It’s interesting, isn’t it, how God so often makes a line or phrase in our reading through the week to “shimmer”, to speak so directly and clearly to our hearts, that we keep coming back to that phrase for more exploration, more clarity, more openness from and with God on those few words. This, of course, is the whole idea behind the spiritual practice of lectio divina. We come to any text, scriptural or not, as one open to a conversation between the text, ourselves and God. For this is one way God works and shapes our hearts, drawing our attention to that which can make a difference to us, in our outlook, our relationships, or our actions.
I had such an experience this week, while reading a commentary on this morning’s passage from Isaiah. God shone a huge spotlight on one particular phrase, “God takes our “no’s” and transforms them into profound “yes-es”. I could understand its connection and the implication with the scripture. The Israelites were returning home to Jerusalem from their exile in Babylon. The terrible “no” they had experienced at the hands of their oppressors would be turned into a profound “yes” of God. They were rebuilding the temple, and they saw the potential for the restoration of the nation of Israel and God’s faithful provision of a life when they can once again be all that God imagined them to be as God’s people. This was a time for the Israelites when they were abundantly clear that even in the bleakest of hours of human history, God has the capacity to create anew.
But almost immediately God made the leap in my heart from the scripture to my own life, to when the “no’s” in my life have held and released the most profound “yes-es” in my life. A simple and clear example would be my cancelled Ireland pilgrimage, which would have begun this evening. My body (and doctor) had said “no” very loudly and clearly, and God’s invitation was then to find the profound “yes-es” set within that “no”. It seemed that, as soon as I did the excruciatingly hard spiritual work to let go of the trip and all that I had hoped it to be for my soul, God began to open up the “yes-es” – in the depth of the Contemplative Eucharist that following weekend, in the opportunity to stand behind an altar and celebrate the Eucharist with you (finally again), in the grace found in our Creativity & Spirituality workshops. Suddenly, I realized that what had felt like an enormous loss or “no” to me had become the threshold for many experiences that touched the depth of my spirit, which were the “yes-es” from God. It spoke to me about how in God’s economy of presence and love, we never lose anything, for God fills in with abundance what seems to be taken from us. This doesn’t mean that we don’t feel loss, or that this loss isn’t real, or that we don’t or shouldn’t wish some things didn’t happen. It means merely that God is about the process of restoration, of recreation, of bringing all things into wholeness, which is what our Seasons of Creation lessons share with us this morning. It is God’s intention, always and everywhere, to restore our lives and all of creation, into a place of shalom or peace.
Once I moved past the immediate example of the “no” of my Ireland pilgrimage, I began to think about the “no’s” in the world that we hear collectively, which is the real focus of the prophet Isaiah. We are to take God’s actions to heart and to see how they form and direct our own lives, but the book of Isaiah focuses on communal salvation and new life, not good fortune coming to a person here or there – but in the lives of all people.
And so I began to explore who in our society, what group of people, is hearing a collective “no”. I wondered in my heart, who is being dismissed, derided as unimportant, untrustworthy, and not to be a concern to those who hold power. Sadly there are many examples of groups of people who are being oppressed or told “no” by others. The Kingdom is near, but not here yet. However, one “no” which stood out boldly before my heart was the shushing of women’s voices, women who have been abused, whose voices have been silent for decades due to the shame attached to abuse, women who just want someone to listen to them. This is but one way to hear the message to women of the events of the past several weeks. I understand however that, if we hold in our imagination a woman who is still too sacred to share her story, whose family or society at large has told her that her truth must not be told, that “we don’t do that in our family”, “we don’t air our dirty laundry for our neighbors to see”, or “it will make your daddy too angry or uncomfortable to hear your story” I trust—and know — that God is somehow in her heart, opening that apparent “no” into a profound “yes” through the hearts of those of us who will be compassionate listeners, who will hold and carry with us the pain of others, who will join their voices together to be heard, who will believe there will be a time when women will be safe to say “no” to abuse, for God will redeem and transform the world’s ‘no” to the marginalized into a profound “yes” for that was what Jesus was all about – opening up the spaces of prejudice, oppression, and marginalization so that justice, mercy, and love will prevail. For Jesus, that showed up in the cross, where he hung as a marginalized, oppressed, wrongly-accused person whose voice was not heard by those in power – and God redeemed the world’s “no”(the cross) into the profound “yes” (the resurrection).
This week, I’ve thought a lot about these threshold times, these open times when we communicate with God, when a word or phrase on a page “shimmers” in our hearts, or when a news story touches our very soul and keep returning our heart-attention there, when God either reaches across that thin threshold place and initiates transformation within us, so we can either say “no” to the world when injustice prevails, or when we reach across to God in our times when the world says “no” to us and God shows us the way to live into the profound “yes”, so that God and we can create together to bring about that state of restoration.
Sometimes, across that thin space, we find a God of power and might; sometimes we find a God of tenderness and mercy, always we find a God of love, with the creative power to change us, and to transform our world. The important spiritual work for us to is know that thin place, that veil that we often believe separates us from God, is permeable, always accessible, always with a flow of intention of God grabbing our hearts for what God has in mind to do with our lives. And what passes through that veil or thin place is restorative love.
I was also touched this week by a daily entry from the Society of St. John the Evangelist about the Eucharist. Brother Luke wrote that in the Eucharist, “God grasps us and pulls us onward. God does not simply give us sustenance for today. God reaches out a hand and pulls us forward into the future, to change, to become more”. This is what restorative love looks like – our willingness to lay all our “no’s” or the “no’s” the world tells us, on the threshold for God, for God to pull us toward the future and onward toward restoration, the fullness of ourselves and all of creation. God is not a passive participant at that threshold. God initiates our conversation and grabs us with God’s creative energy to co-create something new.
Our work is to place our “no’s” at the threshold, and give them to God, fully release and open them to God’s creative work. This can be hard work, for we often feel defeated and overwhelmed with our own “no’s” or those society says to us. But God’s “yes” is waiting for us.
Our release of our “no’s” can happen in the midst of our busy day, or in the quiet of your walk in the woods, it can happen as we kneel at the altar rail and open our hands and hearts to receive this creative power; it can happen as someone listens deeply to our story, without offering commentary or advice on how to “fix things”; it can happen within the context of the Rite of Reconciliation, when I can hold and open the space for you to offer to God the truth which you have held onto as your own, so God can reveal your real truth, your own belovedness.
There is a dynamic interplay between our “no’s” and God’s “yes-es”. May we look at our own lives to see what we can say “no” to, so God can say “yes” to something magnificent and abundant that God desires to put into our lives. May we look at own world around us, and imagine what we need to say “no” to and be a part of God’s “yes”, so God’s Kingdom can come near. May we look at what others say “no” to us, so we can find God’s powerful and profound “yes” within ourselves.
Our lessons today remind us that God is optimistic about our souls and our world, and that in God, we can be optimistic about who we can become, what the church can be, a place which says “no” to no one, yet a place which says “no” to abuse of power or authority, and also what the world can be. Our former things, our former troubles will be no more. There will be no more weeping, the wolf and the lamb will lie down together, there will be perfect harmony. Life will be transformed: people and all of creation will all be woven together into a complex relationship of wholeness, for God is still creating, out of the chaos of human life, out of the spoiled nature around us, and everything in between. The new heaven and earth is a total envisioning of something new, and we need only to lay our “no’s” at the threshold of God’s redemptive love, so God can transform our “no’s” into profound “yes-es” that will bring usher in the new Kingdom. Amen.