Proper 27A: Mysticism, and a Little Something Else

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Wisdom of Solomon

Wisdom is radiant and unfading,
and she is easily discerned by those who love her,
and is found by those who seek her.
She hastens to make herself known to those who desire her.
One who rises early to seek her will have no difficulty,
for she will be found sitting at the gate.
To fix one’s thought on her is perfect understanding,
and one who is vigilant on her account will soon be free from care,
because she goes about seeking those worthy of her,
and she graciously appears to them in their paths,
and meets them in every thought.

From Julian of Norwich
14th century mystic and anchorite

Our highest Father, God Almighty, who is ‘Being,’
has always known us and loved us:
because of this knowledge, through his marvelous
and deep charity and with the unanimous consent
of the Blessed Trinity, He wanted the Second Person
to become our Mother, our Brother, our Saviour.

It is thus logical that God, being our Father,
be also our Mother. Our Father desires,
our Mother operates, and our good Lord
the Holy Ghost confirms;
we are thus well advised to love our God
through whom we have our very being.

I then saw with complete certainty that God,
before creating us, loved us, and His love never
lessened and never will. In this love
he accomplished all his works, and
in this love he oriented all things
to our good and in this love our life is eternal


“God’s kingdom is like ten young virgins who took oil lamps and went out to greet the bridegroom. Five were silly and five were smart. The silly virgins took lamps, but no extra oil. The smart virgins took jars of oil to feed their lamps. The bridegroom didn’t show up when they expected him, and they all fell asleep.

“In the middle of the night someone yelled out, ‘He’s here! The bride-groom’s here! Go out and greet him!’

“The ten virgins got up and got their lamps ready. The silly virgins said to the smart ones, ‘Our lamps are going out; lend us some of your oil.’

“They answered, ‘There might not be enough to go around; go buy your own.’

“They did, but while they were out buying oil, the bridegroom arrived. When everyone who was there to greet him had gone into the wedding feast, the door was locked.

“Much later, the other virgins, the silly ones, showed up and knocked on the door, saying, ‘Master, we’re here. Let us in.’

“He answered, ‘Do I know you? I don’t think I know you.’

“So stay alert. You have no idea when he might arrive.


The readings are about mysticism
but it makes no sense whatsoever to preach about mysticism.

Wisdom, as she is referred to in the Bible,
is not a learned or accumulated knowledge gathered
in school or by practice or the work of our daily lives.
Wisdom is raw knowing;
a slow burning ember that appears
as if from nowhere and ignited by no one,
to open our eyes
or heart
or mind
or imagination,
or whichever of our myriad
eyes we are perceiving through at the moment.

She appears
and we see –
see what we didn’t see before.

Sometimes we do not even see
the very thing that has been staring us in the face
or walking just behind us
or appearing at our feet,
and then suddenly we can see it…
because of Wisdom.

I know you know what I am talking about,
but truthfully, is it ridiculous to talk about it

because Wisdom lives on the other side of the veil
of rationality, and like a poem or joke,
as soon as we start taking about it
Wisdom no longer seems real.

Such is Wisdom, or God, if
you would rather use its big name.
The parable of the wise and foolish women
we just read, is not about
preparing oneself for judgement,
it is about being ready and open
when Wisdom appears.
It is not about hellfire or damnation
for those who are not ready, rather,
we simply miss out – we lose a little vision,
or we get a bit more nearsighted
than we needed to be.

But as I said,
it is ridiculous to talk about such mystical things
because they come and go
and we apprehend them or not,
and that is all there is.

This is one of the definitive breaks
between Western and Eastern religion.

While there is no God per say, in Buddhism,
there is Wisdom that can be learned
or apprehended through practice.

Such Wisdom, in Buddhism,
has a capriciousness about it to be sure,
and learning her ways is never a straight line
from A to B. Yet, there is still a path
well-worn by a long tradition of teachers
and it can be learned.

But in the three Western religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam –
Wisdom cannot be learned or taught.
She is revealed, by God and only God.

If God chooses not to reveal her,
she remains veiled. Period.
In our tradition, it is all God’s action
and we either recognize her when she arrives
or we do not.
Now there is a whole lot of other stuff to be learned
that is not Wisdom –

the ethical and moral traditions
and the worship and ritual practices
and the prayer and meditation methods.
But that is all human stuff,
the brick and mortar of religious institutions
created for human beings
because we need that stuff.

But Wisdom, she is not learned,
she arrives or not,
and we perceive her or not.
It is terribly unfair from our way of thinking.
But that is, as they say,
what it is.

That is also probably why
we don’t preach about it much:
Wisdom is beyond our words
and methods and control.
So let’s talk about something else.

Last week I mentioned “the Manna Principle,”
based upon the Exodus story, and
with the pointed punch line
that in the economy of God
there is always enough to go around:
and everyone gets enough,
and anything that really matters
can’t be collected, amassed, or hoarded.

We know that in our economy,
the economy of money,
that the way we practice distribution
means there is never enough
because we operate from scarcity.
Let’s admit it, we like it that way, and generally,
we do not like the economy of God.

We pay lip service to abundance
and we say all the right things,
but we don’t really like the economy of God
because it means we cannot collect, amass, or hoard.
The economy of God,
were we to actually choose it,
would be most threatening to people like us.

So if we are going to reflect on stewardship,
which is what this is by the way,
then honesty has to be front and center.
Like most things, unless we’re going to honest,
we might as well not talk about it.

So last week I offered
a pithy little definition of stewardship:
caring for and nurturing
that which has been given us to share.

Let me repeat it for effect,
caring for and nurturing
that which has been given us to share.

“Stewardship” is such a sad word any more,
at least as we use it in Church.

Sad, because for all intents and purposes,
it has become synonymous with soliciting money.

But the environmentalists
have given its fuller meaning back to us,
as in the stewardship of the Earth.
In that context, stewardship takes on
and meaning
and is chocked-full of sobering
and exciting implications.
Stewardship is a really Big Word,
so much more than pledging and dollars in the plate.

Stewardship, as a Big Word,
as the really big word that it is,
actually refers to the incarnation of our spirituality.
Hold that for a moment:
our personal behavior as stewards
is the incarnation
of our personal spirituality

In other words,
the way that you and I act, as stewards of our lives
and stewards of our resources,

is the best reflection of our actual,
personal spirituality.

Thought of this way,
our spirituality is not reflected so much in
the particulars of our beliefs,
nor in which way we worship or pray.

Instead, the health and wellness
of our personal spirituality –
its depth and breadth –
resides in how we act as stewards.

Our spiritual health, from this point of view,
is located in how well we care for and nurture
that which we have been given to share.

if we are feeling spiritually anemic or ill,
we should look first
at how we are doing as stewards
of that which we have been given
to nurture and share.

If we are feeling down in the dumps
of a spiritual malaise,
that we can’t quite put our finger on,
then improving the stewardship
of that which we have been given to care for and share,
may be the diagnosis.

This understanding of stewardship,
of spirituality even,
offers a totally level playing field.
Suddenly it has nothing to do with how much
we have collected, amassed and hoarded
but how well we care for and share
that which we have been given.

So stewardship is about
what kind of spiritual practice you and I live,
not just about dollars and cents.

But allow me to put some meat on these bones,
to add a note of supreme practicality.

What kind of steward we are,
is NOT completely a matter of choice –
any more than we get to completely choose
what kind of spirituality we practice.

Here is what I mean.
I have three older sisters
and even when we were quite young
I figured out whom to ask for what kind of thing.

  • One of them wouldn’t even share a pencil with me if there was no promise of getting something in return.
  • One of them was exceedingly generous with things she didn’t really want any more anyway.
  • The third was a cautious giver who would usually give me whatever I asked if she thought I truly needed it.

In honor of full disclosure, I was the youngest
and no one wanted my stuff anyway,
and even if they had wanted it,
they could always fool me out of it.
And I am sure they would have something to say about me as a kid too.

But the point is, thinking about me
and my three sisters,
and looking at the amazing differences
in my own children,
it seems to me that some of our proclivities
are hard-wired into us.

In other words, we just come out the shoot
with some personality traits
and they greatly influence what kind of a steward
we are and will be.

We imagine that our values are environmental,
rooted in how we were nurtured,
but it seems to me we begin with some hard-wired
personality traits and whatever those are,
they are a part of the fruit within the garden
we have been called upon to steward.

Some big piece of what we have been given
to care for and share
comes standard issue on our particular model.
Some models have more
and some have less,
and more doesn’t necessarily mean better.

The point is, religion,
ours or someone else’s,
is barking up the wrong tree
when it demands that people be generous,
give happily,
or give away some magic formula like 10%.

How we give,
what we give,
how much we give,
to whom we give,
and when we give
does not line up into a one-size-fits-all formula.

Being called by God to be a good steward
of the gifts and resources
we have been given to care for and share,
is not an accounting formula –
it is a spiritual practice
and we need to treat it as such.

Practice means doing:
trial and error,
experimentation, work and effort,
reflecting and learning,
over and over and over again,
and without the possibility of perfection.

But here is one thing I have observed
and perhaps you have seen it too.
It seems to me that if something belongs to us,
and we value it,
then we take care of it.

We all have different kinds of capabilities
and capacities for taking care of our belongings –
some people keep their things in pristine shape
for years and years and years,
while others exert hard ownership along the way.
Yet most of us seem to find ways to hold onto
and protect that which we treasure.

So, while we have different attitudes
and different strategies
about whether and how
we share our resources with others,
all of us are generally pretty clear about
what belongs to us
and how we will care for it.
If it belongs to us,
and we treasure it,
then we take care of it for the long haul.

That means our first task of becoming
good stewards,
and practicing our spirituality,
is to get clear
and get honest
about what we have been given
and what we treasure.

Stewardship then,
involves an honest and fearless inventory of the actual gifts and resources
you and I have been given,
so that we can name that which we truly treasure.

We say we treasure and value many things
but which of them do we really?
Which of them do we personally, and with sacrifice,
care for and sustain.

Then, the next step in this fearless inventory
of our practice of stewardship, is a little scary.

Once we get honest and clear,
we need to ask how we can share
these precious things we treasure.

How do we share our treasure?
How do we share the very thing we are inclined
to hold onto most tightly?
Now there is a very big,
and maybe scary question.

So, the spiritual nature of stewardship
is to get really honest and clear
about what we truly treasure,
and then risk asking the question:
how can we share it?

Once we have done that,
we can go from theology to faith –
which is to narrow the gap
between what we treasure and what we share.

By the way, that is also how we will figure out
how much money to give to Trinity Church.

It will depend upon whether or not
we see spiritual community,
and this spiritual community,
as one of our treasures.

If it is our treasure, then
it is ours to care for and share –
and that will guide us in our financial giving.

So to sum up,
our spiritual practice is to determine
how to go from theology to faith,
which means narrowing the gap
between the treasures we have been given to share
and what we actually share.
My guess is,
though I couldn’t prove it,
that Wisdom, when she is experienced,
becomes the leaven
that helps us narrow that gap.