Sunday, September 10, 2017

Freedom comes only with that first trusting step

Readings:  Exodus 12:1-14; Romans 13:8-14

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you … [And] this day shall be a day of remembrance for you.  You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.

The people were commanded to remember. 

But I doubt any of us ever forget the time and the place when our life finally takes a turn for the healthy.  The day we finally are able to step out from the grip of something that always holds us back, and we start learning at last to live as the whole, free, and holy people that deep down we always long to be.  The day – the moment when, in the words of St. Paul, we “wake from sleep,” and instead of hiding in the darkness, start to live in the light of day.

About six years ago I was at Five Oaks in Paris, Ontario for five days with about twenty other people for a week-long introduction to the Jubilee Program – a two-year training program to train people as spiritual directors.   The week was designed to introduce us to the different themes and aspects of the program, and also to ourselves – to start putting us in better touch with our own spirits, our own hearts and minds, our own creativity and imagination, our own bodies. 

Each day included some input and group sharing, time for art and creative expression, private prayer and journaling.  And each day began with a full half-hour of rhythmic movement – a full half-hour of all twenty of us being in the common room, with different moods of music being played, and all of us simply moving our bodies in response to it, as a way of bodily expressing the different sides and different aspects of our spirit that were touched and brought to life by the music.

I knew this was part of the program.  And it was the one biggest thing I had to wrestle with, in deciding to go and be part of it. 

Basically it was dance – free-form, from-the-inside-out, letting-your-body-be-free, letting-other-people-see-you, showing-freely-on-the-outside-what-you-feel-deep-down-on-the-inside dance.  The very thing that has scared me for most of my life.  The thing that has ruined wedding receptions and nights out with my wife.  The thing was the tip that showed of a lifelong iceberg of repressed feelings – even at times, of oblivion to feelings, and separation from things bodily and physical – a little prison and enslavement all my own. 

But when the time came to dance, I did, because I wanted to be part of the program.  Spiritual direction was something that had called to me for years.  And when the time came to sign on and step into that room the first morning, and then the second and third and fourth and fifth mornings after, I trusted it would be okay.  That I could be free.  That it would not be the end of me, but really the beginning.

And in many ways it was.  Not all at once.  Not once and for all.  Not without further struggles and a lot of other hard learnings and growth along the way.  But it was the first step towards a new way of being me – one that’s more whole, free, healthy and holy than before.

And I’ll always remember that room and those mornings, and be grateful for that chance to step out, let go of what help me back, and do something I thought I never could, to live the kind of life I know God created me to live.

Like in the reading from Exodus today that reflects the people of Israel’s memory hundreds of years later of the time they first began to walk in the world as God’s people – the night they had to trust that they could be more than slaves to the power of the day, that they could walk away from what enslaved them and held them back, that they could over time learn to live in the world in the way God intends us all to.

As Paul says: 

you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.  For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first began to believe; the night is far gone, the day is near.  Let us then lay aside the ways of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us … put on the ways of God as they are shown to us, and stop giving in to the lesser ways of this world.

One thing we need to remember about the escape of the people of Israel from slavery to Egypt.  It was not a flight to freedom just for the sake of being free, and being able to be their own people to do and to be whatever they wished.  It was, rather, a very focused flight, a purposeful escape, a journey with clear spiritual intent and direction.

Moses was upfront about it, with the pharaoh and with the people.  Time and again Moses said the people needed to leave Egypt to go and worship God in the wilderness, to meet almighty God as he had at Mount Sinai, and to hear there the Word of God about how they are to live in the world. 

And then (what he didn’t say quite so clearly, but which would be the next step), to be free to live it, to go on from there to the Promised Land and to grow through teaching, time and testing to be the kind of people God intends – to “lay aside the ways of darkness and put on … the ways of God as they are shown to us.”

It’s something that happens, I imagine, in every life.  And maybe not just once, but in different ways at different times.  Hopefully, though, not never at all.

A week-and-a-half ago I received an email – as some of you did, as well, from G (who is now a paramedic in Niagara) about a volunteer medical mission trip he is making with a team of other doctors, nurses, dentists and paramedics to Haiti next summer.  They will be staffing medical and dental clinics in remote parts of the country with the goal of providing free healthcare to up to 500 people a day, and training local healthcare providers for the necessary follow-up.

I wonder how long the lure of a trip like this sat in G’s heart, and what he had to struggle with – or not, to answer the call.  How hard, or how easy it was for him to step out and know he could do this.  And what effect it will have on the rest of his life.

It reminds me of R and E and their Medical Ministries trips to different places in South America – each of them for their own reasons, because of where they were in their life at that point, and both of them changed in deep ways by their willingness to trust the call – both of them whole and free and holy in ways that cannot now be undone.

And the D’s and their trips to the Dominican that have changed and deepened their life as a family. 

And a simple trip along with others from our church to the north end of Hamilton one year to tour the City Kidz facility at the time that changed B’s life. 

And the people from five congregations involved for the past two years with United to Help Syrians who are now being changed for the whole and the holy by their contact at last with the [family we have sponsored].

There are so many ways it happens – that the call to be more whole and more holy comes to us. 

And it’s not always just to go somewhere out there far away – to be engaged in, and made whole by mission to someone else in some strange place.  Sometimes the landscape of the journey we’re called to trust is more internal, more at home, more to do with relationships right at hand. 

Maybe to take on a task right at home, or here in the church, or in our own community that we just haven’t yet had the courage – or the trust, to say yes to. 

Maybe to learn something – even face something, about yourself that we never have been able to yet. 

Maybe to turn and be open to, or reach out to someone who for years and in so many ways you have been resisting, have been at odds with, who you never thought you could be a brother or sister to, or as a friend towards.

The call comes to us all at some point – or points, in our life. 

We all are enslaved and imprisoned – held back from being whole and holy, in many ways, by many things. 

And because God is God and we are God’s sons and daughters, created to live on Earth in God’s image and likeness, we are called – each of us, in our own way and time, to let go of what enslaves us, to step out from behind and away from what holds us back, and to trust the journey God calls us to make – to trust that beyond the death of what we leave behind,
there is new life that we long for, that the journey we make in faith will be not the end but the beginning of a life more whole and healthy and good than we ever used to think possible.

And the question is, are we ready?  Are our sandals on our feet, and our staff in our hand? 
Are we ready to wake from sleep, put aside the ways of darkness and half-life, and start living into the light of the ways of God as we know them?

When we are, and when we do, we never forget it.  We never can forget – or stop being grateful for the day our life takes a turn for the healthy, and we start learning to live as the whole, free, and holy people that deep down we always long to be.  

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