August 26 Sermon
How lovely is thy dwelling place, O Lord of hosts to me.
My thirsty soul desires and longs
within thy courts to be…
my very heart and flesh cry out, O living God for thee.
Gorgeous words, aren’t they?
What does your thirsty soul desire and long for?
What does your very heart and flesh cry out for?
Is it God? Is it something else? Do you even know?
It’s OK. A lot of us don’t know what our soul really longs for…
We think we do…but it’s hard to genuinely know when there’s so many things competing for our attention…when there are so many mixed messages. We’re told that we’re supposed to want all kinds of things…And our desires tend to fly around like anxious swallows, flitting from one want and desire to another.
“O God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You,” is how St. Augustine begins his Confessions.
Our hearts are restless…hungry…and seeking…and restless…
It’s human nature. I mean we all have certain wants…needs really. Food, water, shelter…but how do we distinguish between lunch and the bread that comes down from heaven?
We all need…security…we need to feel safe: personally, emotionally, financially…But you know how hard it is to feel really secure in those ways…how many really…really feel financially secure? How many feel like that it’s safe to show our emotions? To reveal our inner lives?…To close friends…maybe? How many feel physically safe in your home…where you work…out in the world? Probably fewer feel really safe than you would imagine…All of that insecurity keeps that swallow flitting around. And keeps us from knowing…truly knowing…what our heart, our flesh, our soul longs for…cries out for.
In order to mitigate all that anxiety, we all need friendships and intimacy to help us make sense of it all…We need to feel like we belong somewhere… We need to know that we are valued…that our lives matter…that we matter.
We need to be in touch with our soul…we need to pay attention to it.
“This is the first, wildest, and wisest thing I know,” says poet Mary Oliver, “that the soul exists, and that it is built entirely out of attentiveness.”
The soul is built entirely out of attentiveness.
Poets are often the most attentive.
Our psalmist today, a pilgrim who has apparently travelled a long a very long way…who has gone through the desert vales, and found springs…who has climbed from height to height — and you can’t do that without going through a lot of really difficult terrain—this poet-pilgrim looks toward the altar notices birds nesting in the crevices of the temple nearby. It’s an image that has always arrested me. In the words of the Psalm: “even the bird has found a home, and the swallow a nest for itself, that puts its fledglings by Your altars” [Psalm 84: 2, Robert Alter trans.]. That’s an image that always gets me…a small, vulnerable bird nested with its young near the altar. And not an altar like this…not a wooden table, beautifully decorated inside a railing, surrounded by an artfully designed stone building. No, the altar the psalmist sees is likely the one Solomon built and prays in front of today. That altar, the altar of burnt offerings (according to the book of Chronicles), was 30 feet wide, and 30 feet long, and 15 feet high. It stood just outside the temple and was where the animal and bird sacrifices were offered. It was not, I imagine, a place of serene calm and tranquility. Rather it was likely a place of tumult and commotion…of blood, and smoke and ashes…and this is where this…the vulnerable creature…not only finds rest, but “lays her young.”
It’s like a line from another Psalm: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies…(or in another translation) in the presence of those who trouble me.”
The soul finds rest…even in the most chaotic of circumstances…because God is present even in the most chaotic of circumstances…but we have to pay attention to the soul…we have to listen to its cries, and be attentive to its longings.
Jesus says a lot of troubling, difficult things today. And at this point in the homily, I’m not about to start unpacking all of it. It’s not good to pretend that it’s not part of our scriptures, that we don’t have to wrestle with it…but we don’t have to wrestle with it today. Today, it’s ok to respond more like Peter…”I don’t necessarily get it, but where else am I going to go?”
Today…I think it’s enough that we listen for, and pay attention to our soul…that bird-like being that knows there is rest, and food, and safety in the presence of God…and that God’s presence is all around…so all encompassing that, really…where am I going to go?…
Today, it’s enough to be attentive to that still small voice in each of us. The voice that desires us to experience a deep rootedness in the soil of our own created being. The voice that thirsts for real, authentic connection in community. The voice that cries out to tell the truth about ourselves and the world. The voice that has breathed life into us, and that longs for us to share that life with others (Parker Palmer, Hidden Wholeness, p.33-34). The voice of heart. The voice of our soul. The voice of God.
This is a draft text of the homily, and may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.