“…the removal of what is shaken…in order that what cannot be shaken may remain.”
There is an old saying that people of faith are those who can see the invisible, hear the inaudible, believe the incredible, and attempt the impossible. Down through the centuries, people of faith have lived with an amazing awareness that there is–how shall we say it?–SOMETHING MORE. Something more to life than that which is material, something more than what we can see, touch, hold, prove, another realm of reality, a realm of infinity, a realm of possibility, unseen to our eyes, and yet just as real as the earth beneath our feet. The word the Bible most often uses is KINGDOM —a kingdom of God, a kingdom of heaven. Not light years away, or up in the clouds, but “It is in the midst of you,” Jesus said, “it is within you.” It is so much like what physicists are telling us: that we do not live in a 1-storied world, on a 1-dimensional flat earth, not a single UNI-verse, but a MULTI-verse, a cosmos that is more a deck of cards, and life on earth represents but one card, but there are so many more dimensions to life than we realize. Is this not unlike what people of faith have been speaking of for centuries? That you and I inhabit not 1, but 2 worlds: the visible/invisible, the temporal/eternal, actual/possible, material/ spiritual, physical/metaphysical, natural/supernatural. Or as writer of Hebrews puts it, the “shakeable” and the “unshakeable.”
We know all about that shakeable world. Almost everyday something happens in this world that gets you “all shook up.” But what a huge difference it makes to trust that in the midst of all that is shakeable there is something solid on which we can stand: a Rock, Refuge, Fortress, the unshakeable reality of a God from whose love we can never be separated. This is an underlying premise of this chapter in the Book of Hebrews. But in these 3 selected verses, the writer of Hebrews is telling us something else that is very important: that sometimes we cannot see that which is unshakeable until we have been shaken.
We have been shaken. This week marks the 8th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. 8 years ago, our city was shaken to the core. I wouldn’t wish that storm on my worst enemy, but neither can I deny that at that core we have discovered something unshakeable. I often said during the awful aftermath of that storm we learned what we could live without AND what we could NOT live without, that which matters most, that which can never die. With our steeple lying in a pile of rubble I often said, “We can’t be the Church of the Lighted STEEPLE, but we can still be the Church of the Lighted PEOPLE.” Because of that which is unshakeable.
We have been shaken. In just a couple of weeks we will mark the 12th anniversary of September 11, 2001, “the day that changed everything.” That’s what my daughter, who was 17, said when I was finally able to reach her by phone, she quietly said: “Mom. Mom. Everything is changed.” We never thought in a millions years it could happen here, that war was something that went on over there. But here is was in Manhattan. More than buildings of steel collapsed on that day. Our whole country was shaken to the core. People who had not set foot in a church for decades filled the pews for weeks on end, grasping for that which is unshakeable. Everything was changed, but, how does the hymn say? “Through every change, God faithful will remain.”
Change. Oh, how we hate it! how it gets us all shook up! A couple of years ago the Catholic Church made changes in the language of the mass. For instance, when the priest says, The Lord be with you, the people, instead of saying, And also with you, now say, and with your spirit. You would have thought an earthquake hit the Vatican with all the weeping and wailing that ensued. One would think the old language dated back to the 1st century, when in fact, it has only been used since 1973. We are no different. Indeed, so many things we hold sacred in our various denominations have only been around since the 1950’s, but we cling to them as if they are unshakeable. Change. It gets us all shook up!
You know the 20/60/20 rule? In the face of change, 20% will embrace it. 60% will consider it, but want to be convinced. And 20% will resist it with all their might. Good leaders know you are probably wasting your time to focus your efforts on trying to convert that last 20%. Like my husband tells me all the time, Don’t water the rocks! Change is hard, no doubt, and it is happening faster all the time. Remember Alvin Toffler’s book Future Shock, about how 20th c. people are stunned, stressed, and stunted by information overload, “too much change in too short a period of time”? There is new book out by Douglas Rushkoff entitled Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now, about how utterly overwhelmed we are by our always-on, live-streamed, twitter, text, email, global connectivity, and the dissonance this creates between our digital selves out in cyberspace and our true selves–the heart and soul of you. Let me put it this way: if you were to unplug, if you were to suddenly be without phone, laptop, IPad, computer, internet, email, texting, tweeting, streaming—would you have a life? Would you be lost? Would you be shaken?
I have been shaken. But every Monday at 5:30 in the church parlor, I unplug. I join about 7 or 8 others in the church parlor for centering prayer—turn off phones, close your eyes, close your mouth, rest your mind, 20 minutes of stillness and silence. At first the monkey mind is doing cartwheels, somersaults, and jumping jacks in my head, bouncing around my brain like pinball. One by one, you let them go, one pesky worry after another, a sweet release, until your mind begins to open, empty, rest. Beyond the stillness in the parlor, life goes on. We hear parents picking up their children from school, custodians pushing their vacuums, the streetcars rumbling down St. Charles Avenue, rain falling on the playground. It might as well be a million miles away. For centering prayer takes you to a place of solace deep within, an inner space as vast as the cosmos, that realm of infinity at the center of your soul, where you are at one with the One from whom nothing in all creation can separate you. This place of solace is always there. In the midst the shakable, the unshakeable.
We have been shaken. It happens all the time at the personal level: death, divorce, cancer, aging, sickness, loss. I love the movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, about a bunch of British retirees who are scammed into spending their retirement years at a luxurious but affordable hotel in India, only to arrive and discover it in ruins, doors falling off hinges, no phone service, on the brink of foreclosure. As the story unfolds, you find out that every one of them, in the final years of their lives, are confronted with core issues about their true selves and ultimate meaning of their lives. In other words, everything around them, and everything within them is very shaky. But in the process of being shaken up, the butter begins to separate from the cream. Unexpected new life begins to emerge from the ruins. At one point, one of the women says, “Nothing here has worked out quite as I expected it.” And another answers her: “Most things don’t, but sometimes what happens instead, is the good stuff.” Butter. Real butter.
Do we dare to believe that, people of faith? To see the invisible, hear the inaudible, believe the incredible, attempt the impossible, and stand firm on that which is unshakeable?