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What is the poetry of your soul? What is the song of your heart? What is it that makes you come alive? Our psalm today, in the New Jerusalem version, reads, “Deep calls to deep by the cataract’s roar,” one of my favorite verses. The depth of the mystery, of the majesty of God, calls to all that is deep within you, in the midst of life, near the streams and roaring waterfalls, near the rush of traffic and the busy roar of humanity, in the silence of the woods and the rushing roar of all that is in your heart longing to be be spoken. The depth, the mystery, the majesty of God, of God’s love, calls to you, in your deep, quiet, hidden places, and will not be still, will not be quiet.
It speaks to that internal space where all your possibilities take shape and form. To the possibility that you may retire, pull away, diminish your presence, saying: enough, I’m done. To this, God whispers love and compassion, urging the heart to break and call you into service and care for your neighbor. It speaks to the thought that you are not enough and can make no difference, bring no change to the world, saying: you are exactly as I created you and you are exactly in the place I brought you, that you might be who you are fully and without hesitation and this will change everything. Howard Thurman once said,
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then, go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive!”
So what makes you come alive? What is the poetry of your soul, the song of your heart? Where does God’s deep, mysterious, loving call resonate in your soul? What is it that insists on being spoken, brought to life and lived through you? The world is incomplete, unfulfilled without your contribution.
Several years ago a particularly creative individual wrote a 3000 word love story and wanted to see it embodied, lived into. So..he put an ad in craigslist and asked people all over the United States if they would be willing to have one word of this love story tattooed onto their flesh and he received thousands of Yes’s. Each person was sent just one word and at a pre-appointed time they all gathered together and a small child was led through the crowd, reading the story, one word at a time. You see the story couldn’t be told, would always be incomplete, unless everyone showed up. All the small words, the “a’s” and the “The’s” the big words, “recognition,” “fulfillment,” all of them needed to show up before the story could be told. What is your part of the story? Here in Jasper, we know that we are part of a greater, larger story, what is within us that longs to be spoken, to be told? The world hungers for this! Longs and groans waiting for all of us to show up.
This weekend the internet was again filled with grief, with loss, with tears, as we all, from a distance, witnessed the death of an innocent, young boy, the tears of his father who cried out against his inability to save his family, that his arms were not strong enough to hold them. Across the world people rallied and cried out with him, that our collective arms have not been strong enough, our will too lax and feeble. People posted photos side by side of this fragile child’s body and images of groups of people rushing to save beached whales asking why we rush to the one and not the other. The whole world, groans and cries out waiting for all of us to show up and sometimes, sometimes we do. Even before the death of this child Iceland responded to the refugee crisis by offering up their homes, 10,000 of them!
God created humankind and sitting back and observing said, “ah, this, this is good!” and I have to believe it is these Icelandic people, it is the Turkish people who came to the beaches, it is all of us who cry out against such suffering and loss that God referred to. I have to believe that is our ability to transcend suffering and loss, to break through shame, guilt, and fear and reach out to those who are in need that God was referring to. I have to believe that is our interconnected nature, that we were created in relationship, for relationship, that God evoked the response, yes, this is good!
This is what lives deep inside us, in all its beautiful complicated diverse patterns. We need one another. Our story, God’s story, is told through us. When we show up and commit to following through, we bear a credible witness to the God of our understanding, but we have to show up.
A few years ago I was in Guatemala, on a mission trip with Habitat for Humanity. One of our projects was to build a “smokeless” stove for a family in a nearby town. We arrived early that morning in the drizzle and met the family, the neighbors. Our presence was not unanticipated. The family had been hard at work preparing and purchasing necessary ingredients. One of the ladies present spoke forcefully. Even without an interpreter it was easy to hear how important it was to her that we hear her. Through our interpreters we heard this message, “You Americans, you come down here all the time and you promise us great things. You’re going to help us rebuild our homes, you’re going to help us develop sewage systems, and give us new stoves, but then you always leave. You want me to thank you now for what you are about to do, but I will thank you when it’s done.” It made me wonder what had happened in the past to all those good intentioned Americans who hadn’t stayed the course. What this woman was telling us was that she needed a credible witness, not someday promises but a witness, hands reached out, roofs raised, food supplied, now, not someday, and we complied. We worked hard and we demonstrated what I hope is a credible witness to the love of Christ for all people.
Living an authentic, credible life is about getting into the arena, getting one’s hands dirty. Theodore Roosevelt’s famous speech, the man in the arena, suggests we all need to get in the arena and out of the stands. He said,
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. “
Living that full, authentic life, responding to the call of all that is deep within us, that longs to be spoken and brought to life in the world is to be in the arena. It is to be passionate and a little over-the-top, to be too much and to be OK with being too much. Something in us becomes small and timid when we relegate ourselves to the stands, to witness and watch the struggle of others. We are called to be in the struggle, passionately in the struggle and to bring forth the poetry that God has written in our hearts, the song that is playing in our souls, the unique and weird contribution that God has given us.
Authenticity means giving people a piece of yourself- nothing counterfeit, nothing withheld, covered up or apologized for. To risk giving a piece of yourself, your heart, trusting that in doing so, the world becomes a better place. Trusting that God created you worthy of contributing and knowing that the world longs for you to show up and be exactly who you are as fully and passionately as you can.
In the deepest moments we are asked to open our hearts our very selves and give what is there without censoring, without holding back, give. Give the awkward, the not yet ready for publication, the raw truth of one’s self. We are called to be terribly vulnerable and let ourselves in all our unique complexity, be seen. We are called to show up for one another and show up again and again.
It is what comes out of a person that gives witness, not what they eat or wear, not their social ranking or privilege or lack thereof, but what comes out. What is your credible witness? What comes out of you? Is it the warm greeting of a man greeting others wholeheartedly and without reserve? Is it the willingness to spend hours toiling so that your neighbors might have the same opportunity that you have? What is the witness that you would be?
Deep calls to deep by the cataract’s roar; God has called you into being because you, exactly as you are, matter, because you, in all your unique and weird glory, are an essential part of the story. All that is deep, hidden, and mysterious in God is calling to all that is deep, hidden, and possible in us, that we might step forward, into the light and be seen as God’s children, as God’s credible witness in the world.
Abba James said: We do not want words alone, for there are too many words among people today. What we need is action, for that is what we are looking for, not words which do not bear fruit.
The book of James insists we be ‘doers of the Word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.”
The call to an authentic life is a call to the arena, to get out of the stands where we might witness and applaud or criticize, but to get in the arena and to dare greatly and by doing so to enrich the lives of all those we touch. It is not a call to success, it is not a call to a perfect life, but a call to dare greatly and show up fully, to be seen in all our passion, in all our love and risk it not turning out so well. All the world cries out for this witness, longs for this witness.
Deep calls to deep
By the cataracts roar,
All your waves and breakers
Have rolled over me.
In the day God sends his faithful love
And even at night; yes at night,
In the dark and in the quiet, all alone,
The song it inspires in me,
Sings through me,
Breathes in me,
Is my prayer to the living God.
Is my witness and my heart’s song,
This then, is my song, is my witness, to the breathe of God moving through me, shifting within me, calling me into the fullness of being, a fullness that I must not diminish nor hide away, but must let shine in all its geeky and passionate splendor, as weird and wonderful as it was created to be. The story is incomplete without my little piece, without your piece. The world longs to hear this story told and who are we to withhold ourselves? We are followers of Christ; we do not belong in the stands watching and applauding but in the arena, in the grit and mire, striving to live fully as children of God.
May it be so.