In these almost first two months together, I love that many of you have sought me out to share your stories - at our Explore CUCC class, at our Worship Planning meeting, at Community Office Hours and at Men’s Group, you have been willing to share your authentic selves, to be vulnerable with one another in sharing not just your mountain tops but your valleys of shadows, your questions and fears.
Super early a few Fridays ago, I sat among our Men’s group, which was a true gift. It includes longtime pillars of our community as well as people from this neighborhood and beyond. We explored politics and patriarchy and whether Jesus was a socialist. It was wide and also deep.
Over the course of our time together, I ended up sharing part of my story of saying yes to following the path to ministry. It isn’t a story where angels appear, but it is a story where I encountered something that generally seems impenetrable to me. For a long time, my spiritual life had been in my head, but in order for the Universe to get to me, I should have known it would have to be another way.
It was the late 90’s and I attended every single thing the First Congregational Church of Tucson offered. I was what some now call a Borg again Christian. I soaked up the books and the worship of a small but kind community. And at the United Campus Christian Ministry, an outreach of the United Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ, I found another essential spiritual home.
The campus ministry group was a funky band of about a dozen of us at a university of over 30,000. While the evangelical Christian groups like Campus Crusade and Intervarsity and Wildcats for Christ were giving away bikes and TVs and having worship services of hundreds, our band of untraditional unbelievers and believers, were agnostics and former Catholics, some of us raised in the UCC and other mainline traditions and no particular religious tradition at all.
We did book studies and watched movies, attended workshops and events. We mostly had spectacular retired women ministers as our sages. The campus minister in my final years of college got us into dance. This was a surprise to most of us. She was trained as a dancer and in acrobatics, had her MFA and her spirituality was deeply embodied. At the time, in my early 20’s, this felt more than a stretch. I had already had my worldview stretched beyond repair and now my body, a body which was historically inflexible, was being asked to dance. And not just with our little group, but in local churches as a fundraiser. Katharine, our campus minister, harnessed our resistance into beauty, asking us to strike poses with our pain and our power right in the middle of sanctuaries, right in the heart of sacred spaces.It was a time of my life infused with existential angst, questions about what was worth my years, what was I to do with my life?At one of our rehearsals, my body glided behind the pulpit - an unmistakable, undeniable, rush of something came over.
There weren’t angels. There wasn’t light. But it was, as if, just for a moment, a thin space, a boundary was broken through. Maybe it was that I allowed myself to get out of my head, maybe it was that the dancing helped me to build a capacity to be in touch with something beyond. It allowed me to integrate, what I guess I couldn’t process any other way. It was a glimpse of something that remains a Mystery, a heat or a deeper feeling that washed over me and pulsed through me.
John Wesley founder of Christian Methodist wrote in his journal, "I felt my heart strangely warmed…”
My minister told me not to dismiss the strange warming of my heart and my body. And I didn’t. But without all of that support I could have cast it aside. It was an experience that didn’t fit.
I know that not everyone has an experience just like mine, but I know that many of us and maybe most of us, have powerful experiences that moved us in ways we cannot entirely explain. Maybe you have forgotten yours. Maybe you haven’t shared it aloud.
We live in a culture that can easily dismiss stories, experiences, emotions and encounters with things that don’t make sense or are outside the realm of what is called an ordinary experience. We aren’t taught to affirm what we don’t understand or to cultivate a capacity to be moved by Mystery, to surrender to the flow, even in the face of all that we do not know. And yet, you heard the words of Albert Einstein, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science…”
“(The one) to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead…”
“To know what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms…”
In the stories of both Jesus and Moses, the realm of the ordinary and the realm of something Mysterious and Transcendent seem to overlap or connect. In the book of Exodus when Moses comes down from the mountain with blessings from God on a tablet and his face is shining so bright that we read this, “they were afraid to come near him.”
In the book of Luke, Jesus climbs up a mountain and then his face changes, and his clothes become dazzling white. Later we learn there is a cloud that terrifies his friends.
There is a theme here…. Thomas W. Currie writes, “glory silences our religious chatter and renders us blinking and confused in its light. Perhaps that is what holy ground feels like…”
Being open to an experience beyond what we can explain can be frightening and it can also be holy ground.
I have come to believe that we miss so much when we dismiss the possibility that glory could make an appearance right here, that sometimes, something can happen that connects in ways that get us out of ourselves- enough to expand our hearts, just enough…to at least turn to wonder…what if? What is this trying to reveal or unveil?
In the story in Luke, we are told it all “appeared in glory!”
This can seem far from our lives, as if we are doing it wrong when we don’t see angels. As if we aren’t on track, when we don’t have incredible spiritual experiences that are worthy of a best selling novel.
But I think it’s not something distant from our days because the Greek word used for appear is to attend to. So maybe what we are after as people who want to live with purpose, conscience, joy and depth, is attending to glory. Maybe what we are to be about is making time for magnificence, sitting with splendor, not dismissing mysterious majesty.
I believe the invitation for us, here and now is to attend to grandeur, to be in awe, to cultivate a capacity to behold beauty, to not deny the deep encounters we have had, to not dismiss the presence of transcendence in our midst.
Even though we are bursting at the seams with Ph.D.s and lots of us who love what knowledge has pointed us to, we are also a place where wild stories and wonder are welcome. Let us make time for magnificence, let us sit with splendor, and let us attend to glory. May it be so. Amen.