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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Away from the shadows and into the darkness

Mark 6:30- 34 , Pr.11

I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.

The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow--
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an india-rubber ball
And he sometimes gets so little that there's none of him at all.
                         ~Robert Louis Stevenson

     Back in January, I started running. More accurately, I started walking interspersed with a little bit of jogging; now, 6.5 months later, I'm up to 30 minutes of a slow but steady run on the Temple City High School track 3 times a week. In the summer heat, I'm going later in the day, and as it gets dark, very bright stadium lights go on for the soccer teams practicing on the field.
     Last Thursday night, because I tend to be very bored when I run, I got to watching my own shadow on the dirt track. (Yes, I'm easily amused!) The cool thing is that whereas we're accustomed to having a single shadow during the day, when running on an oval outside a set of high parallel lights, you get more. Along the long sides of the track, I had two or three; around the curves, I counted as many as 5. (Yes, I undoubtedly look sort of odd jogging while trying to turn around and count my own shadows; however, that's not the only thing that makes me look strange while running, so I'll live with it.) Some are at least half again as long as I am tall, others are short and stocky; there are clear and crisp ones, and faint, barely visible ones. And of course, as I move around the track and the lights, they keep changing. Only when I step into the darkness, away from the lights and activity and noise of the field, can I be separate from my shadows.
     Those shadows are like the roles in my life. I'm daughter, spouse, mom, sister, priest, friend, neighbor, chaplain, employee, jogger, and more. I'm sure you can come up with your own list! At any given moment, those roles may change in magnitude and clarity, but there are always at least a few of them in evidence. That's often good, but on occasion I want to shed them all; I feel like my roles are stuck to me like shadows rather than being part of me. And when I become overwhelmed by the demands, or by confusion about priorities, or by how to do what I'm called to do, maybe my best reaction is to step into the darkness for a bit, to a place where I can be me, where I can reclaim my primary identity as God's beloved. A simple, silent place.
     Perhaps that's what Jesus is doing at the start of today's gospel. He and his disciples have been crazy busy, pulled in multiple directions as healers, nurturers, miracle workers, demon banishers, and teachers, to say nothing of their commitments to the families and communities they've left behind. They've barely had time to eat, and Jesus knows they desperately need a break from all the demands and to spend a little quality time with him. Deserted places, wildernesses, have a long tradition in scripture; they're barren of people and resources, but they tend to be rich with God's presence...and so Jesus calls them to go there with him to rest and be restored.
     The idea of rest sounds like such a relief to me. Not just sleeping in, or eating out rather than cooking, or even a vacation, but truly resting, which is probably a state of mind and spirit more than of body. This kind of rest is a way of stepping away from the roles and rules that whisper--or yell--in our ear, saying, "You have to do this. You can't forget that. They're counting on you. They want you. They need you. You must say yes, step it up! Are you sure you're up to it?" The irony of these shadow voices is that they don't even have to be current; we readily keep hearing them from relationships and tasks long past. So imagine cutting loose from all of those for a bit, going to a deserted place where the shadows disappear rather than simply changing, and resting.
     This doesn't happen without deliberate intent. There's always something "better" or more compelling to do, even if it's sleeping or playing on the computer, doing laundry or returning phone calls and emails. I'm not saying those things are bad, or that any of our roles are unimportant; it just means that if we're going to turn aside to rest, we'll have to pick that over something else. We need to choose to step out of the bright lights and away from the shadows that seem to follow us everywhere. But if we're to be Jesus's disciples, we've got to have time to get away from all those things that cling to us so closely and to be renewed by the Spirit. That relationship has to come first, before the doing of ministry, before all the people and tasks and worries and stuff that lay claim to our time.
     This is one of those theories that sounds easy from the pulpit and is in fact very hard to pull off in real life. Even Jesus and his disciples only got the time in the boat before every one and every thing caught up with them! So, I'm going to ask you to make a start this morning. You received an index card when you came in; you can get that out now. I'd like you to take a minute to think, and then on one side write something that at least once this week you aren't going to do, in the interest of finding time for rest. Maybe you'll turn off your cell phone or walk away from the TV or computer for a bit one evening. Perhaps you'll let the dishes sit overnight or the dog hair collect rather than cleaning up one day. It could be not looking at or thinking about your to do list for a specific time, not setting an appointment, saying no to a request for a commitment. Whatever it may be, write that on one side.
     On the other side, write a way that you will rest this week, that you will physically or mentally step out of the lights and away from your shadows and go to a deserted place. You could sit outside in the evening to hear the summer sounds. You might read a good book for no other reason than because you enjoy it. Listen to a piece of music you love. Talk to God and wait for an answer, which might come in many ways, including silence. Lie on your bed and count your blessings with true joy. Whatever you choose, let it be specific...and let it be enough; this isn’t supposed to be one more burden! Take the card with you, see if you follow through, be pleased if you can and gentle with yourself if you can't. If you're so inclined, say something about your experience in the comments on Facebook once I've posted the sermon, or email me about it, or share with a friend.
     The shadows that form and disappear, grow and shrink, become bold and then faint aren't generally bad or good; they're simply part of our run through life. Listen to Jesus, though, and when he calls you to go with him to a deserted place, turn aside, step into the quiet of the dark, and receive his gifts of rest and renewal.

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