Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Aidan Owen, OHC
Pentecost 3C - Sunday, June 30, 2019
2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
Click here for an audio version of the sermon.
Pentecost 3C - Sunday, June 30, 2019
2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
In the name of the One God, who is Lover, Beloved, and Love Overflowing. Amen.
There are really just two ways to God: the way of love, and the way of need.
The way of love is the way of the mystic, who is totally absorbed in God. The way of need is the way of the addict, who recognizes that it is only God’s grace, given moment by moment, that saves her from drowning in the abyss of her own obsessions and illusions.
Whichever of these ways we start on, we will eventually find ourselves on the other as well. For they’re really the same way, seen from different angles.
The mystic, seeking God above and in all things, will long to be freed from whatever is not God and from whatever would hinder her full recognition of her unity with God. The addict, relying on God’s grace moment by moment, will come to love deeply and fully the one who sustains her.
Addict and lover, love and need, so closely intertwined as to be one path, one being. Like the human and divine, united in Jesus, and through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, in each of us as well.
So it is with the fruit of the Spirit, of which Paul writes to the Galatians and to us.
“For freedom Christ has set us free.” (Gal. 5:1) I would imagine that most us can say “yes” to this statement. That most of us have experienced the freedom of Christ, and freedom in Christ.
And yet, the further we walk down the road to freedom, the more obvious it becomes how unfree we all remain. The roots of sin, to use traditional language, run very deep. As soon as I recognize a selfless or generous action as the gift of God, my ego takes credit for it, and I feel puffed up with pride at my growth in love.
Paul knew this phenomenon very well. Why else would he chastise the Galatians? “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence.” And again he tells them, “If you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.” (Gal. 5:13; 15)
Though we are free in and through Christ, we remain, in the words of twelve-step spirituality, chained in the bondage of Self. We are both free through Christ’s liberating love, and enslaved to our own obsessive self-regard. In other words, we are both the lover and the addict, free to love and be loved, and in desperate need of further freedom.
In the odd and paradoxical way of the things of God, it is when we most fully recognize our desperate unfreedom, our enslavement to our obsessions and illusions, that we are closest to freedom. Just as it is when we are most fully and deeply absorbed in our love of God that we are most powerfully aware of our need of grace and mercy.
Love and need, entangled. Addict and mystic, our twinned selves.
In her first novel, Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson captures this dynamic beautifully:
Imagine a Carthage sown with salt, and all the sowers gone, and the seeds lain however long in the earth, till there rose finally in vegetable profusion leaves and trees of rime and brine. What flowering would there be in such a garden. Light would force each salt calyx to open in prisms, and to fruit heavily with bright globes of water—peaches and grapes are little more than that, and where the world was salt there would be greater need of slaking. For need can blossom into all the compensations it requires. To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweetly as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth, and when do our senses know anything so utterly as when we lack it? And here again is a foreshadowing—the world will be made whole. For to wish for a hand on one's hair is all but to feel it. So whatever we may lose, very craving gives it back to us again. Though we dream and hardly know it, longing, like an angel, fosters us, smooths our hair, and brings us wild strawberries.1“For need can blossom into all the compensation it requires. To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow.” Indeed.
When we do we long more powerfully for self-control than when we have just said something rash and hurtful, without thinking it though? When do we long for love more fully than in our loneliness? When do we yearn for generosity, kindness, and peace more strongly than when we most powerfully feel their lack?
To want means both to be without and to desire. Such is the human experience of God.
Contrary to reason, our longing for God is not a sign of God’s absence. It is perhaps the truest sign of God’s presence. For our thirst for God can never, at least in this life, be fully quenched. The more we have of God, the more aware we become, paradoxically, of our distance from God, and the more we long to bridge that distance.
In other words, our love for God is our need of God, and our need of God is the sign of our love for God. Or to paraphrase Thomas Merton, “our poverty is written in us as God’s glory.”
Yes, it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. And to the degree that we are still in unfreedom, we can rejoice that our need holds us close to God, until the time that need blossoms into the love we so desperately want. Until the time when our very craving gives us back to our beloved, and we two become fully one once more.
1 Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping (New York: Picador, 1980), p. 152.