July 7, 2013
Last Sunday we sang in the Eucharistic prayer,
O Holy, holy, holy God, O God of time and space,
all earth and sea and sky above bear witness to your grace.
We experience God in time and space
All of us have memories of times and places where we have experienced the Holy.
Kathleen Norris, in Dakota: A Spiritual Geography writes of returning to her childhood and ancestral home:
This is my spiritual geography, the place where I have wrestled my story out of circumstances of landscape and inheritance. The word “geography” derives from the Greek word for earth and writing, and writing about Dakota has been my means of understanding that inheritance and reclaiming what is holy about it. (p.2)
Let me tell you very briefly about a few of my holy places:
The first is Basel, Switzerland. I have been there only six times in my sixty years, three times as a child and three as an adult. Each time I have returned as an adult, it felt like home and well it should, my father’s family has lived there since the 1300’s.
Another sacred place is San Francisco. I fell in love with San Francisco as a tourist but then had the good fortune of living there for a year while training to be a chaplain. During that year I was diagnosed with cancer. In San Francisco I received excellent care, not only for my cancer but also for my spirit. During the last three months of that year, our daughter, just graduated from high school, lived with me. We had a wonderful time together, every evening walking the streets of that sparkling city.
Lastly, I must mention Madison. I have lived on both coasts and in Chicago but nothing has felt like so much like home. I never thought I would love a place as much as I did San Francisco but I do.
To know me you need to know about all the places I have lived.
For the Israelites, Jerusalem was their holy place, their spiritual home.
It is where David took the ark, where Solomon built the temple.
In exile from Jerusalem, this lament was penned:
By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
How could we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy.
Today’s reading from Third Isaiah is also about Jerusalem:
Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her,
all you who love her;
rejoice with Jerusalem in joy,
all you who mourn over her—
that you may nurse and be satisfied
from her consoling breast;
that you may drink deeply with delight
from her glorious bosom.
For thus says the Most High:
I will extend prosperity to her like a river,
and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream;
and you shall nurse and be carried on her arm,
and dangled on her knees.
As a mother comforts her child,
so I will comfort you;
you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.
You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice;
your bodies shall flourish like the grass;
and it shall be known that my hand is with my servants,
and my indignation is against my enemies.
Third Isaiah is addressed to those who have returned to Jerusalem after being in exile in Babylon.
These exiles discovered that their experience of life back in Jerusalem did not match up with what they thought were God’s promises.
Instead of the grass being greener on the other side of the fence the exiles returning home faced hardship, famine, political in-fighting, and economic oppression.
Jerusalem was not what they expected or hoped for.
Had God abandoned him? Would they be better off if they were still in Babylon?
Why such suffering?
Understanding the context of today’s reading helps us make sense of the startling references to breast feeding:
Nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast.
You shall nurse and be carried on her arm.
Third Isaiah is inviting his weary and discouraged listeners to a deeper relationship with God. He does this with the image of breast feeding.
Let’s explore it a bit.
When I was pregnant, I fretted over breast feeding. Would I get it right? Would my infant latch on? What if I didn’t have enough milk?
There were tons of resources around for nursing mothers and I confess I read a few of them.
But my down to earth and somewhat cynical husband would say more than once, “Oh come on, what is the big deal, women have been nursing from the beginning of time without all that stuff and they did fine. What’s the big deal?”
In a sense, he was right. For most mothers and newborns nursing is natural.
I remember holding Amy for the first time after my C-section She was looking for the milk! I held her up to my face to see what she looked like and she sucked my eyebrows, no milk there! Soon she found what she was looking for.
The nursing mothers in our midst remind us of how natural and how precious breast feeding is. They also tell us something about God and God’s relationship with us.
It is one of intimacy, of closeness. God nurturing and caring for us as a nursing mother holds and feeds her baby.
As most infants latch on to their mother’s breast, so it is natural for us to seek God. This is what we are created for.
St. Augustine puts it so well:
Our hearts are restless until we find our rest in God.
Think of a restless baby settling down and nursing.
And from The City of God:
We must fly to our beloved homeland. There the Father is and there is everything.
Just as a newborn has the homing instinct to find its mother’s breast, so we search for God and are found.
Whether it is the family farm, where we go to restore our souls or where our awareness of self, life and the Holy has shifted…places are sacred; they all point to a larger reality, that God is our home, that God calls us home.
We all know the story of the woman at the well in John 4, Jesus asking for a drink of water from a Samaritan woman.
Jesus the Jew is not on his own turf, he is near the most holy place for the Samaritans, Mt. Gerizim.
The Samaritan woman tells him:
Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.
the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father/Mother in spirit and truth, for the Father/Mother seeks such as these to worship. God is spirit, and those who worship must worship in spirit and truth.
We worship and know God in spirit and in truth. But, because we are human, we experience God in the context of time and place.
Remember the Eucharistic prayer, “Holy, holy, holy one, O God of time and place.”
And, perhaps the holy places of our lives also tell us something of what life eternal is like.
Joseph Cardinal Bernadin in The Gift of Peace, wrote:
The first time I traveled with my mother and my sister to my parent’s homeland of Tonadico di Primiero, in northern Italy, I felt as if I had been there before. After years of looking through my mother’s photo albums, I knew the mountains, the land, the house, the people. As soon as we entered the valley, I said, “My God, I know this place. I am home.” Somehow I think that crossing from this life into life eternal will be similar. I will be home.
Perhaps holy places somehow mirror our true home, resting in God.
As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. (Isaiah 66:13).
And as we pray each week,
Holy one, our only home, blessed be your name….
Holy one, our only home, blessed be your name.
Let us pray:
O Holy One, we give thanks for Holy Wisdom, a place that nurtures us, welcomes us and sends us forth to be your people. We thank you for its prairie, its trees, its flowers, its water, the sky and the birds. So we pray:
We thank you, O God, that you have journeyed with us through time and space. We pray:
We pray for those who have been exiled from their beloved homelands and live as strangers in a foreign land: We pray:
For what else shall we pray?
We remember those listed in our book of intentions and mention quietly those we carry in our hearts:
We pray all these in the name of Jesus. Amen
Passing of the peace.
In today’s readings Isaiah speaks of Jerusalem using some rather odd images; Paul concludes his letter to the Galatians by again making a distinction between the flesh and the Spirit. And, Jesus gives instructions to the seventy as they travel to places on His behalf.
Let us pray: