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To listen to earlier homilies click here.
About the photo, from the Flickr website:
Pattern Language [Draft text of the homily]
To what will I compare this generation?
It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,
‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’
Pretty extreme examples…
We’ve all had the experience of not knowing what to do.
Not knowing what to say.
After receiving some unexpected news…a tragic death…a troubling diagnosis…
A colleague gets the promotion you were sure was going to you…
And we’ve all had the experience of reacting in the wrong way to something.
Yelling at some innocent person because something earlier in the day made you angry.
As Paul says, we often don’t understand our own actions.
We do what we don’t want, and don’t do what we do want.
Actually, we do understand…a bit.
You see, our brains are exceedingly adept at discerning patterns in the world.
It’s one of the most basic—and best—things we do.
We find patterns. We learn patterns. We live in patterns.
Our lives are made up of patterns.
Our physical spaces, from rooms to cities are patterned.
Our minutes, hours, days, and seasons are patterned.
Our human expressions: art, music, language are all patterns.
We love patterns.
When we walk into an unknown room, or see something disturbing,
one of the first things we start to do is look for patterns—try to “make sense”—out of what we see.
And we do this before we’re even conscious of it.
Scientists have also recently discovered things called mirror neurons in our brains.
These are neurons that fire both when we do something, AND when we are just watching someone else doing the same thing.
Watch someone walking down the street carrying a heavy package and some of the same neurons that fire when you carry something heavy will also be firing.
Seeing me up here speaking means that you have neurons firing that remind you of public speaking yourself.
Mirror neurons might help explain why we laugh and cry at movies, why we cheer watching sports, why we react with such deep and profound emotions when we see people we don’t really know doing things that have no real effect on us.
Scientists think these mirror neurons might help explain empathy—being able to feel what others feel.
And might help explain how we learn language (through imitation of what we see and hear others do)…
Maybe they are part of how we know that when we hear music we should dance, and sing along, or when we hear others wailing we should mourn.
We know these patterns.
The pattens of empathy, and gratitude, and interconnectedness are deep, soul level patterns.
And now there is some neurological evidence to back up what we have always known deeply—at the soul level.
And yet, there is still Paul, reminding us of something else that we know is also deeply true: we don’t do the things that we want, and do the very thing we hate.
We don’t always get the pattern right.
Jesus is calling out to the people of “this generation” saying, “the pattern is wrong.”
There’s music and you don’t dance…
There’s wailing and you don’t mourn…
Why? What’s going on?
Paul links it to sin.
Sin is classically defined as “missing the mark.”
In a sense, sin is reading the pattern wrong, or not seeing the deeper pattern that is present.
Jesus is reminding us of these deep patterns, calling us back to the soul patterns of love
and empathy that we once knew.
But that are now hidden from the “wise and the intelligent.”
They become hidden because the deep, divine patterns of love are not the only patterns in our lives.
We are so good at seeing patterns that we often create patterns where none exist.
We create patterns based on our fear and isolation.
And we grow up in a world where everyone’s individual patterns,
everyone’s way of looking at the world—of being in the world—gets imposed on—tangled up in—overlaid on each other—and all these competing patterns obscure the deep pattern of connection and love.
The patterns of unresolved hurt and anger…
The patterns of our own disappointments and failures…
The patterns of shame and embarrassment we all feel at times…
Our own unexamined and unmet emotional needs, and those of our friends, loved ones, and colleagues, all create a matrix of complicated and conflicting patterns that bind us.
We are so good at recognizing patterns that we get trapped in a whole lot of them that are completely unhelpful to us, and often harmful to others.
This drink will make me feel better.
Buying that widget will numb the pain.
The world is what it is, and it doesn’t matter anyway.
Then there are the even more diabolical patterns that are created and transmitted by the fear that runs rampant in communities in every time and place.
We are imprinted with these patterns too.
Patterns that teach that “we” don’t associate with “those people”…
“those people” are unclean, don’t eat with them…
“that one is a drunkard and a glutton,” don’t go near him…
We don’t sing or dance with their type…
We can’t hire “them”…
We can’t support “them”…
“Those people” are our enemies, we don’t mourn for “them”…
We know these sinful patterns as well.
And too often, we are captive to this systemic sin that dwells within us.
But Paul knows—just as we do too—that there is another pattern below these sinful patterns.
Jesus is calling us back to that original—true—divine pattern
The one we are all made in the image of.
The pattern that sees needs and responds with compassion.
The pattern that recognizes that the weary and heavy laden need rest.
That sees someone mourning—even an enemy—and weeps with them.
That is willing to risk looking and sounding foolish to sing and dance with any song.
This is the deep, eternal pattern of justice.
A pattern where a hand outstretched for bread receives it.
And a parched throat receives water or wine.
Jesus is calling us back to this original pattern that we know deep down.
And with a little help and encouragement, together we can remember how deeply it is inscribed in us.
For me the purpose of our spiritual journey is a persistent learning and relearning…
remember and responding to those patterns.
Remembering them and then shaping our lives according to them.
The work of our spiritual life—in the disciplines of prayer and worship and studying scripture, and working as the Body of Christ in the world, and rest—Sabbath—
all those divine patterns that we’re encouraged to yoke ourselves to—
are all ways to help us unlearn those false, sinful patterns that our culture imposes on us—imprints on us—binds us with.
And to help us reawaken to those deeper patterns…
Those divine patterns of love, and gratitude, and generosity, and faith.
May we be given the grace to see and hear and live into those eternal patterns so that we might be free to dance, and sing.