Jubilee! Circle, Columbia, S.C.
Readings for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany:
Light rises in the darkness… (Psalm 112:4-9)
You are the light of the world. (Matthew 5:13-16)
Our first song tonight comes from the Northern Irish singer and songwriter Van Morrison. Van the Man began his singing career in the 1950s as a teenager, playing in Irish cover bands. His biggest hit was “Brown Eyed Girl” released in 1967. The song we’re doing is “Enlightenment” which is the title track of his 1990 album.
Chop that wood, carry water,
what’s the sound of one hand clapping
enlightenment, don’t know what it is
Every second, every minute,
it keeps changin’ to something different
Enlightenment, don’t know what it is.
Enlightenment don’t know what it is,
it says it’s non-attachment, non-attachment, non-attachment
I don’t know about any of you, but when I get sick, the one medication I can’t take to make myself feel better is NyQuil. “The Nightime, Sniffling, Sneezing, Coughing, Aching, Stuffy-head, Fever, So-You-Can-Rest Medicine” is no good for me. Not because it doesn’t work, but because it works far too well. The last time I took NyQuil, years ago, I awoke in the middle of the night and realized that I was completely helpless.
The medicine was so effective at knocking me off my feet, that I would not be able to get out of the house even if it were on fire. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t think, I couldn’t do anything but roll over and go back to sleep. So, yes, it worked. It did what it was designed to do – keep me asleep and in bed so my sick body could heal. But, it also took away all of my ability to react to danger or react to anything that would require me to be alert and conscious.
Isn’t life a lot like NyQuil? Our world is currently on fire with wars, famines, oppression, revolutions, and all manner of injustices – but we can’t seem to wake up enough to care. We sleep through it – we numb ourselves with the cold medicine of television, work, even play. We turn a blind eye to the trouble in the world – and just halfway around the world – but the trouble in our own neighborhoods.
While visiting my sister a few weeks ago, I noticed her neighbor’s dog was out. I said something to her about it and she said, “Yes, that’s their dog. It’s gotten out before.”
“Don’t you think you should tell them?” I asked. As someone who owns several doggie escape artists it has often been strangers who have returned my wayward pups to me, so I felt we should help.
She shrugged. “It’s not my responsibility,” she said as she went in the house.
That’s the response of those of us still deeply asleep to the world around us. It’s not our responsibility. Jesus says everyone is our neighbor, that we’re responsible for everyone we meet – but if my sister doesn’t even consider it her responsibility to take care of a person who is literally her neighbor, then how can she feel responsible for anybody in this world?
My sister is drunk on the NyQuil of this world – the numbing agents that say it’s every man and woman – and dog apparently – for themselves. Roll over, go back to sleep, and the house will continue to burn.
I’m in the here and now, and now, and I’m meditating
And still I’m suffering but that’s my problem
Enlightenment, don’t know what it is … Wake up!
Enlightenment says the world is nothing,
nothing but a dream
Everything’s an illusion and nothing is real
Lao Tzu reminds us that “There are many paths to enlightenment. Be sure to take one with a heart.” This is the kind of enlightenment that our ancient Jewish ancestors knew about.
It is well with those who deal generously and lend, who conduct their affairs with justice. For the righteous will never be moved; they will be remembered for ever. They are not afraid of evil tidings; their hearts are firm, secure in the Lord. Their hearts are steady, they will not be afraid; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes. They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor; their righteousness endures for ever;
According to those Hebrew desert dwellers, this was the path to enlightenment – a path with heart – a path that demanded generosity, justice, righteousness, firm hearts that favor the poor, and no fear. When you are asleep, you can’t be generous. Those who slumber never do justice. Those who snooze miss the righteousness boat. Those who nap are never firm of heart, and those who prefer lying around in bed are often those who are most fearful – keeping their heads under the covers.
The Psalmist reminds us that when we are awake we make this a better world – a world worth waking up in – a world that beckons others to awake as well.
Waking up, however, is not the end to our misery. We may meditate, we may work for justice, we may be generous, but still we suffer. Still, we get hit with bad news. Still, we lose loved ones. Still, we lose jobs. Still, we often wonder why we bothered waking up.
But, the gift we receive when we truly wake up – when we realize we are not lone sleepers, but part of the entire web of creation – we no longer fear. Our hearts become firm and steady, secure in the Holy. Fear, then, can be a powerful reminder for us. Whenever we find ourselves in fear, then we know that we have slipped back into sleep – that the NyQuil of life has once again taken us over. Fear is our bell of mindfulness – our signal to wake up – and remember that we are secure in the Holy – if only we’ll wake up and realize it. Jubilants, you don’t have to sleep – you can make your dreams reality – if only you’ll wake up.
Good or bad baby, you can change it
any way you want you can rearrange it
Enlightenment, don’t know what it is
Chop that wood and carry water,
What’s the sound of one hand clapping
Enlightenment, don’t know what it is
All around baby You can see
You’re making your own reality everyday because
Enlightenment, don’t know what is
Enlightenment, don’t know what it is it is always up to you enlightenment, don’t know what it is it is up to you.
enlightenment, don’t know what it is it is, it’s always up to you.
enlightenment, don’t know what it is it is up to you.
A young man had spent five arduous years searching for truth. One day, as he walked up into the foothills of a great mountain range, he saw an old man approach from above, walking down the path carrying a heavy sack on his back. He sensed that this old man had been to the mountaintop; he had finally found one of the wise-ones who could answer his heart’s deepest questions.
“Please, sir” he asked. “Tell me the meaning of enlightenment.”
The old man smiled, and stopped. Then, fixing his gaze on the youth, he slowly swung the heavy burden off his back, laid the sack down and stood up straight.
“Ah, I understand,” the young man replied. “But, sir, what comes after enlightenment?”
The old man took a deep breath, then swung the heavy sack over his shoulders and continued on his way.
This is important to remember – when you wake up, you don’t wake up to a life of spiritual leisure. Instead, true enlightenment means we continue daily to pick up our heavy sacks – our heavy burdens of life – and continue on. What enlightenment gives us is the power to lift that sack each day, without fear, knowing that our generosity, our thirst for justice, and our firm hearts will help to bring enlightenment to others. Waking up means getting to work making our dreams of a better world come true not just for us, but for all of us.
Chrissie Hynde formed her band the Pretenders back in 1978. They became big on the New Wave scene of the early 1980s, and today’s song was a hit for them back in 1980. “Message of Love” was released on their second album called Pretenders II. Let’s try it.
Now the reason we’re here
As man and woman Is to love each other
Take care of each other
When love walks in the room
Everybody stand up
Oh it’s good, good, good
Like Brigitte Bardot
In our Jesus story, we find our guy wrapping up one of his most famous sermons – the Sermon on the Mount. He’s already dispensed with all of his “blessed are” statements. So the poor, the meek, and the merciful have already been recognized and blessed. Now, he’s moving into what he expects all those blessed people to be doing in the world.
He tells us that to be truly blessed – or to be truly awake in this world, we must be salt, and light. Whereas the psalmist really spelled it out for us, our man Jesus gets a little bit more cryptic on us. We’re to be salt and light. What exactly does that mean?
Well, salt has been around since the beginning of time, and it is a valuable spice across all the world’s religions. Ancient Greeks and the Hebrews used salt during sacrifices. In Buddhist tradition, salt repels evil spirits. Shinto religion also uses salt to purify an area, and the Pueblo worship the Salt Mother. Today, a gift of salt endures in India as a potent symbol of good luck and a reference to Mahatma Gandhi’s liberation of India, which included a symbolic walk to the sea to gather tax-free salt for the nation’s poor.
Salt is not just what we put on food to make it taste better. Salt is a powerful reminder that we are to be zesty in this world – spicing things up. Jesus warns us that if we lose our saltiness, we won’t be effective in this world. Without that zest, we’re asleep. The Greek word used here for “lose its flavor” can also mean “become foolish.” When we refuse to be awakened to the needs of the world around us, preferring to sleep, we become foolish, sleepwalking through life.
Instead, Jesus says, get your zest on – rise and shine. Wake up, get your head out from under the covers and let your light shine. It is when we let our light shine that we really wake up.
Marianne Williamson encourages us to imagine a golden light that radiates from our hearts and extends beyond ourselves to cast a light on the entire world. Now, imagine those next to you, whether they are friend or foe, and see the same light within that person. Their light too, emanates from within and extends out to bathe the world in light. “Now,” she writes, “see the light in the other person as it merges with the light in you. One the level of spirit, there is no place where others stop and you start.”
This idea, that we are all separate beings, who have no responsibility to one another, is what causes the world’s pain. This is what causes our own pain – separating ourselves from others because we see them as different, as other – different races, different sexual orientations, different religions, different political opinions, different hair colors. Anything that separates us causes us pain.
But, Jesus encourages us to let our light shine, blurring all the lines that divide us. Then, Williamson reminds us, we will realize that we are not just like each other, but we actually are each other.
That’s what it’s like to be awake.
Now look at the people
In the streets, in the bars
We are all of us in the gutter
But some of us are looking at the stars
Look round the room
Life is unkind
We fall but we keep gettin’ up
Over and over and over and over and over and over
Me and you, every night, every day
We’ll be together always this way
Your eyes are blue like the heavens above
Talk to me darlin’ with a message of love
It was Oscar Wilde who wrote: “We are all of us in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” This is the essence of enlightenment … of awakening. We don’t ascend to heaven. We don’t get relieved of our burdens. We don’t get out of the gutter. What changes is, we have seen the light – and we become the light for others.
When Wanda gets up in the morning and I’m still in bed, it’s hard to stay asleep sometimes when she has to turn the light on to get ready.
Light prompts our bodies to wake up – it’s a natural reaction. So, when we shine our light into the world, it becomes more difficult for those around us to stay asleep. This is what Jesus understood – if we shine our light – if we let the light of the Holy that consumes us shine brightly in this world, others will rouse from their slumber and start to shine their lights as well.
How do we shine that light? With a message of love. The reason we’re here, every man, every woman, is to help each other, stand by each other. The reason we’re here to awake the dreamers from their NyQuil induced sleep so they can get to work making those dreams come true. Just dreaming doesn’t get us very far – we must rise and shine our dreams into the world until they become reality.
As the psalmist reminds us, the path to awakening is about generosity, justice, righteousness, firm hearts that favor the poor, and no fear. We can only accomplish all of those when we seek to embody God’s love in this world. Without love, we cannot be generous. Without love, we cannot do justice. Without love, we cannot be righteous. Without love, we cannot have firm hearts that favor the poor. Without love, all we have is fear.
“If we seek love,” Buddhist monk Jack Kornfield writes, “we must ask where it is to be found. It is here only in this moment. To love in the past is simply a memory. To love in the future is a fantasy. There is only one place where love can be found, where intimacy and awakening can be found, and this is in the present.”
Look around the room, Jubilants, love is available right here and right now. Yes, life is unkind. Yes, we fall, and we keep getting up. Yes, we are in the gutter, but I invite you to look at the stars. I invite you to talk to everyone you meet with a message of love, a message of care, a message of understanding. Love is not easy, Jubilants, and there will be plenty of people you don’t like who you will have to love. To be able to love even the unlovable – to see the light in even the darkest of eyes – this is true awakening. To feel connected to even those we’d rather hate – this is enlightenment. Love isn’t always a warm fuzzy feeling. Sometimes, it’s hard work – but we are called to awaken to this mission in our lives.
On this Valentine’s Day eve, be zesty for love, Jubilants. Awake, and realize that we are all one – no separation – all created and loved by the Holy. Be salty, be generous, embody justice and righteousness, let your heart break for the poor and needy, and have no fear.
Love is in the air, Jubilants. Breathe deeply – and let your love – your light – your awakened soul breath God’s love onto the whole wide world.
Now the reason we’re here
Every man, every woman Is to help each other
Stand by each other
When love walks in the room
Everybody stand up
Oh it’s good, good good
Say I love you, I love you, I love you,
I love you, I love you, I love you
Talk to me darlin’
Founder of Motley Mystic and the Jubilee! Circle interfaith spiritual community In Columbia, S.C., Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008). Founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, she earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained by Gentle Spirit Christian Church in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She is also a musician and animal lover.