March 22, 2014
A sermon preached by Rev. Judy Dahl (MCC) at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA
My name is Judy Dahl. I have worshipped here at St. Paul’s for about a year and a half. I retired from 30 years of ordained MCC ministry and am now a candidate for the RCWP. My friend and woman priest, Kathleen is with us today to evaluate my homily. Welcome and thank you Kathleen. I also want to thank the members of my discernment group here at St. Paul’s, Marlene, Stanley, Nancy, Ray and Sue, for their feedback and support.and special thanks to our Pastor Dianne and her generosity of spirit in sharing her pulpit with me today.
I offer these words to God and to us, God’s people.
Several years ago I was scheduled to fly to Amsterdam to join a number of my friends to set off on a two week bike and barge through Holland, during the high holy days of blooming tulips. I was ecstatic.
The evening before departure I received a phone call from my dear friend Rebecca with the very sad news that our mutual lifetime friend, Paul, had died. Paul was Jewish and his burial happened that same day. His memorial took place before my return home.
I left for the Bike and Barge trip as scheduled. Now there is little to compare with biking through fields of tulips in the Spring. The birds, the colors, the fresh, chill of the morning warming into a sack lunch beside a canal, with friends.
Yet my heart was sad. Paul was a very significant person in my life. We traveled in a group of friends much like what you see in the movie, The Big Chill.
Near the tenth day of our two week bike and barge journey, we entered the small village of Vierhouten, a walled city, where we would walk and stroll, have coffee, relax along the way. Did I tell you we biked 40 miles a day…
I won’t go into great detail, but as we walked along the quaint village streets, I heard a sound I will never forget. In summary, a young woman driver, hit an older woman on a bicycle.. She was thrown from her bike and landed just feet from us…
She was taken quickly by ambulance. We were questioned by police and made difficult attempts to soothe the ravaged soul of the younger woman.
We then got back on our bicycles, helmet, shades, rear view finders… And I cycled on in a deeper grief.
We were on our way to the Hidden Village, a sacred place where neighbors from this village gave sanctuary to Jews trying to escape Nazi terror.
We were silent exploring the now abandoned village. As we left, my partner Woody said…” Did you notice, there were no sounds, no birds, no colors, …” This was the Netherlands in Springtime, usually awake with a cacophony of color and music. I recognized this as sacred space, a thin place, where the living and the dying blend as one.
I gathered my heart up for the loss of Paul, the ache of the older woman taken in the ambulance and the souls of those harbored so long ago in the hidden village.
Peddling off from the Hidden Village, I looked up above my helmet, just to my left, above the rim of my helmet, a yellow butterfly hovered, I mean hung in my view, for minutes.
What is this? Who are you? Why are you here?
I have learned Life experiences can shape our spiritual understandings. These are the places where God pokes through our daily lives to connect with us.
The Psalmist no doubt had these experiences. “You taught me wisdom in this secret place.” Our psalmist today shares an experience where a Divine Voice shares wisdom. From an ancient sound, we see how the Holy Other continues to share wisdom… And where once something is hidden… It finds the light in our hearts to be made known again.
Jeremiah, another wise and ancient voice, knows that the Creator writes with an indelible script. Somehow the divine information that gives meaning to life and mystery… And even death, comes through our hearts. “I will put my law in their minds and write it upon their hearts.”
John has Jesus sharing a parable of great consequence, and greater mystery…” Unless this kernel falls to the ground and dies, it becomes only a single seed, but when it dies, it becomes many seeds.”
What could all of this mean for us today. How can we unwrap these texts
today? Here in the fifth Sunday of Lent, that time in our church calendar year where we ponder the thin space of the life of Jesus… A vital life force… Soon to die… Yet live again?
When we approach Scripture with the Jewish practice of midrash, we ask questions, we look into the hidden moments of our lives, and into the experiences that shape us, and the stories of others and the mystery of our lives.
The German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, seemed to grasp the value of this practice applied not only to a sacred text, but to life and wrote in Letters to a Young Poet: “Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.”
As Jesus modeled so masterfully in his parables and teachings, we can welcome uncertainty and paradox. Respond to questions with yet more questions, like Jesus did.
It’s hard to miss the glory of Spring. But when death comes to us or around us, we can miss the wonder. We struggle to remember the many seeds, when one dies and falls to the ground. As we prepare for the resurrection, we long to miss the cross. It’s little or no comfort to be reminded of a butterfly when we are still in a cocoon, hidden.
That afternoon, when our team of cycles returned to the barge, we learned the older woman in the village had died on the way to the hospital. She left three young children. And no doubt a grieving spouse. When she fell to the ground… The spirit of her life, the love and life she had given lives on in her children and those who loved her… And even some who had never met her.
She is here in this story… And now lives too in our lives. She lives on…
My friend Paul gave me a book many years earlier in our friendship. The title of the book is… “I Never Saw Another Butterfly.” It is children’s poems and drawings from the Terezin Concentration Camp 1942-1944. When I returned home from our bike and barge trip, remembering all my experiences, especially that solo butterfly…
Even before I unpacked, I went to my favorite bookshelf and pulled out the book Paul had given me. I remembered when he gave it to me, he said, I’m not really sure why I am giving you this book, but someday you will know.”
I quickly turned to the page where the child remembers seeing a butterfly… The poem leapt out at me… The butterfly was yellow.
The creator of us all weaves our stories in such a way that in our living, and in our dying, we co-create beauty and wonder in the world. Let us spend some time today, later this week, thinking about the mystery in our lives. The thin places where God has come through to us. Let the mystery be. We, together will find wisdom in the hidden place… It is written on our hearts.
Thesis: May our ” hidden places” prepare us to see the butterfly
Title: Hidden Places
Psalm 51:6 “…you taught me wisdom in that secret place…”
Jeremiah 31:33 “…I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts…”
John 12:24 “…very truly I tell you…Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed, but if it dies, it becomes many…”