David McKee’s Homily from November 7, 2021

Holy Wisdom Monastery Homilies Leave a Comment


November 7, 2021

Isaiah 25:6-9

Revelation 21:1-6a

John 11:32-44

Unbind him, and let him go.

As I pondered today’s readings over the last several weeks, this imperative from the lips of Jesus that closes today’s gospel text has kept coming back to me.  It has stuck in my mind.  You might say that I feel bound by it.  Or you might say that I feel bound to reflect on it.  Let’s just say it’s been a sticky business.  To make it even stickier, my friend, Bill Beers, reminded me this last week that the word “religion” comes from the Latin verb ligare, which means to bind, as in a ligation or a ligature.  Religion, then–re-ligio–means to re-bind or to be re-bound.  It is a linking back, a binding back, to something.  But what is that “something?”  Well, that’s the mysterious bit.  I want to explore that with you this morning.  But first, there are the complexities of being bound.

The image of being bound has all sorts of negative, even horrific, connotations.  To be physically bound is associated with the horrors of being a prisoner; of being completely vulnerable; of being forced to undergo things that we would not choose freely; of being restrained against our will; even of being tortured.  The dead man, Lazarus, has “…his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth….”  He is bound in the wrappings of the dead.  Even in his new life, he wears the clothing of the dead.  Clearly, none of us want to be bound against our will.  We want to be unbound.  We want to be let go.  We want to be free. But there are other kinds of binding.

There are so many ways that we feel bound. Some of these bonds are duties and obligations that we freely choose, and which we choose over and over again out of faithfulness, like how we are bound to a spouse or to a child or to a faith community.  These are, as the saying goes, the ties that bind.  This is the positive, life nourishing side of being bound.  We need these ties.  Through them we come to know and realize who we truly are.  This is the deep wisdom of the Benedictine value and vow of stability, both inner and outer.

That said, though we freely choose these bonds, we sometimes feel constrained and blocked by them.  They are not without their irritations, their chafing.  Sometimes we want to be free of these irritations.  Sometimes we even blame the dear people to whom we are bound…we blame and resent them for the choices we ourselves have made.  We butter our toast on both sides and then complain when it lands on the floor buttered side down!

And to make this business even stickier, we rarely have enough self-knowledge, enough inner clarity, to understand, or even be fully aware of, the reasons for our choices.  From the writers of ancient times, on through to the works of contemporary thinkers, is the perennial lesson that we are never fully aware of our motivations.  What we think are our own fully conscious, free decisions are actually compulsions and projections that are bound up with our unconscious wishes and impulses.  We are unconscious prisoners in cages made of our own traumas, fears, ignorance, greed, grandiosity, pride, envy…it’s a long list.  We are never fully aware that we are buttering our toast on both sides.  Sometimes the results are tragic, sometimes they are comic, and sometimes they are absurd.  But always the results are not what we planned; they are not what we had in mind.  We are indeed all too bound by “what we have in mind.”  We cling to and define ourselves in terms of all kinds of ideas about who we imagine ourselves and others to be.  We rely on these ideas to make sense of ourselves and of our world.  The thought of being unbound from these fantasies can be quite frightening.

So, where does this leave us?  Is it better to be bound or unbound?  Clearly it’s not so simple…or is it?

It was about at this point in my meditations on Jesus’s imperative to unbind Lazarus that I was blessed with Paul Knitter’s homily last Sunday.  He offered an inspired meditation on the two Great Commandments:  first, that you must love the one God with all your soul and all your mind and all your strength, and second, that you must love your neighbor as yourself.  Paul pointed out that our loving of God and neighbor is, ultimately, an expression of the all-embracing, the eternally creating and sustaining love of God. Indeed, our love is a manifestation of that love.  I would extend this by saying, perhaps shockingly, that this is not God’s love.  There is not a separate God–a person or a being–who loves.  There is only the Love that IS God.  As we are told in the first letter of John, God IS Love…not a separate being who loves.  My friend and oblate sister, Liz Morris, expanded this a bit more when she pointed out to me last week that there is only The One Love.  It’s not my love or your love.  It’s not even God’s love, as if God could be separate.  There is only The One Love that is God; The One Love that creates us, redeems us, and sustains us in every moment.  This One Love is the reality to which we are ultimately and inextricably bound, whether we know it or not.  We are in this love eternally.  We are birthed out of it and disappear back into it when we die.  It is in The One Love, as Paul tells the Athenians in the Acts of the Apostles, that we live and move and have our being. 

We always have our being.  Our being is in God.  Our being IS God’s being.  Our calling is to live and move in such a way that we are aware of and realize this truth.  It’s not a matter of belief.  It’s not a matter of ascribing to all the right ideas, even our ideas about God.  Ultimately all our ideas about God will be wrong.  After all, God is beyond all ideas.  Rather, it is a matter of living, of embodying.  That’s the deep meaning of faith.  Faith expresses, mostly wordlessly, our lived knowledge that our being is God’s being.  It is the living and moving that are our challenge; a great challenge for we who are bound by the lingering effects of our traumas, by the fear, greed, hatred, and delusion by which we define ourselves and others.  Even so, there are those unexpected moments when we feel unbound from our ignorance; moments when we forget ourselves and dwell in the embrace of The One Love.  These are moments of grace, moments of awakening to the ultimate freedom of our life.   We are graced with a taste of the true freedom of being bound to The One Love.  We experience true religion…re-ligio…the infinite freedom of being re-bound to God.  But these moments usually are just that:  moments. And then, there is the slow, inexorable return of our inner and outer life.  We are reeled back by our life of fear and delusion, of parents and spouses and children, of having to sit by the last person you want to sit by at Thanksgiving dinner.  As the American Buddhist teacher, Jack Kornfield, put it:  “After the ecstasy, the laundry.”  Our living-and-moving is an ongoing cycle of binding-and-unbinding-and-rebinding, and more binding-and…well, so it goes.  In order to be unbound, we have to be bound, and in order to be re-bound we have to be unbound.  This is the ongoing cyclical nature of our finite life.  It is our life in this finite, temporal world, and yet, it is grounded in unbounded, infinite freedom of the spirit.  The spiritual work of our life is to be receptive to grace:  to the unexpected moments when we realize that our life ceaselessly arises from and returns to the eternal One Love that we call God.  The God in whom, as Isaiah tells us today, the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations is destroyed.  The God in whom the strips of fearful and deluded cloth that bind our hands and feet disappear.  We are called by The One Love to find and cultivate the courage and compassion to be vulnerable enough to deepen into our own hearts, and into the hearts of our brothers and sisters.  It is there, with our hearts bound together in all our messy humanness, wrist-deep in the laundry, that we know the One Love Who binds us all; the One Love Who will wipe away the tears from all faces; the One Love Who is making all things new.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *