Monroe Congregational Church, U.C.C.
December 31, 2000 - Pastor Diane Schmitz
Many of us have a special drawer in our house - a unique depository for miscellaneous objects and such that just don't seem to have a regular place in which to dwell. At my house we call it the "junk drawer."
The surprising thing is how popular this drawer becomes - and how convenient. Before long all sorts of things have found a new home there - things that usually have a home elsewhere but have come to reside here instead.
A couple of days ago I reached in to my junk drawer and pulled out this tangled group of things. After my initial shock at the tangled mess I noticed a few things. Many of the things in the junk drawer have strings attached to them. They get entwined with each other and soon there exists a confused state of affairs.
Here is a whistle that my son uses when he coaches. The string attached to the whistle is wound around this thick strand of black yarn that seems to have attracted a stray piece of scotch tape and a loose blue Velcro strap. I believe the Velcro strap was last used to wrap a sleeping pad for camping. There's an electric cord here attached to a lighted metal base for a special night light that got dropped and broken. And a tape measure, and another Velcro strap with a couple of balloons stuck to it, a stray piece of bent wire, a red bubble blower and a Mickey Mouse Pez candy holder that has yarn wrapped around its neck.
There are times where our lives might feel a bit like this tangle: a mumbo-jumbo of whistles, balloons, and bent wire ensnarled amidst sticky Velcro straps with a mind of their own. We are tangled up in a web of our own life that can seem so full and yet strangely empty at the same time. Things we don't really need anymore mingle with things in disrepair. So much is clumped together we cannot see clearly what is really there. Sometimes we turn away from the whole mess feeling it's just too much to deal with - we wouldn't know where to start untangling it.
The invitation of Christmas is to untangle our lives enough to create spaces to encounter the God who has come to be with us. Our response to that invitation is a yearning to experience that Presence in a way that calms us and instills in us a faith and a confidence in the lives we live - regardless of how tangled they may become. Our chances for connecting with the Holy Mystery are enhanced if we find ways to create contemplative moments in our everyday lives. We do not need to go off to a mountaintop to experience God but we are invited to practice how to stop and be attentive. We can create those moments of silence and rest where we are able to be more open to seeing and feeling the presence of God.
How successful we are at untangling a conglomeration like this depends greatly on the attitude we hold when we approach it. If we just start quickly pulling at loose ends the knots just seem to get tighter. If we want one particular part of it out and don't examine the relationship that it has to another before we pull it out, then we are likely to be unsuccessful with our separation. If we are just plain angry that the mess exists and approach it at a high level of frustration we are likely to have a difficult time being patient enough to loosen the various attachments.
If we are practicing the presence of God daily then our approach to the rest of our lives will be more calm and patient. We are able to see more clearly what needs pulling out, how and when to do it and also to discover what beauty and creativity might be hidden amidst the tangles.
Marsha Sinetar, in her book, "Sometimes Enough is Enough" talks about "holy untangling" as a way to have God's presence so saturate our being that we change our perception, choices and response to others.
She says, "Even when we miss the mark of an objective or fear that we lack the wherewithal to prevail over some conflict or backbreaking project, the wrinkles in a problem iron out. Life simplifies. Where once we strained to control each little outcome, we're becoming more accepting, less rigid. Paradoxically, as we gain an intuitive authority, we influence selected outcomes with poise. This is holy untangling. The radiant Presence at the center of existence guides our life. Slowly we realize that it's not exactly by means of our brilliance that triumphs come. An unseen grace orchestrates our affairs.
We will all untangle differently. What's important is that we hold the intention that our relationship with God is a priority in the midst of our tangled lives. We gently but firmly insist on time to be still and know God.
This morning's scripture readings tell us something of untangling. In our psalm we heard a ecstatic song of praise to God - a song that echoes from shining stars, fruit trees, stormy wind, the deep sea, wild animals, flying birds and all people, young and old alike. Every time we stop to feel gratitude for something or someone in our life we can encounter God. Holy untangling from a focus on what we don't have, to what it is with which we are blessed, can change our whole perspective on life.
Bonita Fogg Smith wrote this prayer that explains how she feels connected to God in the midst of the gratitude of creation: "The forest sings God's praises - the long exhalation of the earth waking from winter sings God's praises, and the mosses hear, and the trees, the trees with their miraculous white leaves, like angel wings - they hear, and add their voices, and the pines whisper it, and the trailing arbutus carries it over the ground so that all the forest knows, singing in silence, who made them in love and joy, and they stretch to reach their Creator, and I feel their singing, in my hands as I touch them; in my eyes as I see them; in my feet as I walk among them. O God, help me to keep listening."
How do we keep listening? A woman with grown children manages a hectic consulting business. Every morning she awakes at dawn. After fixing a cup of tea she reads a bit of scripture and sits quietly reflecting upon it. She likes to write and after a few minutes of reflection she is likely to compose a couple of lines of poetry. Her routine seldom varies.
A man who teaches at a University prefers his spiritual reflection time to be in the evening just before sleep. He puts on a favorite piece of quiet music and just listens. Then he reflects back over his day and those things about which he is grateful. Those things that he feels as a burden he turns over to God. Then he turns out the light.
A young mother is busy both in the morning and evening caring for her young children. She has found the best time she has to put her attention on God is when she is commuting to work in her car (about 45 minutes each way). She listens to tapes on spiritual topics or music and does not fret about traffic delays.
Another man does tai chi, a woman takes a daily walk in the park, another makes it a point to always stop for a few moments at sunset and sit quietly as the light disappears. All of these people find a way in the midst of their lives to routinely provide themselves with a resting time, a time to encounter the Mystery of life. In this rest they find renewal and come into contact with the "fruits of the Spirit" that empower them to meet whatever comes to them in their lives.
In our reading from Colossians this morning we are told that to live in the light of Christ we should clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility and patience. It tells us to forgive one another, let peace be in your heart, share your wisdom with others, sing praises and give thanks.
That's a wonderful sounding list but a bit overwhelming for how daily life can be. But, the verses before this reading give us a clue about how to get these qualities. They suggest we do a bit of untangling and "put off" our anger, wrath, malice and lying so we may be clothed anew. We untangle ourselves from such things by going to God first.
Holy untangling allows us to gently shed those things that cause others and us grief so we may be filled instead with compassion and confidence in life and other people. Whether our holy untangling comes through a walk, reflective prayer, or singing our joy to God, we will find ourselves more at ease as we approach our lives.
The odd thing is that even though the result of creating such spaces of renewal is often relief and a sense of joy, we hesitate and procrastinate making the kind of decisions that will free up that space. Perhaps we don't think we deserve it. Perhaps we think we should always put others or our work first. Maybe we're just a bit frightened of silence. Our image of God may be more laden with judgment and punishment than love and compassion. Sometimes we wonder if God will really be there.
Both of our scripture readings this morning have something to say about that. Psalm 148 says sing praises for the people of Israel who are close to God. We are not far away from God; God is close. The reading from Colossians is even stronger: we are God's chosen ones, holy and beloved. God calls us holy. God calls us beloved. God came to earth to be with us - not because we are perfect, not because we lead untangled lives but because God loves us.
When we really believe that deep in our hearts we will find holy untangling becomes a natural thing. Our anxieties, frustrations and fears will not cease to exist but they will cease to be our main focus. We will trust more, love others more freely, and be clothed with compassion, kindness and patience that reflect the God in whose image we are made. We will live our lives as the lilies in the field, beautifully blooming, untangled from the cares and concerns of our daily lives.
This is a poem called Camas Lilies by Lynn Ungar:
Consider the lilies of the field,Let us pray:
the blue banks of camas opening into acres of sky along the road.
Would the longing to lie down and be washed by that beauty
abate if you knew their usefulness?
how the natives ground their bulbs for flour, how the settlers' hogs uprooted them,
grunting in gleeful oblivion as the flowers fell?
And you - what of your rushed and useful life?
Imagine setting it all down - papers, plans, appointments, everything - leaving only a note: "Gone
to the fields to be lovely. Be back
when I'm through with blooming."
Even now, unneeded and uneaten,
the camas lilies gaze out above the grass from their tender blue eyes.
Even in sleep your life will shine.
Make no mistake. Of course your work will always matter.
Yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.