Sermon for June 16, 2019
Having grown up in a large city, it was quite a while until I realized what a real ‘starry night’ looked like. I looked up at the night sky, loved to gaze up at a vastness I could barely comprehend, but had little idea what I was missing by living in the bright lights of the city. The first time I went to a place with a truly dark sky, I was in awe. To me, it didn’t even look real. I was so used to the sky that was flooded with the light of humanity that what was natural appeared to be like a dream. How ironic that humanity’s reality made the real appear fake!
In so many ways, we flood our lives with the light of our individual will, our needs, our perspective. Like the lights from the city obscuring the stars in a clear, dark sky, we drown out the bare truth that is always available to us. We become used to a reality that has our imprint on it, then we wonder why we can’t find “Truth”. We think we have to get something, when it is more accurate to say we need to take something away to see what is already there. Did Christ come to give you something, or awaken you to what is already there?
What do we need to take away in order to find the clarity of the natural sky, absent the city lights, with seemingly limitless points of light? All the things we believe make us who we are in the world are as the lights from the city. As we take them away, what is naturally there begins to appear. Who are we without jobs? Who are we without Facebook, the internet itself? What remains when we systematically remove all the worldy things that we’ve come to see as part of our identity?
As much as I marvelled at the stars in the dark sky, it’s not as though I just dropped everything and moved to the wilderness. The stillness, the darkness, the clarity seeming to stare right back at me, was at once beautiful and peaceful while also being strangely disconcerting. I was used to the city lights, the noise of humanity. It was not easy to see something that didn’t reflect back to me a vision I was used to.
When we feel fear at the prospect of what may be there when we begin to remove our self created worlds, this is natural. This fear of what remains without our control, our active and individual role, is one of the most common fears expressed to me when someone begins to see beyond the ‘illusion’ of the world they’ve always believed was ‘it’. We wonder what will fill the void of whatever it is we give up. Who will we be without even such simple things as our job? How can we live in the world if we begin to see through the things we use to identify ourselves? If we don’t control our lives, who will?
These insecurities are not separate from the very things that keep you from seeing clearly. It’s like the fear of the dark that makes us flood the night sky. The fear of the unknown causes us to lights things up. We believe this lets us see more clearly, that it takes away our fear, but it only lets us see a vision we’ve created. The very thing we think is taking our fear away is hiding the beauty that is really there- but we have to allow the fear of the unknown, the darkness, to come before the stars can show themselves.
Our insecurities about what will happen if we take that leap of faith toward God will cause us to build up false idols for ourselves. Our fear that God, who we think is unknown to us, a great mystery, will not be there if we let go of the things we’ve created, makes us hold on to our own ideas with more determination. We begin to trust these idols in ways that are so subtle that we drown out God from our lives, forget what we’ve done, and start seeking Him all over again.
Yet, what would we tell a young child who’s afraid to leave the city and see their first truly clear sky? Would we encourage them to follow their fear, stay in the city, cling to only what is familiar? Ot would we hold their hand, show them the way, showing both compassion and unwavering encouragement to go into the unknown?
If you can let the noise and busy movement of your life fade just a bit, taking moments of a kind of stillness where you can, these encouragements toward something ‘other’ will just happen. Some might call them serendipity, coincidence, moments of clarity, but there is no need to characterize or define them. Let something other than your ego take your hand, something other than your own light lead you.
We cannot use skill, effort, and individual will to achieve some kind of spiritual goal, whether it be something small or the idea of realizing God in totality. Using our worldly skills in spirituality, as we would when tackling a workout or a challenge at work, is a starting point since these are often most familiar, but they must ultimately be let go. The starry night does not need your help, it needs nothing added to it. All you need to do is lie down, be still, and see what has always been there.