Grace of the World
November 24, 2013
Two weeks ago I was one of the co-facilitators of a Circle of Trust Retreat based on the work of educator and sociologist Parker Palmer and the Center for Courage and Renewal.
Through silence, poetry, and the touchstones that guide us into becoming a trusting community, we are able to create a safe place for the soul to show up. The soul, or inner teacher, that can easily be forgotten as we live out our commitments to others.
I am deeply grateful for having introduced to Courage and Renewal and am very proud to say that I learned on Friday that I am now, officially a Courage and Renewal Facilitator. I look forward to finding ways to bring that work to my time with you.
This retreat was a special one for me for many reasons.
One of those reasons was that my father was one of the participants.
Another reason was that I was invited to perform my setting to music of one of my favorite poems, Wendell Berry’s “The Peace of Wild Things.”
I am not going to perform it for you now but I would like to read and explore it with you this morning.
When despair for the world grows in me,
and I wake in the night at the least sound,
in fear of what my life and my children’s life may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water,
and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.
I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light.
For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
“When despair for the world grows in me,
and I wake in the night at the least sound…
I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his stillness on the water. For a moment
I rest in the grace of the world and am free.”
This poem directs our attention towards a source of grace, courage, healing.
And in this moment of grace there arises a sense of gratitude for a larger life, a wider affection.
In a moment of fear and despair, Wendell Berry took an action, a simple action in a powerful place. “I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water…”
But in that simple action new life, hope, courage, and renewal were found. I think of this action as a form of prayer, a practice of grace.
Taking a stand, positioning the human soul to receive the soul of nature, experienced as Holy Love and Wholly Mystery. It is a place where we can trust silence.
It is a place where we can hold despair gently, patiently, prayerfully so that a way out of despair may be seen, imagined, or offered It is a place where we can touch a deeper understanding of what it means to be a human being, called to compassion.
It’s just a moment.
“For a moment I rest in the grace of the world and am free.”
But it’s a moment like baptism. I don’t have the sense from the poem that this freedom is one of escape or denial of what caused him to fear for his children’s lives.
I have the sense that Wendell Berry recognized that his fears were causing him to wake in the night in he least sound. He had lost his sense of trust in the world. Where to regain it?
The simple act of lying down where the wood drake rests, the act of writing a poem that shares this moment with others, this moment of rest, returned him to a sense of trust in the world.
In fact, it returned him to the world itself. It’s only for a moment. You experience this moment of grace and then you go back and you have to respond to all of those things that sent you out into the riverside in the first place.
You may think, the first thing I need to do is take everybody out
to where the wood drake rests, but it isn’t that easy is it?
You have to bring the day-blind stars who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief back to the people who you live with, work with, go to church with — everybody.
It isn’t easy.
That why we need a time and place of sanctuary where we can come into the peace of wild things, of Wholly Love, Holy Mystery.
It takes practice. Isn’t somehow fitting that the same way you get to the kingdom of heaven
is the same way you get to Carnegie Hall, practice.
Practicing the sacred presence of the Holy on this planet, our blue boat home.
I would like to share another poem with you that speaks of this practice of grace. This is by the poet, William Stafford.
This poem was commissioned by the US Forest Service and appears with others at selected viewpoints along the Methow River.
So imagine you are driving along a road in the Cascades, you pull over to look at a beautiful valley, and you find this poem.
A Valley Like this
“Sometimes you look at an empty valley like this,
and suddenly the air is filled with snow.
That is the way the whole world happened-there was nothing,
But maybe sometime,
you will look out and even
the mountains are gone,
the world becomes nothing again.
What can a person do to bring back the world?
We have to watch it and then look at each other.
Together hold it close and carefully save it,
like a bubble that can disappear if we don’t watch out.
Please think about this as you go on.
Breath in the world. Hold out your hands to it.
When mornings and evenings roll along,
watch how they open and close,
how they invite you to this long party
that your life is.”
“Please think about this as you go on.”
Remember this moment in the Cascades.
Hold out your hands to it.
Look at each other.
The Messiah is among you.
A friend, Ray Gatchlian, gave that poem to me. Ray was a firefighter in Oakland. Ray also traveled the world giving speeches, reading poetry, and making a difference in his own community by tackling the issues of racism and drug abuse.
And putting out fires. He gave me this poem when I asked him if he had any thoughts on he subject of gratitude.
I must admit that I was surprised when Ray answered that for him, at that moment of his life, a practice of gratitude was the most significant, most powerful of all spiritual practices.
He had studied and worked with many spiritual practices, meditation, yoga, and he found that the practice of saying 100 gratitudes a day was the most rewarding. 100 gratitudes a day!
How could one possibly think of 100 things to be thankful for in one day? As I reflected on this I quickly realized how many grumps I do a day.
How many ungratitudes I do a day. How many times I wish that such and such had happened.
How many times I wished I had something I don’t. How many times I wished I could be somewhere I am not. I realized that living with 100 grumps a day makes it impossible to stand where I am.
When ever I am wishing that the world be something different than it is, then I am not present in the world.
And this is exactly what Ray said happened for him.
That rather than creating some sort of unreal Pollyanna world, the practice of 100 gratitudes a day actually helped him get into the present, into where he actually was at the moment.
It helped to see that the present is always full, whereas thinking of things in the past that haven’t gone right is limited and limiting.
Nevertheless it still is a challenging practice. You have to turn off the grump voice and turn on the grace voice with in yourself.
Gratitude as a spiritual practice enables us to see things as they are fully, honestly, with an awareness that with all of the events set before us we are still called to choose life. And to take actions that help and others to choose life.
A spiritual practice of gratitude, 100 multiple gratitudes a day, moves us fear to trust, from being judgmental of ourselves or others to being compassionate, from hurting to healing, from losing energy to gaining creative power, from despair to freedom. It begins in a simple act.
Going to where the wood drake rests. Stopping the car, getting out, and marveling at the beauty of the valley.
Turning ones life from grump to gracious. Finding a way to feed someone who is hungry, visiting someone who is locked up. Locked up.
When the Apostle Paul wrote the Letter to the Church in Philippi, he was locked up. At least that’s what his jailers thought. But Paul didn’t see himself as locked up.
He was, wherever he was, sitting in the grace of Jesus. And this is exactly what he was encouraging the members of the church in Philippi to do.
Practice having the mind of Christ Jesus as much as you possibly can. Here’s how Eugene Peterson translates this passage in his book The Message Celebrate God all day, every day.
I mean, revel in God!
Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Messiah is about to arrive.
The Messiah could show up any minute! Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.
Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Jesus displaces worry at the center of your life.
Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious— the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.
Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into excellent harmonies.
Paul, the coach, says practice.
In community, in family, in work, in playing, in crying, in serving,
we have opportunities to practice
In his poem William Stafford asks, “What can we do to bring back the world?” What can a person do to bring back hope, clarity, acceptance of the present and energy for the future?
We have to look at each other and hold together that community of life affirming love that knows compassion, honesty and forgiveness.
That celebrates simple gifts even as we mourn together the tragedies. We have to hold out our hands to one another to heal the cuts and bruises that are a part of life.
We have to do the hard work of bringing the grace of the world into the grit of our daily life. And when we orient ourselves to the spiritual practice of gratitude we open ourselves to rest in the grace of God, which will enlighten the eyes of our heart, and see that everything we need is here.
In this, is the experience of the living Christ who guides us to care for others so that they might for a time rest in the grace of the world and be free.
For a moment. For a moment, rest in the grace of the world. And then? Bring back the world.
What can a person do to bring back the world? We have to watch it and then look at each other. Together hold it close and carefully save it, like a bubble that can disappear if we don’t watch out.
Please think about this as you go on. Breath in the world. Hold out your hands to it. When mornings and evenings roll along, watch how they open and close, how they invite you to this long party that your life is.”
And now there is only one more thing for me to say. I thank you for the way in which you have received me into your church. Gratitude # 39…………..61 to go………………….Amen