Called to Solitude
April 8, 2018
Second Sunday of Easter
I know that Easter is here, and we are supposed to move past all the talk about pain and suffering! But now a week into Easter it is clear that the struggle is still very real. The burdensome demands of the roles we play do not disappear. Permanent war, racism, sexism, ableism, all of the “isms”, the prison industrial complex and school to prison pipeline, the destruction of our atmosphere, oceans, and biodiversity, poverty, deportations, homelessness. If the only Easter message the church has to offer, is the glorious vindication of Jesus and the Joyful faith of the disciples, if every Easter becomes a ritual in denial of pain to move to the” bright side of things”, what Sr. Joan Chittister calls the “fairy-tale” Easter. then we miss the point, then we miss the salvific transformation that the Easter offers as Hope to the world.
Don’t get me wrong, after Lent and Holy week I needed a break just as much as anyone else and the family time was great and very peaceful! But now the world needs us to enter into Easter, that place of transformation in which after coming face to face with every eternal demon, we encounter the risen Christ. Who promises to breath into us. Just as Yahweh breathed into the earth and brought forth every form of beauty and life from a planet of molten rock. Brothers and Sisters, we can’t afford to trade in that encounter, for jelly beans and BBQ’s.
I want to say that the Easter transformation happens through the wisdom of retreating to the upper room as we see the disciples do today. A wisdom that often comes only through the deep pain of great loss. Without an understanding of this wisdom we might be inclined to think of the disciples as righteous people, in hiding. Jesus did not come for the righteous! No, On the Contrary, I see them as completely broken people filled with a wisdom to sit in solitude together. When everything in them said either fight or flight, here see the disiples engaging a third option.
When Jesus heard the voice speak “you are my beloved son” The Spirit led him into the desert, a place of solitude. There he was surrounded by wild beast, demons, who told him that to be the beloved he must prove it. If he was the beloved, he should be able to do the miraculous, be fearless and famous, be powerful. All he had to do was to concede to the voices. Jesus owned who he was. Easter calls us to do the same.
In this day in age we tend to think of solitude as a peaceful retreat from our busy lives in order that we may get recharged to go out and keep being busy. But as Fr. Henri Nouwen says, “solitude is the place where our old self dies and our new self is born” the place “where I get rid of my scaffolding: no friends to talk with, no telephone calls to make, no meetings to attend, no music to entertain, no books to distract me—naked, vulnerable, weak, sinful, deprived broken---nothing. Every-thing in me wants to run to my friends, my work, any distractions so that I can forget my nothingness.” We all want to forget all those negative self-judgements, those nasty things we believe about ourselves. But they are constantly running through our head and so we are constantly running for more, better, different. Trying our hardest to escape the quite where we know those voices will say those nasty things. Nouwen says “as soon as I decide to stay in my solitude, confusing ideas, disturbing images, wild fantasies, and weird associations jump about in my mind like monkeys in a banana tree” “Anger and greed” every demon imaginable “will begin to show their ugly faces.” Sisters and Brothers, you will never be able to run fast enough, there will never be enough noise to drown these demons out! And you are not strong enough to defeat demons! To hear these demons, voices, monkeys, whatever word works for you, is not sinful. Even Christ heard them. What comes next is, what I believe, has given birth to every sin that has ever existed. We begin to identify ourselves with those demons, we believe them, and in our shame, we follow them. As most of us know, shame is a vicious cycle not easily broken away from. But it is possible. Not alone, Only through the encounter with the risen Christ and with the Spirit within the Body of Christ. But it is possible!!!
In solitude we enter into the silence, in the motivation to identify each voice we hear listening closely until they become so blatantly not who we are that we can identify them, and let go of them. Letting go of that false self that we had built up at the command of those demons, brings us so close to our nothingness that we either return to the demons, knowingly, shamefully, or we do what the disciples did in the upper room. We surrender to our nothingness and we surrender to Jesus. This moment is the moment of encounter with the risen Christ. This is the Easter moment. Jesus comes baring his own wounds, eliminating any shame or embarrassment that is still lurking, and He proclaims the peace that only God can give. This surrender allows us to be at peace with friends or enemies, in wealth or poverty, in our successes and in our failures, our strengths and our weaknesses. We are able to hold the paradox that when we are nothing, we are everything. That, It is in the dying of the false self that Jesus breaths into us life; what the scripture today calls the victory over the world. And this Victory is what leads to the sort of community life we heard about in the first reading.
The High Schoolers at St. Charles have been engaging with solitude, many of our young people have been taking 2 hours out of their week to come together in silence. I would like all of us to take 5 minutes now to do the same. Remember the point, to identify those demons and then to let go of them. I will lead us in with a psalm and then we be silent.
BE STILL AND KNOW THAT I AM GOD
BE STILL AND KNOW THAT I AM
BE STILL AND KNOW
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