Monday, November 15, 2010

Founding Day Sermon by Sr. Grace, n/OSH

Founding Day of OSH, Augusta, GA, Nov. 7, 2010
Sister Grace - Sermon #3
Passages: Deut. 6:1-9, Col. 3:12-17, Mt. 13:44-46, Ps. 46:5-11

My thoughts are not your thoughts, and My ways are not your ways, says the Lord (Isaiah 55:8).


“The Way,” by Philip Harnden (Source: Journeys of Simplicity)
Late one night in the 1980's, two British climbers, bivouacked in the subzero cold atop Africa's second-highest peak, were startled by the sudden appearance of a lone, barefoot African man. He told them he had come to pray.
"At first it scared the hell out of us," the climbers later told rangers. "Nobody climbs the mountain at night. We had just spent a full day coming up the normal route using ropes, ice axes and pitons. Then this nice old man arrives without even a pair of shoes."
Ephraim M'Ikiara stayed on Mount Kenya's 17,0222-foot Nelion summit for four days--praying, as he later explained, for "the unification of all the religions of the world."
Meanwhile a rescue team was mobilized, convinced that no one could solo down the ice-covered pitches and vertical overhangs. "Brother, can we show you the way?" the rangers called out when they saw Ephraim M'Ikiara descending.
"Was it you who showed me the way here [in the first place]?" he replied, before disappearing in the mist and scrambling down the mountain….

OSH has had Sisters on a monastic journey for 65 years. Nine were first in line. Now, over 171 Sisters are recorded as having entered the order. Sister Blaise is the newest, at #172. A quick trivia question: Can you name where the 8 or 9 OSH houses have been located over the years?

For 65 years, various OSH Sisters have ventured to follow the Christian monastic Way…not always a mountaintop experience…. Some have pioneered through the Dark Night of the Soul. with John of the Cross. Some pray regularly through the Cloud of Unknowing. Some traveled via circuitous routes, unknown to secular convention or human reason. Some have been priests, deacons, chaplains, missionaries, teachers, nurses, cooks, psychotherapists—just to name a few. On their journey, some have used all manner of tools and gadgets (ice scrapers, chisels, hammers, food processors, double boilers, etc.). Some have come simply with a suitcase in hand; others, with a U-haul truck. But each comes with a uniquely natural desire to follow God, to be taught and try the monastic life.

In the early days, primitive tools (such as party telephones, washboards, and wringer washing machines) were in vogue. Now the more sophisticated high-speed Internet and websites assist us on our way—weather permitting as well as Comcast. In the ever-ascending and -descending spiritual Journey, individually and together, this community has been uniquely gifted and established.

The early Church believers were called followers of “the Way.” They followed Jesus, Who was first clothed in primitive diapers called “swaddling clothes”, then dawned sandals, sometimes walking alone, sometimes with His friends, sometimes nearly being chased off a cliff, found healing in one crowd, feeding 5,000, then disappearing to a mountain to pray. His family? Some eventually follow; some scoff in disbelief.

His community? Fishermen, tax collectors, ladies of the night, a woman at the well. Sometimes we find them asleep, puzzled, confused, dejected, in shock. One day they’re preaching, another day healing, another day not able to heal, complaining, praising, acting proud, then like cowards. Some are martyred, beheaded, betrayers. Not an impressive clan or resumé…just folks like you and me, seeking God’s Way. Going where? Don’t know. For how long? Can’t tell.

So why would anyone want to follow this strange Jesus…this odd Way? Why not just take the normal path (a house, 2 kids, and a dog)? Why sell all--the monastic Christian Way? Each Sister would give you a different answer, and it would be good to hear each one tell. Here’s what Thomas Keating says (quoted in A Monk in the World, by Wayne Teasdale, pg. xxvii),

The essence of monastic life
is not its structures
but its interior practice,
and the heart of interior practice
is contemplative prayer.

In the Gospel passage, Matthew says the “kingdom of heaven is like a treasure in the field” and like “fine pearls” at the depths of the water. Unless one is willing to assent (to say Yes)--to stoop down and mess up an otherwise neatly-ordered life, to venture into the Unknown--these priceless kingdom treasures cannot be found. The Way takes action and faith: and lots of prayer!

Since 1945, the Sisters of the Order of St. Helena have passed us a legacy. Theirs cannot be rewritten. Does this legacy inspire us spiritually? Why or why not? Is OSH currently investing in quality values and spiritual treasure? Is our legacy one that adds to the kingdom or does it leave a liability to the next generation?

What I wish to call the “NOW generation”--the base of our current 20 Sisters—are about the business of shaping the future of OSH, one decision at a time—personally and corporately.

Let me draw your attention to this window, which has been a point of focus for me in chapel. From my seat, which was once Sister Elsie’s and perhaps other Sisters, I can see this tree—with a medium-sized trunk and two branches going off in a V-pattern. To me, it represents the fact that there are two ways to go at every crossroad we face. With every step, every conversation, appointment, action or inaction, there’s a way that leads toward a better life and a way that does not. By conscious intention, most often I am able to make a free choice. The choices I make have either a positive or a negative effect, personally and as a community. The choices others make also have their effect. And God works with whatever “quality” of choices we make: as individuals and as a community.

In Colossians, Paul speaks of some quality choices. Wouldn’t you like to live with Sr. Compassion, Sr. Kindness, Sr. Humility, Sr. Meekness, Sr. Patience, Sr. Charity, Sr. Forgiveness, Sr. Peace, Sr. Grateful, Sr. Teacher, Sr. Admonisher, Sr. Singer, Sr. who does all in the name of the Lord Jesus, or Sr. who give thanks to God. With this quality of Sisterhood, we would be well adorned.

In Deuteronomy, the Israelites receive simple instructions on how to live and die well. They are also summarized, to me, in the vows monastic’s take:
Obedience: “Obey my commandments, and it will be well with you.”
Chastity: “Love the Lord your God with ALL your heart, soul, mind, and strength.”
Poverty: Be poor in spirit, not proud…humbly pass the teachings of God along to the next generation. (Please do not leave your stories untold.). Do not live for yourself alone. Humbly give your life to the service of God and others, as a lasting treasure and legacy.

Summary Action Points
--Talk to the NOW generation about God: the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
--Make prayerful, intentional, free choices at every turn.
--Remember that what you do (or don’t do) is passed on as a legacy to others.
--Make your life in God a legacy others wish to repeat and remember.
--Take risks.
--Sit for four days and pray.
--Be still, and know God.

As a one-year, one-day member of OSH, I would like to conclude with a small portion of a poem from Hafiz (portion taken from “Tired of Speaking Sweetly” in The Gift – Poems of Hafiz):

“…The Beloved sometimes wants to do us a favor.
Hold us upside down
and shake all the nonsense out….”

That is what the monastic life can do for a person. (hold up saltshaker) Let us be like the saltshaker, tipped upside down and shaken. And as we come to the Table, may what comes out be of such a quality that others will want to “Taste and See” what Grace (Good News) we have found.

Sr. Grace, n/OSH