A Sermon for Those who Travel in the Dark

Psalm 25:1-10

“I lay open my whole life to you.”

This is one translation of the beginning
of today’s psalm.

“I lay open my whole life to you,
trusting you O Holy One.”

The words struck me
when I read them this week.

It sounds a bit daunting,
our lives are full and nuanced.
How do we lay open our whole life
to love, transformation and holiness?

I was pondering that question this week,
as I read the story of Padraig [Paw-drig] O Tuama,
an Irish author, poet and theologian.

Padraig tells of a moment,
when he felt deeply lonely
and decided to visit
the Taize monastery in eastern France.
He arrives searching and uncertain,
for he has been running for a long time
from himself and the world.

He arrives Easter week.
Each morning,
he attends ten minutes of morning reflections.
On Maundy Thursday,
a day when the Scripture about the last supper is normally read,
the leading monk turns instead to an Easter passage.
The monk turns to the Gospel of John,
reading the text where
Jesus comes to the disciples in an upper room
who have locked themselves in out of fear.
The monk points out that when Jesus arrived in this room of fear
Jesus greeted the disciples by saying, “Peace be with you.”

Consider for a moment these words
that the resurrected Christ spoken to those locked-in:
Peace be with you.

The Taize monk says, in a real sense,
we can read these words as hello.
After all, words of peace are the standard greeting
in Hebrew, Arabic and Aramaic.
The monk smiles and askes everyone
to say hello to their own language.

Hello.

They return to the text.
The disciples, were there in fear, locked in the upper room,
and suddenly the one that they abandoned,
the one that they perhaps
most feared to be with them
appeared
and said hello

Hello to you in this locked room.

These words hit home for Padraig.

One day at the monastery,
he skips morning prayer
and finds himself walking
around and around and around.
He had always been running, you see,
running from himself,
running from the world.
In that moment,
he was able to the truth about himself
without shame for the first time in years.
The truth was that he was falling apart.

Hello to falling apart.

In the tight and confining places of our lives,
in the fall apart places,
Jesus comes to us speaking a word of peace.

Hello.

Padraig had come to the monastery
because, for so long he had been running away,
but it is there that he learned to say hello.

Hello to the full and nuanced places of our life.

“I lay open my whole life to you.”
the psalmist writes.

The words still daunt me.

It seems like such an overwhelming feat,
laying our life out,
inviting the Holy in
to say hello
to all the varied and variegated
parts of our lives.

Please tell me,
why would we want to lay open our whole life?

I contemplated that query this week
amidst ever darkening days.
As I wrote this sermon early in the mornings,
the inky black sky outside my window
reminded me that
the Advent season begins in the dark.
It starts as the nights are lengthening.
It starts as we read stories of an ancient people
journeying through a dark period of their lives,
yearning for illumination and liberation
from confined spaces.

In the psalm,
the psalmist writes
about their own journey
as they struggle against their enemies.
Who is our enemy?
I once heard the term “enemy” defined as
anything that
limits us from seeing our
full light and dignity.
Can we be enemies of ourselves?
Can we have limiting thoughts about ourselves?
Perhaps this psalmist knows what it is
to have thoughts that tell us we are not good enough,
or come face to face with their imperfection.
After all, they writes,
“Be mindful of your mercy, O God …
Do not remember the sins of my youth.”

What is happening in their life,
we cannot be certain,
but surely they know what it is
to experience lengthening evenings
and to long for sunlit days.

What do we do at times like these?

As I looked outside
at the velvety sky,
I wondered:
How do we find our way forward?
How do we learn to travel in the dark?
How do we say hello
to this season and part of our lives?

As I considered these questions,
I came upon the book
The Pursuit of Endurance: Harnessing the Recording-Breaking
Power of Strength and Resilience,
by Jennifer Pharr Davis.
In the book,
Jennifer tells the story
of her record-breaking treks on the Appalachian Trail,
a 2200 mile trail that runs from Georgia to Maine.
In 2011, Jennifer set the fastest known time for the women
and in 2012, she sat the fast known time for all genders.
Jennifer relays that she could not have done them without her faith.
She writes:
“The farther I walked, the weaker I felt,
the more I relied on my faith,
and the more I felt God’s presence.
[Setting a Fast Known Time] shares similar traits
with an ascetic fast [or] a solitary retreat …
When I walk through the forest I feel closer to my God.”

That said,
on her first record-setting trip,
Jennifer specifically avoided walking in the dark.
Yet, one of her friends, Warren Doyle,
kept suggesting she end her trek with flair,
by embarking on a particularly long mileage day,
and for that, she would have to hike in the dark.
I don’t know Jennifer said to Warren doubtfully,
what if I get lost or injured?

I know the way, Warren said,
you can point your headlamp
at the back of my shoes
and follow me.

They decided to do a sixty mile day
– she was trying to set a record after all –
and they started together at 2 a.m.
underneath a canopy of stars.

For twelve miles,
they walked together in the cool of the night
and the gentle noises of all things nocturnal.
Davis says it was one of the most memorable
and rewarding memories of that summer.
When morning broke,
She was left wondering why she had not done it sooner.

Hello to traveling in the dark.

Jennifer’s words have lingered in my mind this week:
I wonder why I did not do it sooner.

Her words solidify for me
why we lay open our lives to the Big Love,
even when it’s hard,
even when we are only able to do it step by step.
We lay open our whole lives,
trusting in the Holy One,
because when we do
we are left with a tender encounter
that alters our lives.
.
In the midst of the psalmist’s evening travels,
they write,
“Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.”

I wonder if we, perhaps,
like Padraig feel reluctant
to lay open our life to God
if we, like Jennifer,
doubt our ability to find out way.

Yet,
Jesus comes to us
saying, like Warren,
point your headlamp at my feet
and follow me
in the early hours of the dawn
and I will lead you home.
Hello. Hello to you who travel in darkness.

Padraig,
the poet, theologian and writer
that I originally mentioned
went on to become
a school chaplain in Ireland.
One day,
a young person
wrote a prayer for their end-of-the-day service.
When the young person was done
They crumbled up the prayer
And threw it in the trash.
Padraig fished it out,
framed it and hung it on his wall.
He says,
I don’t know what other prayer to pray.
The prayer reads:
Dear God,
Thank you for putting me on this earth
but sometimes people can get lonely
and I don’t like people being lonely
cause sometimes I am
and it’s not a good feeling.
So I’d like you to pair them up
with someone who is lonely
if you can.
Amen.
Sad could be happy.

The boy had read the prayer with such a simple truth.
that Padraig said he thought his heart would break.
At the bottom was a sad face covered by a rain cloud
and a happy face in the middle of the sun.
Sad could be happy.
God, pair people up if you can.
The boy prayed these words
with the chaplain
who had gone to Taize
because he was deeply lonely.

Hello to loneliness.
Hello to prayer.
Hello to finding each other.

Hello to a God who sees the fullness of who we are
and says
welcome, welcome, welcome.

Amen.

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