Come Away with Me
We all remember about four months ago when the shelter in place began, there were predictions being made as to how long this would last. The general consensus was that we would get a reprieve from the virus and the shelter-in-place in the summer months with the probability that it would return in the fall. We all heard that, and I think we collectively became attached to the idea. And we began pacing ourselves around that prediction, just as you would when running a race: if you know you’re in for eight miles, you know when to go slow and when to go faster and there’s an adrenaline rush as you get closer to the finish line. But in this case, our adrenaline began to flow, a few bars and restaurants and haircutters began to open but the finish line was moved, asking us to go another few miles, with no real expectation of how more we would have to go.
If this experience lived on a GPS system in our cars or on our phone, its as though we plugged in our destination in March and it told us we would arrive in July for a visit. But instead, the GPS system is stuck, the little ball is circulating, and the word “recalculating” is stuck on the screen.
This virus and the effects it’s having on our lives has us in a constant state of recalculation. Which means that we have let go of those expectations we had, allow ourselves to be disappointed all over again and go back to waiting.
But so many of us, including myself, are like the kids in the back seat constantly asking, “Are we there yet?”— as though we should be able to resume life as usual because they said we would get a break by now. Like little kids, we’re attached to those words like little kids who say, “But you said I could.” When in fact, the number of cases are up. We’re not where we thought we would be. Parades have been canceled, beach parking lots closed. The country had daily records of cases this past week and in Marin county and other counties across the state, the numbers are still going up.
In the scripture you heard John the Baptist is in prison and his followers are searching for an answer, an understanding, a prophet. With an urgency, because anyone whose been following John the Baptist understands urgency — that’s the way john preached — an urgent change about to happen, get ready, repent, now.
Like those followers of John, we understand that sense of urgency in our country. We too are searching, for a leader, for unity, for signs of hope. We know all too well that the pandemic isn’t our only challenge. Not unlike John’s followers we are experiencing political discord, the moral and spiritual unraveling of their homeland, record high numbers of unemployment. Divisiveness is encouraged from the top down, when what we need is a unifying spirit of hope, especially on a weekend that celebrates our nation as one people under God indivisible.
Like John’s followers, we are searching for hope. A unifying leader. We want to feel resolved, we want this period of discord over. For some there’s a sense of urgency, and for others a sense of weariness. So who are we to turn to?
Theologian Parker Palmer tells the story of a community Quaker meeting where a great conflict came up, but the meeting ran out of time and had to be postponed till the following week. he writes:
All week, emotions ran high and opposing views intensified. We eagerly assembled at the next meeting, impatient to get the issue resolved. But this is a Quaker meeting and each meeting begins with 5 minutes of silence. On this day, the clerk announced that, due to the intensity of the issue we would not begin with the usual 5 minutes of silence. We all breathed a sigh a relief, only to hear the clerk announce, “Today, we will begin with 20 minutes of silence.”
Waiting in this pandemic, whether in silence or in disappointment, is not a popular choice. Accepting that we’re in a state of not knowing is never a popular choice — even in a house of worship, where followers of God have been told endless accounts of God’s people in chaos, in the wilderness, at war. Stories of God’s judgment on people who forget what it means to rely on God, to practice kindness, to do justice and walk humbly. God who promises to resolve, to create and unify. None of which can happen if we’re in denial about what is being asked of us. This state of not knowing what is next is one of the most challenging things we can do in a culture of certainty. As Sue Monk Kidd writes:
“What’s happened to our ability to dwell in no knowing, to live inside a question and coexist with the tensions of uncertainty? Where is our willingness to incubate pain and let it birth something new? What happened to patient unfolding, to endurance? These things are what form the ground of waiting. And if you look carefully, you’ll see that they’re also the seedbed of creativity and growth. Creativity flourishes not in certainty, but in questions. growth germinates (not in tent dwelling but) in upheaval.”
We are followers of a God who promises a new creation. And a God who gives us rest from chaos, from weariness.
Weary is a word we rarely use. To be weary is to be exhausted usually from laboring. But here we are weary from waiting, wearing from resting, because too much of our resting has been superficial, in front of a television or a glass of wine. Weary carries a connotation of sad. And the old English of the word is related to the word that means to wander, which gives us a sense of being lost — which is fitting, because though we may be at home, we are wandering. We are without direction, no clear destination, no timeline, in a perpetual state of recalculation, the in-between time. The interim time.
One of my favorite pieces of writing from John O’Donahue in his Blessing for the The Interim Time, part of which says:
You are in this time of interim
Where everything seems withheld.
The path you took to get here was washed out;
The way forward is still concealed from you.
“The old is not old enough to have died away;
The new is still too young to be born.”
You cannot lay claim to anything;
As people of faith, when we feel groundless, weary, angry, urgently in need, we look claim to worship the one who claims us, at birth, the one who gives us strength to allow God to do the real work of rebirth, of resurrection, of a new heaven and a new earth,
Jesus says “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
And we say, I”m tired of resting, but the rest Jesus promises is one that saves us from ourselves in ways we can’t access unless we do the hard work of prayer, practice and dedication to God in all things. Come to me, can easily and more accurately be translated come with me. Which is to say: live a life with me, follow my ways, do what I do, love as I love. For those with a sense of urgency, this is what you do. For those who are weary, this is how you find rest.
Our second reading is from the Song of Songs or Song of Solomon, a controversial book of the Bible that tends to embarrass the more reserved among us with it’s sensual and at times even sexual language: two lovers, expressing a deep love for one another, a deep love for creation, soulfully.
Throughout the book of songs, you hear a refrain, “Come away with me my beloved.” And Jesus’s words become like an echo: “Come to me.” Come with me — when you’re weary, come with me. When we are weary, truly weary, exhausted and sad, laying on the couch, staring at the ceiling is one option. Numbing the discomfort with food and alcohol is another. But this scripture suggests another, and it attends to the soul, and it allows us to tend to that cocoon like part of us that waits for God to do what God will do……and it begins by opening your eyes to the beauty that we so often take for granted.
The lovers in the Song of Songs (writes Stephanie Paulson) find beauty everywhere they look: in each other’s bodies, in the fields where they pasture their sheep, in the rooms and orchards where they make love, in the turning of the seasons, in the animals and trees and hills all around them. Like King Solomon, who 1 Kings says gave the same poetic attention to the hyssop that grows in the walls that he gave to the cedars of Lebanon, they know that no beautiful thing is too small to be adored. They let no beauty go unnoticed, uncelebrated, upraised. Every time they exhale their reverence and adoration—ah, you are beautiful—they bind themselves ever more deeply to the life of the world that God created and called good.1
That’s not always easy to do when you’re feeling weary. But if you keep your heart open, aware of your own weariness, you have a much better chance of finding yourself in the arms of God and Christ than if you’re caught up trying to numb the affects of waiting by doing, by ignoring, by eating too much, or making plans, or getting angry. There are a million ways to fill up what feels empty when we’re forced to wait. But sit with what appears empty, pray to God when you’re most empty, and you will find yourself renewed in the spirit of a God who does not leave us there doing nothing, but takes us, wraps and holds us in a warm cocoon, sharing us, molding us for the light of a new dawn.
This interim time is not a time to look back and desire things the way they used to be, nor is it a time to start planning for a future that’s entirely unknown. This is a time to renew our faith, and to find strength so that we might affect change both within our own lives but also for the lives of those around us in need.
The blessing by O’Donahue ends with the promise of a new dawn, suggesting that the longer we can endure the interim time, the more refined our hearts will be when that dawn arrives.