As we continue on our Lenten journey we pause over the common Dark Wood experience of being lost.
Google Maps will not help you through Dark Wood experiences.
And sometimes we are just lost, with no clear idea what to do or where to go next.
Today we pause and open to the gifts of that experience.
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Reflection – March 31, 2019: Gifts of the Darkwood – Getting Lost
by Will Sparks
The gift of being lost.
I would be willing to wager that every single person in this room right now, and everyone participating from home or wherever they are connected to us via the interweb, every single one of us can come up with a memory of a moment in time when they were truly lost. For some of us, that will be a lost in the woods kind of wilderness experience, wandering off the path, or, God help you, skiing out of bounds, inadvertently taking a wrong turn and finding yourself in a place where you do not know your way out, or the path just simply ending.
For others it may be in a city. I asked a similar question in study group this week and three of us simultaneously had a story of getting lost in Venice. For some that was an exhilarating adventure because they trusted that all paths in Venice lead some place interesting and you are never completely beyond help. But it is utterly possible to get frighteningly lost in the city. Surrounded by people can hold a most profound level of lostness.
And for many of us we have a memory of being lost, not so much on a physical level but on a soul level, where the path of our life has taken us into an unknown territory emotionally, mentally, relationally and we do not recognize any of the sign posts or indicators that would tell us where we are and how we are to move forward. In some ways that experience has to do with our soul, that essence of us that contains the life we are called and intended to be living gets somehow disconnected with the life we are living, and we look around and don’t recognize our life, or perhaps even don’t recognize ourselves- and we are lost.
Our bible story this morning starts with a very interesting phrase. The boy, Samuel was understudy to the priest Eli in one of the hill shrines of Israel, taking care of the ritual life in the region. And it says, “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.”
What does that mean, “The word of the Lord was rare?” And what about our time?
How common would you say the “word of the Lord” is in our time? And how would you know that?
There are really two ways we can look at a comment like that. It could be an existential comment, like, “It was a time in the life of the universe in which God was on holidays. Just went off to some other universe and didn’t talk to us. Radio silence from God.” That would make sense if you believe in a God who comes and goes, a fickle, perhaps a little distractible God who gets busy with other things, distracted by shiny things, and needs to be reminded that we are here. Or it could be more of a comment about the state of the nation? “The word of the Lord was rare in those days,” meaning people were not picking up any signals. “Visions were not widespread,” meaning people were not particularly spiritually engaged, attentive to the ways of the holy. It was the people who were distracted by shiny things.
In the great sweep of the story of the people of Israel, I believe it is the latter. They have just come through a time in the book of Judges when they get lost and are found and then get lost again. And every time they are brought back to their relationship with God by a charismatic leader they called Judges. And now, in the book of Samuel, that recurring cycle is about to change. And this story is the beginning of that change. The story of Samuel is the beginning of the move towards a monarchy, and a unified religious and political life.
So at the outset, this comment I think really means that people were not paying much attention. They had no ritual, moral, spiritual common sense, common practice. They were lost- spiritually at sea. And if you look at it, even Eli and Samuel, those who are supposed to be the keepers of the faith are lost. Samuel is with Eli, keeping the shrine in Shiloh going. It was one of several shrines in the hills where people could go to pray. And their job was to keep the lamp lit and keep this holy place open. But even they didn’t really expect to sense the presence of God. They were, you might say, just going through the motions, as evidenced by the fact that when God did speak, neither the novice, Samuel, nor the veteran Eli had any idea what was going on.
You know that your spiritual life is in trouble when even your spiritual leaders have no expectation of a relationship with a living God. That is a kind of profound lostness.
The thing about being lost is that part of the problem is awareness. When you’re really lost, you often don’t know it. Like Samuel. He was just doing his thing and God spoke to him. He was lost in his own world, thinking he was doing what he was supposed to be doing, trimming the lamp and keeping the doors open. It had little to do with trimming his awareness and keeping the doors of his heart and mind open. And God called to him, and he was unaware of it. Thought it was Eli. Had to be Eli. In the holy shrine of Shiloh, Eli was the only other one there right? It took three tries before even Eli realized that in fact the thing that they were supposed to be all about, listening to the voice of God, was actually happening.
Think of a time when you have been lost. That shouldn’t be difficult for these times of being truly lost emblazon themselves into our memory. They are form us. It could be a physical lost experience, or it could be one of those soul searing lost times. Think about where you were. Think about the moment of realizing you were lost- the shot of adrenaline and fear. The realization. I have been lost in my life, literally. I’ve told you about some of them, hiking in the Okanagan, lost in Venice. But the most profound experiences of lost in my life have not been physical, but have been internal and interpersonal lostness, like the lost that comes with the end of a marriage and you find yourself in the unknown territory of legalities and the separate care of children, and an emotional landscape that your just didn’t know existed. Or the lost that comes with living someone else’s dreams for your life and coming to the place that I didn’t actually want the life I was living. These dark wood times are painful, but if we can stand still for a moment in these times, and just breathe through them, and listen, we have the opportunity to receive profound gifts.
The gifts we receive when we are lost have to do with a deeper awareness of the world around us and the world within us. We have the opportunity to stop. Stand still. The gift of awareness. I remember in the time after my first marriage finally broke down, I remember a moment of deep pain, but it was accompanied by a deep sense of being alive. Like that moment in Shiloh when Eli finally realized, he had been missing the voice of God all along. And he said to Samuel, go back and lie down. When you hear the voice again, simply say, “Speak. I am listening.” Being lost comes with the gift of waking up to life. This is it. This is life. Be awake to it. And that waking up is a gift.
The second gift of lostness is the opportunity to look at life the way it really is. Not just wake up to life but wake up to the reality of your situation. Wake up to what really matters, and what really doesn’t. Lost can be a time of reckoning, re-assessment, and reconnecting to our true selves. Like taking out our much neglected compass when lost, and re-orienting to true north, being lost can make us reorient to the things that truly guide our life.
The third gift is the gift of reality. When we are lost we are often living an unreal life, or just going through the motions, or avoiding a painful reality. The discovery of being lost often comes because something happens that shakes us out of that stupor, and as painful as that is, it is a gift- the gift of exchanging a numb falsehood for painful wakeful truth.
The fourth gift is the opportunity to see our lives from a whole new perspective. This lostness from which Eli and Samuel are awakening from becomes in the history of the Hebrew people the beginning of a whole new relationship with God and a whole new sense of themselves as people of God. It all starts here, with this waking up from being lost. And if we actually allow it to happen, allow ourselves to wake up and know the truth of our lostness, we have the immeasurable opportunity to and possibility of a far deeper more intimate relationship with our life and with our God.
“Stand still. The trees ahead and the bushes behind you are not lost. Wherever you are is called here.” This place, and this moment, in this dark wood, you are alive, and you are here. Stand still. God knows where you are. Let yourself be found in this place. Open to its gifts. Amen
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