, shall lift us to contact with the supernatural world and minister eternal life. We look to the clergy to help and direct our spiritual growth. We are seldom satisfied because with a few noble exceptions they are so lacking in spiritual realism, so ignorant of the laws and experience of the life of prayer.” Ouch. She goes on to say: “God is the interesting thing about religion, and people are hungry for God. But only a priest whose life is soaked in prayer, sacrifice and love, by his own spirit of adoring worship, can help us to apprehend God.”
Her comments about clergy apply to all of us who move with intentionality on the spiritual journey. What would it mean for your life and mine to be soaked in prayer, sacrifice, and love, in a spirit of adoring worship? Look for the holy today. Savor the preposterous idea that in some way we can have divine encounter. Keep an eye out for amazing grace. Get ready to meet an awesome God. Go for wonder.
– Jay Sidebotham
Open my eyes that I may behold the wonders of your law.
Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? … Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.