What you see is what you get!

October 12, 2014

Text: Exodus 3: 1 – 12 & Matthew 13: 15 – 17


There is an ancient story about a botanist who was studying the heather bell found in the highlands of Scotland. While looking through his microscope at this beautiful flower, he was approached by a shepherd who asked what he was doing. Rather than trying to explain, the botanist invited the shepherd to peer through his microscope and observe for himself. When the shepherd saw the wonder of the flower, he exclaimed, “My God, and I have been tramping on them all my life!”

A wake up call perhaps ?!….. Have we been trampling on something of beauty and value…. what have we been missing? What are we failing to see?

Have your heard the story of the two fish swimming together who meet another fish heading the other way. The fish nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” The two fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and says, “What the heck is water?”

Are we like the fish; swimming in an ocean of awareness, but its too close for us to see it for what it is?  Without awareness, we flounder and drift through life like the fish who don’t even know they’re in water.

With awareness, we learn to see the potential , the miracle, the beauty and sacredness in each moment.

The well known story from Exodus 3  that Lamar read this morning, describes a hilltop moment in the life of Moses….an  energy filled, life giving moment that awakened something in Moses.  Author Margaret Silf refers to such moments as “sunspots” when we are charged with an energy that then flows through us to power the moments and days ahead. It is an awareness of who we are in relationship with the Divine Spirit.

Silf writes:  “ As Moses drew closer to the burning bush, he began to realize this was a special moment in his life. The whole ambience of the hillside seemed to be changing.  Everything around him felt real and looked more clear than it had before. A moment of heightened awareness?  Whatever was happening, he sensed that some barrier between the seen and the unseen had been breached, and he knew the energy that was setting the bush alight was creative, not destructive. It was bringing forth a significant change in his life, but as yet he had no idea of what that could be.  Moses was overawed.

God told Moses that the burning bush is a sign of a promise. “It burns with the energy of my constant presence and it is your spiritual fuel for the task that lies ahead of you.  And when my people have been freed, they will come to this mountain, knowing it to be holy ground, because here God and humankind have met, a new vision has been opened up, a new stage in my people’s journey has begun. “

Margaret Silf’s brilliant commentary on this legendary story from Hebrew scriptures,  becomes a “sunspot”…. a moment of heightened awareness for me every time I read it.    I feel strongly that this dramatic story was told to teach humankind…way back then….and still today…. the incredible power of the divine/human connection….the life energy that is available to those who are willing to see the miracles of life before them…..the presence of the Holy in the midst of what we have come to call the ordinary. It’s a time of expanded vision…of profound awareness. We often call these moments “hilltop or mountain top experiences”.

Peter Gomes and other scholars have referred to these sacred spaces and moments as “thin places”….between the human experience and the divine perspective.

When we are on the hilltop….at a thin place, we have a different perspective on life and on our journey.   Spiritual seekers feel the powerful need to go to the mountain often to get a clearer vision, the life energy of the Holy Presence that fuels our days in the valley.   I’m sure you remember the famous speech of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr….. who  said:  “Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.”

And so I’m happy, tonight.

I’m not worried about anything.

I’m not fearing any man!

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!

Don’t we all long for that kind of certainity….. that clear vision that enables hope and inner peace.

Nearing the parish church during his daily walk, a young man saw that some shrubbery was on fire. He banged on the rectory door and told the woman who opened it to call the fire department.

She ran to the phone, and he heard her place the call. She identified herself, gave the location, and explained the situation.

“You mean to tell me,” said the emergency dispatcher, “that there’s a burning bush on the church lawn, and you want to put it out?”

Hmmmm, what would have happened to the enslaved Israelites, if Moses had a fire extinguisher in his knap sack!?

Jesus shared these powerful moments with God in the wilderness as he struggled with temptation, and on Mt. Tabor where the transfiguration took place …where Jesus, Peter, James and John experienced the glow of God.  Margaret Silf beautifully describes this moment in one sentence:  They were “standing in time, yet seeing eternity, standing in a finite place, yet touching the infinite, where all the walls and compartments of human thinking had dissolved. “

They were embraced by the Divine Mystery….forever changed.

These powerful moments of heightened awareness of expanded vision are quite obviously transformative.  However, we can’t stay on the mountaintop. Moses, Peter, James, John, Jesus, Dr. Martin Luther KIng…and many other mountaintop dwellers didn’t stay on the mountain. They descended to face whatever awaited them in the valleys….with a new awareness that they did not face the obstacles alone.   Valleys happen, people die, children leave home, projects fail, disaster strikes…. we fail, we suffer.  So into the blaze of glory, cold, icy winds blow….

The moments of heightened awareness I just mentioned experienced by Moses and Jesus were dramatic, perhaps once in a lifetime moments.  Most of us may never be blessed with such a Holy Smokes moment.  ( pun intended!)

And yet, I suggest that these moments are available to us if we just open our eyes and ears and become more aware of them.   Perhaps we can think back to some unforgettable moments in our life journeys that granted us a new perspective that opened a door of understanding that brought us an awareness of a Divine Spirit interacting with us.

The profound mystic, author Thomas Merton described a transformative, perhaps unitive experience in Conjectures of A Guilty Bystander:

“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world…. This sense of liberation from [perceived isolation] was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud…

Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed…. But this cannot be seen, only believed and ‘understood’ by a peculiar gift.”

I see that as the “gift of understanding” that comes after a time of expanded vision and attentive listening to the inner voice of God.

I remember having  such an unforgettable moment comparable to the one Merton describes while listening to a Paul Winter concert at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in NYC some years ago.  My daughter Niki and I were two of thousands gathered to listen to the hauntingly beautiful music and witness the spectacle of peace being presented.  As Winter’s Wolf Song was performed and howls of wolves echoes in the holy chambers, a huge replica of Earth ascended to the heights of the massive sanctuary.  I remember feeling overwhelmingly at one with the crowd of strangers… so filled with a sense of hope and peace that I wept, overawed from sharing this moment with thousands.  I had a powerful sense of “ we are all God’s family, and I love them all.”  Niki’s tears joined mine and I still carry that feeling of heightened sensitivity and awareness deep within me.

It’s especially interesting for me, because I really dislike crowds of any kind, and avoid them whenever I can.  I have no patience with them and usually experience  the hoard of humanity infringing on my space with hostile eyes.  I can’t wait to get away.  Yet in that with that multitude in the cathedral, I was inspired to see with loving eyes. It made all the difference.

Interesting how critical our “seeing” is to our “feeling”.  Frequently, probably too frequently, we look at the world, at neighbors and strangers with critical, judgmental eyes.

You and I live in a world where judgment and criticism are a way of life. A day never passes when we do not make a negative comment about something someone else has done. We criticize people for the way they dress, for the way they talk, and for the things they do.

Consider the popularity of reality shows like American’s Got Talent, American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, So you think you can Dance, the Voice….. which all involve judging one another…voting the “inept “ people off the show.   We look at one another with critical eyes…. and from an early age, we learn that we WILL be judged…..and will often come up short.. The sad reality is that we dissect peoples’ lives on a daily basis, and we tell anyone who will listen, about the flaws we have seen. And sadly, this may be prevalent in the Church more often than we care to admit…of course not in this church!

“ What we see is what we get” …as the Geraldine character on the Flip Wilson show popular in the 70’s liked to say.  “ Honey, what you see is what you get!”

What we choose to focus on dramatically affects our mental attitudes and spiritual well being.  As the great Dietrich Bonheoffer is quoted as saying: “Two prisoners looked through the bars. One saw mud and the other saw stars.”

At a certain time every summer, huge black beetles start appearing from holes in the ground…..and when I see one, I bee-line it for the house. Willem, on the other hand camps out next to the hole…. taking pictures of them, watching them with fascination as they explore the territory above ground. “ They’re so cool, Grandma” he says.  I see them as ugly and frightening.  Willem sees them as fascinating and cool!!  I was trying to see them with new eyes this summer… not doing too well with that!

Jesus was always trying to teach his disciples to see things differently. ….to expand their vision and grow deeper in their understanding.  In the text today, written from Matthew’s perspective; Jesus expressed the concern that

“ peoples’ hearts had grown dull…their ears are hard of hearing and their eyes are shut tight.  They don’t understand with their hearts….they won’t turn to me and allow me to heal them.”  We feel his frustration that many will not listen to his heightened awareness of the Divine Spirit.  He wants to heal the ills of the current society, to provide them insight into the Kingdom of God dwelling within them….and they refuse to listen….to see what is so obvious.  They just don’t understand.  Then to his disciples he says: “ Blessed are your eyes for they see, for your ears , for they hear.” 

What we see is what we get…. What we take in each moment affects our experience of life that day. WE can choose negative or positive….. mud or stars. We have a choice how we respond to burning bush moments when the Divine is sending a message to us….calling for our participation in the building of God’s kingdom of love.   Are we going to ignore it, be oblivious to it ….. extinguish the glow, or ignite it in the lives of others.  My friends, it makes all the difference.

My poet friend from Hilton Head wrote these few lines in a brief poem called Reflections:

In your eyes I have seen

Reflections of me

I had not known.

Oh the things we can see though the lens of the Divine Spirit…a new me….a new you…. a new us. Amen.