12 Pentecost B: Have you seen the stars?

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I remember reading once,
probably a decade ago,
that in New York City, during a Black Out,
they saw stars.

Real stars!

It was a big deal
because some people there
had not seen “real” stars in the sky
since the previous big major Black Out a
decades earlier.

Now imagine a world
in which there are only “real” stars
because the only human light
is from fire –
as in the kinds that smolder
and go out at night.

Imagine a world
in which humans realize
how small they are
in the vast expanse of interstellar space,
because their ability to forge tools
had not yet morphed into
the creation of machines,
or digital communication.

Imagine a world
in which humans live
in intimate relationship
to their surroundings
and are affected daily
by the tidal forces of nature,
the rough terrain of the Earth,
and the whimsical dictates of the weather.

Imagine humans like that
and it is easy to imagine the experience
of a transcendent God.

refers to the complete otherness of God.
The unspeakably awesome Creator of the cosmos
so far beyond our imagination
as to seem almost terrible in proportion —
terrifying actually.

When the ancients, of whatever religion,
speak of the “fear” of God,
it is about awe
more than afraidness.

When the ancients
point to the vastness
of the Creation
and speculate as to what kind of force
could possibly create
such an incredible equation
of matter and life,
it is always with a stutter
or gasp.

But in our mind,
our human mind that is,
we have become quite a bit bigger
that we used to be.

We have tiptoed to the edge
of our own self-destruction
with the creation of truly amazing devices
that both enhance
and screw up life as we know it.
With the power of our own hands,
the Earthen forces of nature
have receded
as we learned to shield ourselves
in environments of our own making.

In this kind of world,
the kind in which we are big
and God is distant,
we tend to seek a more immanent
experience of God – not transcendent but immanent.

That means up close and personal.

We seek the Pentecostal moment
in which we are grasped
by the holy terror
who enters our body space
and makes known, in no uncertain terms,
that God is alive and well
and living in our neighborhood.
In a cosmos that God has to share with us,
immanence is the thirst
and transcendence can seem
kind of antiquated – a bit too Wizard of Oz-ish.

A God that offers “wisdom”
and promises understanding; and
a God that can be eaten
as if bread and wine,
is an immanent God to be sure.
That is a God
that can be prepared and swallowed,
not to mention
told, read, and understood.

Even in our hymns,
while the words may mention
the big, transcendent Creator God,
they still sing about the one
that does stuff for us —
the milkman God
that still delivers to our doorstep.

Wendell Berry’s poem could
potentially be either,
but I think he is pointing
toward the dark sky with stars
filling us with amazement
more than a cuddly, whispering God
that tells us what we hope to hear.

My favorite line in the poem,
because it is also the core of my theology,
is where he writes:
”There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.”

Whether transcendent
or immanent,
we desecrate the holy
when we imagine it is ours;
and we desecrate the holy
when we treat it as if it is ours
to do with what we want;
and we desecrate the holy
when we presume we understand it.

The grand sanctuary of 520 S. Main Street
was built upon the imagination
of God the transcendent —
well beyond our reach.

The intimate space at 78 Castle Street
was formed to imagine
God the immanent
that surfaces among us
with whispers,
and hears the cries
within the closeness of community.

We do both of course:
look upward and outward
toward the transcendent God
who is the force behind and within the cosmos,
as well as peer inwardly
both searching for
and listening to the still small voice
that knows us each by name.

The truth of it all
is that is God both – or in fact,
God is neither
but we experience God in both ways.

The tendency of our tradition,
because it has conserved
the ancient wisdom and practices,
is toward a focus on transcendence.

The tendency of post-modernism,
because we are so uncomfortable
with the overly rational,
formal, and systematic,
is to seek the immanent.

But these need not be, nor should they be,
two poles that pull us apart
or reject each other
when they in close proximity.

Rather, they are natural rhythms
in a well-practice spiritual life.
Religion, old or new,
ought not seek the demise of the other
but rather, incorporate
and be rooted in both.

It is a neat trick if we can do it,
but looking toward the future,
when we have both Trinity Place
and Trinity Church
to worship in,
we ought to be able to figure it out.

Think of the image of the Yin-Yang,
often associated with Buddhism and Taoism.
It is not only about the masculine
and feminine experiences of life,
it can also refer to the transcendent
and immanent experiences of the holy in life.

Moving away from the either/or,
all-or-nothing dualism
so predominant in our moment of history,
and into the embrace
and exploration
of a dance with the holy —
that is both intimate and distant —
is exciting.

Most of us are weighted
toward one or the other.
If you tend to look for and experience
God in the grandeur of nature
or the gush of light through stained glass,
try watching and listening and feeling God
in the face of a friend,
the shared song of our community,
or the presence one can sometimes feel
when people sit in silence together.

If you tend toward that up close
experience of God,
that rush that happens in a group
or even in the stillness
of your own quiet mind,
then lean into the big God.
Lean into the horizon
or the heavens,
or the deep, mysterious unknowns
from which come huge forces
that seem awesome
and even terrifying
in our smallness.

It is a dance, I am recommending.
It is a dance
in which we need to learn
to both lead and follow.

Whichever comes naturally,
we need to lean into
and learn, the other.
It is a spiritual dance
for a spiritual practice,
and young or old,
we can learn it.

and immanence —
the experience of awe
and intimacy
with the Creator
of all that is.

Keep dancing, even if your feet no longer move,
keep doing this dance.

It’s good for what ails you.