Libby Caes' Homily from August 7, 2011

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Libby Caes delivered the following homily at Sunday Assembly at Holy Wisdom Monastery on August 7, 2011. The readings from the lectionary for the day included I Kings 19:9-18, Romans 10:5-15, and Matthew 14:22-33. Libby Caes is the oncology and palliative care chaplain at UW Hospital and Clinics. She is ordained by the Mennonite Church USA but makes herself at home in the larger ecumenical community. She received her M.Div. at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary (now Palmer Seminary) in Philadelphia, PA. 

Focus statement: The invitation the Old Testament and gospel readings is to live our lives in our God given, created in God’s image potential, to wake up, to breath. Takes practice, is a growing experience but also takes responding to God given call and God given desire.

Anthony de Mello, a Jesuit priest who grew up in Bombay, India and trained as a psychologist was a master story teller. If I were stranded on a desert island and could only have one book, it would be one of de Mello’s.

This story is from Song of the the Bird.  Listen.

A man found an eagle’s egg and put it in the nest of a barnyard hen. The eagle hatched with the brood of chicks and grew up with them.

All his life the eagle did what the barnyard chicks did, thinking he was a barnyard chicken. He scratched the earth for worms and insects. He clucked and cackled. And he would thrash his wings and fly only a few feet into the air.

Years passed and the eagle grew very old. One day he saw a magnificent bird above him in the cloudless sky. It glided in graceful majesty among the powerful wind currents, with scarcely a beat of its strong golden wings.

The old eagle looked up in awe, “Who’s that?” he asked.

That’s the eagle, the king of the birds, said his neighbor. “He belongs to the sky. We belong to the earth—we are chickens.” So the eagle lived and died a chicken, for that’s what he thought he was.

(Pause)

De Mello tells us there are three ways to listen to his stories.

  1. Read them once. Then move on. The story is entertainment.
  2. Read the story twice. Reflect on it. Apply it to your life.

3. Read the story again after you have reflected on it. Create a silence within you and let the story reveal to you its inner depth and meaning, something beyond words and reflections. Let it speak to your heart, not to your brain.

Listen again:

A man found an eagle’s egg and put it in the nest of a barnyard hen. The eagle hatched with the brood of chicks and grew up with them.

All his life the eagle did what the barnyard chicks did, thinking he was a barnyard chicken. He scratched the earth for worms and insects. He clucked and cackled. And he would thrash his wings and fly only a few feet into the air.

Years passed and the eagle grew very old. One day he saw a magnificent bird above him in the cloudless sky. It glided in graceful majesty among the powerful wind currents, with scarcely a beat of its strong golden wings.

The old eagle looked up in awe, “Who’s that?” he asked.

That’s the eagle, the king of the birds, said his neighbor. “He belongs to the sky. We belong to the earth—we are chickens.” So the eagle lived and died a chicken, for that’s what he thought he was.

This story is a wonderful framework or lens reflecting on the story of Elijah and today’s gospel.

Elijah has just had a close encounter with death and has retreated alone to Mount Horeb.  He’s a chicken right now, exhausted and scared.

A short while earlier Elijah had been an eagle, living out his calling as prophet of Yahweh…confronting Ahab, challenging the prophets of Baal.

Remember Ahab’s credentials….he is described as more evil than all the kings before him, he is married to Jezebel and worships Ba-al.

It’s a dramatic and gutsy story of speaking truth to power on Mt. Carmel:

Elijah is the only prophet of God left, all the others have been killed.  Baal’s prophets number 450.

Elijah challenges Ahab to a duel of sorts.

Let’s both build altars and see which one is consumed by fire.  Then we will know who is the true God.

The prophets of Baal build their altar but get no response when they beseech their god for fire.

Nothing happens…no voice, no answer, no response. No fire.

Then Elijah builds his altar, carefully laying the stones and wood.  For good measure Elijah then douses it three times with water. Then he calls on God and the all of the altar is consumed by fire. It is a dramatic display of God’s power.

It is indeed a mountain top experience. Elijah is soaring.

But there are consequences. Jezebel, Ahab’s wife, is infuriated. She wants Elijah annihilated.

Elijah panics and flees…and takes off alone to Mt Horeb.

He is no longer an eagle but a chicken.

Mt Horeb is a wild and desolate place. It is not somewhere where one goes to recuperate or take a vacation.  It is where Moses entered the cloud and received the ten commandments.

On his arrival God asks an obvious question, “Elijah, what are you doing here?”

And Elijah gives the obvious answer,”They are after my life.”

God then passes by, not in the wind, earthquake or fire, not in the dramataic display of Mt Carmel…but in the sound of sheer silence….

(Cover face with mantle,  long pause and then uncover face)

In the silence Elijah regains his sense of self as God’s beloved. He is grounded. He is an eagle again. God sends him off on another challenging assignment.

 

The disciples, on the other hand, can’t seem to leave the barnyard.

Prior to being sent by Jesus  across the lake there was the feeding of the 5000.

Jesus had instructed the disciples to feed the crowd.  Rather than rise to the occasion, they protested:

But, but, but…we only have five loaves and two fish.

Think about it…Jesus obviously thought the disciples were capable of feeding the crowd, otherwise he wouldn’t have asked them to do so.

Because the disciples preferred to be chickens rather than eagles, Jesus has to step in and do it himself.

Imagine how frustrated Jesus must have been.

The disciples are happy to sit on their butts and watch Jesus in action.

How does Jesus deal with his frustration…he sends the disciples away and retreats to pray.

Soon another teachable moment arrives. The disciples are in a storm on the lake. Jesus walks over to them. Peter cries out:

“Lord if it is you, command me to come to you on the water”

“Come”

And, Peter is walking with Jesus on the water. But then he looks around and becomes frightened and starts to sink. For a brief moment he is an eagle but then slips back into his comfortable chicken skin.

Imagine Jesus singing to himself, ”When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn?”

 

In these stories we catch glimpse of what it is to be fully alive and awake.

We are also reminded of our fear, our comfort with the familiar, our ingrained behaviors.

But, if we are indeed eagles, why not soar above the clouds rather than peck in the barnyard?

Anthony de Mello, now remember he is both a Jesuit and a psychologist, firmly believed that we live only 10% of our God given potential.

What does it take to be fully human, to be an eagle?

Both stories have mountain settings.

Elijah flees to Mt. Horeb, Jesus goes to the mountain to pray.

In the scriptures mountains are a symbol or metaphor of the soul lifting itself up in contemplation.

It is when we are grounded in our spiritual practice that we are transformed.

If you have been oblate here you have discovered this to be true.

If you have ever taken a silent retreat, whether a day, a week-end or longer,  you have discovered this to be so.

If you make a commitment to prayer and contemplation you are doing a dangerous thing, you are opening yourselves up to leaving the chicken yard and soaring above the clouds.

How do we leave the barnyard and fly?

Jim Finley puts it this way:

Find your practice and practice it. Find your teaching and follow it. Find your community and enter it. Find the suffering within yourself and others and heal it.

This is hard work.It requires commitment. But most importantly, it is a response to the invitation that God extends to each one of us.

Recently I was diagnosed with sleep apnea. I have been extremely fatigued and feeling oxygen deprived.

So, guess what? I get to sleep with this…a CPAP machine.

I am still learning how to use it…right now it leaks a lot and I am rather self-conscious about Dave needing to sleep with this strapped to my face!

But, I am going on faith that the nightly practice of wearing the CPAP will be worth it. I will get a good night’s sleep again and my fatigue will eventually go away.

With the CPAP I will be able to breathe fully rather than have my oxygen levels drop when I am sleeping.

If my oxygen levels dropped to 10% I would be just about as dead as a doornail. Remember, de Mello says we live at 10% of our God given potential. I would rather reach my potential!

Breathing is metaphor for our spiritual journey. We breathe in love, we breathe out love.

When we are feeling at loose ends, unmoored, the invitation is to return to our breath, which is our center.  Our breath can become our prayer.

If we stop breathing, we die…physically and spiritually.

If we don’t breathe, we remain chickens rather becoming fully what God created us to be.

Listen one more time.  Create a silence within you. Let the story reveal its inner meaning. Let it speak to your heart and not your brain.

A man found an eagle’s egg and put it in the nest of a barnyard hen. The eagle hatched with the brood of chicks and grew up with them.

All his life the eagle did what the barnyard chicks did, thinking he was a barnyard chicken. He scratched the earth for worms and insects. He clucked and cackled. And he would thrash his wings and fly only a few feet into the air.

Years passed and the eagle grew very old. One day he saw a magnificent bird above him in the cloudless sky. It glided in graceful majesty among the powerful wind currents, with scarcely a beat of its strong golden wings.

The old eagle looked up in awe, “Who’s that?” he asked.

That’s the eagle, the king of the birds, said his neighbor. “He belongs to the sky. We belong to the earth—we are chickens.” So the eagle lived and died a chicken, for that’s what he thought he was.

 

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