A Sermon for Covenant
Your Gloom Be Like the Noonday
Covenant Baptist Church, San Antonio
February 9, 2013
Kyndall Rae Rothaus
(To listen to the audio, click “play” button above. To download audio, click here.)
These verses in Isaiah 58 about the fast that the Lord chooses, to loose the bonds of injustice is a beautiful and fairly well known passage, but for starters, I want to look, not at the fast, but at the imagery he uses here about light and darkness. You’ve heard me talk about light and dark a hundred times, I know. It is one of my dearest and most cherished images: the light that dawns in darkness. I always thinking, always writing, always praying about how it is we sit in darkness and keep hope for light. But in this Isaiah passage, there is a slight nuance in the way light is spoken of that caught my eye. “Your light shall break forth like the dawn,” and “Your light will rise in darkness,” sound to me less like light will enter your darkness, but that you will be light to darkness.
Then there’s this line: “Your gloom will be like the noonday.” At first, I interpreted this to mean that that your gloom will be transformed. That what you feel as dark and cold will one day feel like warmth and light, as at noon. But then, my understanding of that phrase began to shift . . .
But first, I want to tell you about one of my place of gloom: my aloneness. When I am lonely, I feel like no one is there for me, that there is no one to show up when I need it. Now cognitively, I know that isn’t true. In fact, in 2013, I’ve never had so many show up and be there for me in all my life. I’ve been blown away by the quantity and quality of the people who have helped me. I’ve never received so many cards in the mail, so many gifts, so many phone calls, so many listening ears and gracious gestures and caring words.
But when I feel lonely, all those things I know to be true fade into the distance, and I am miles away from comfort. There are so many people only a phone call away, but in that moment of my gloom, it isn’t enough. Because none of the wonderful people who care about me are my spouse, my soul mate, my life partner, my very best friend, and no one can fill that particular void, erase that ache, fill that need, not really.
I know I am not the only one who experiences this. We all have moments where we just need someone specific—we need someone to mother us, or to be a father to us. We need a sister or a brother, a best buddy or a partner. But that person isn’t alive or they don’t exist or they exist but they aren’t here or they are here but they cannot or will not provide what we feel we need the most.
And of course it matters that you’ve got a whole community to help bridge the gap and meet your needs, but also, in the moment of your gloom, it doesn’t matter because what you want the most is absent. For me, this loneliness is an area of deep and abiding gloom.
Now I don’t often say that “God spoke to me.” I don’t know; the presumption of it makes me queasy. I do receive regular insight and inspiration from something bigger than me, and I imagine that over time I will sort out what in the mix came from God and which parts were tainted by ego. Meanwhile I just try to trust that God blesses the whole mess of me and don’t worry too much about it. I don’t often attach God’s name to what I am thinking in my little brain; less chance I’ll have to eat my words later. But this week I can tell you: God spoke to me.
I’ve been reading the book I Will Not Die an Unlived Life by Dawna Markova with my writing group, and this week the chapter was titled, “Let Our Wounds Be Our Teachers,” and this is what I read:
What if the moments of the greatest wounding in your life were also places where the Divine crossed your path and the unquenchable dream of your life was born? There is nothing that drives the human mind more than what is called an incomplete gestalt—an unmet need for closure of some kind. Imagine seeing a pad of paper lying near you with nothing drawn on the page but a circle that is not closed. Imagine hearing just this much of the song, “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all . . .” Imagine an itch in a place you cannot reach. Purpose, ultimately, is the drive to close that circle, finish that song, scratch that itch, bride that gap.
If your purpose is only about you, it has no branches. If it is only about the rest of the world, it has no roots. I believe this is why learning that the moments when our essential needs were not met in some very basic ways hold the possibility to unfold our gifts . . . [What if] the worst that happened to us holds the possibility of bringing the best in us to the community?
Andy taught me to ask the people I work with, “What do you love that is bigger than this wound?” One woman, a concert cellist, had been in a car accident caused by a drunk teenager that resulted in her arm being so badly damaged she could never play again. After much silence, she said, “I love being alive, learning more, and teaching others.” Her grieving eventually opened up to her going back to school, getting a degree in counseling, and then working with young people arrested for DWI. Another musician, an Irish man whose childhood was pockmarked by various kinds of cruelty, created Random Acts of Kindness Gangs in the inner city where he lived. This is called redemption.
And now, dear reader, I am wondering what this telling evokes for you. What wound in your life could be a passageway to your purpose? How could its healing provide a connection to the healing of the world?
I know what God said to me when I read that: “When you feel no one is there for you, Kyndall, find a way to show up for someone else.” In other words, something shifted in my understanding about what it means to say your gloom will be like the noonday. I think it means your deep sadness can become a beam of light to someone else’s pain.
I don’t know why it is that we suffer, why suffering seems necessary to our growth and service, and I am uncomfortable attempting to answer the why question. I do not believe for a second that God wants us to suffer. There is no room in my theology at all for a sadistic God. But I cannot deny the way suffering has the potential to maim you or to propel you. Some people suffer injury and limp forever after. Some people suffer injury and learn how to fly.
There are two ways to live from your woundedness: one is to ooze cynicism and fear and mistrust wherever you go, like puss from a wound that never healed. If this is your choice, it makes perfect sense. Why would you ever love or trust or risk again, after the disappointments and violations and failures you have known? The other way to live out of your woundedness is to listen deep to what pains you and then allow that, as Dawna writes, to be compost for your compassion. You see this sort of redemptive action in the world all the time. People who take their great loss, their tragedy, and become forces of good, of change, of deliverance.
Their gloom becomes like the noonday; their very deep sadness like a beacon of light.
This passage from Isaiah 58 is absolute Gospel to me. It tells me what faith is about. Is it about drawing near to God, getting into heaven, knowing the ways of God, maintaining personal religiosity? No. Gospel is being saved and delivered in order to participate in God’s healing and redemptive work throughout the world. This, this is the fast, the religion, the salvation God chooses: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to set the oppressed free, and to break every yoke. It is to share your bread with the hungry, to bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the healing of our ailments doesn’t generally come all at once. We get healed bit by bit. We healed a teensy bit when we first met God, healed a bit the first time we knew we were loved, healed a bit more the time we poured forth love on behalf of another. There is a path to healing, and those who walk the path are about the business of setting people free and in setting people free they come to know greater freedom for themselves.
It doesn’t always seem true to me, this passage, that when I call, he answers. That I can cry for help and he will say, “Here I am.” But it is my conviction that this is truth. That if I show mercy, mercy will show itself for me. I am not talking about earning grace or impressing God with my actions. I am talking about unblocking the Grace that is ALREADY there, but I have built a dam with my fear that keeps it at bay. Thus I have begun to pray, (and listen close to this so you don’t mishear me), “God undam it. God undam it. God unblock, unstop, unplug the mercy.”
In the movie Date Night, Tina Fey and Steve Carell are being chased by bad guys. When they finally escape, he asks her, “Are you breathing?” With wild, crazed, and panicked eyes, she replies, “Only in!” This is what we do in panic and pain—try to breathe God in but until we exhale and breathe God and grace out, there is no space in us to breathe in more. Understandably, we hold our breath for fear nothing will rush back in if we let God out, but the rhythm of inhale/exhale is the only way to live.
It is Gospel song, this breathing. Take mercy to a neighbor and return to find your house filled with more mercy than you could have dreamed. This is Gospel song: Clothe the naked and feed the hungry and bless the afflicted and set the oppressed ones free and you will bump into Jesus there. This is Gospel song: Take whatever cross you bear and expect to stumble across empty tombs dotting your graveyard and rejoice. This is Gospel song: Consider your wounds and know for certain the story doesn’t end there. This is the Gospel song by which we live our broken and beautiful lives.
I know that at our most wounded, we don’t always have the energy, the life, to bridge the gap for someone else and that can be okay, to retreat, to lie down for awhile. But you’ll never heal all the way on the hospital bed. Eventually you swing your feet over the side, stand up, do the hard work of balancing yourself, and then you take one step—one step is good enough for starters—one step towards another person’s needs. You are looking to close the circle, stitch the wound, and it will feel unclosable and unmendable but it won’t be. Someday you will look back and realize that you knew Miracle. Look back and realize that you knew Healing. Look back and realize that you knew God.