If it’s alright with you, I’m going to preach a little today. There’s a lot on the program today, so I just wanted to share some things I have on my mind, things that came up while working on this service. I’d also like, instead of having the immediate feedback of a conversation, to have folks go home and think about it, meditate on it a bit, and continue the conversation over the next few weeks or months. Let’s call it an “introvert defensive move.”
This week I asked you to fast. Did anybody do that? As I wrote this, I guessed that most did not. I’m guessing most lead lives where fasting is, at best, inconvenient if not downright impossible. If you did, you probably found it difficult. I missed a couple of meals, but it was easier for me. I didn’t have class this week, so I reverted to my normal, unhealthy sleeping schedule. And my normal breakfast is small, just some juice and a cereal bar. When you sleep through half the day and then eat only slightly less than you normally would, it’s not a big deal. I claim no particular merit. But, much worse, I didn’t think about it. I spent no time contemplating what I was doing or reflecting on the plight of the poor and hungry of the world. In the end, what I couldn’t give up was not food, but time and attention.
We’ve talked about Sophia here a lot, though probably never enough. Sophia, for those who don’t know is the embodiment of God’s wisdom, the feminine divine, the ordering principle of the world. In Proverbs chapter 1, Sophia stands on a street corner shouting at passersby. I’ve looked at that part of the book a lot. It’s fun. She’s bold and insulting. She calls everyone idiots. But I’ve never really looked closely at the end of that chapter. There, she promises the people that, if they will listen, they will have a life of ease. Proverbs 1:32-33: “For waywardness kills the simple, and the complacency of fools destroys them; but those who listen to me will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.”
What Sophia wants for us is the good life. The good life is not a life of idleness, a life of accepting the way the world is. It’s active. It’s focused. It’s focused on God and God’s way. The good life is life in God and God’s justice. The good life is secure, free from worry. The good life is peaceful. The good life does not include the threat of destruction. I want to think about these things on three levels: the personal, in the church, and in politics.
First, the personal. I don’t get the feeling that many of us are at ease. We’re all busy. Some are busy trying to survive. Just going to work and having a family is enough. And some are going to school or volunteering through other organizations. Some are overwhelmed by new jobs, old jobs, changing relationships, finding a safe, stable place to live. When people aren’t busy, they’re trying to forget about all the stuff that makes them busy. They want a break. They want some fun. They want a drink. They want a nap. Is this the good life? Is this life in God? Struggling to survive and then struggling to forget?
I don’t know if I have the solution to this. Clearly, I don’t. But I can offer a way of thinking about it, a way to be mindful of how we spend our time and attention. See, fasting is not about food. It’s about becoming conscious of a basic drive and how we fulfill it. I’d like to suggest that we fast with our time and attention. Try this week to ask a few questions. Where is this activity coming from? Who am I when I’m doing it? And where does it take me? I’m not asking you to change anything, but just to ask these questions. Commit a little time and attention to your time and attention.
Second, the church. It’s hard to get people in this church together in any organized way. We spend a lot of time together, for many of us a couple times a week. That time is precious to me and I think to others. But then, when we ask for more, when we ask for service or study, it seems to cross a line beyond which the demand is too much. This is not a judgment, but concern. My fear is that I’m just adding to the problem. My first semester at school, every professor in every single class started by exhorting us to some variation of “go slow and pay attention.” Then they each assigned a hundred pages of reading. I don’t want to do that. Some, by personality, will keep taking on more. Some, by personality, will disappear. We risk burning people out and driving people away. I don’t want that. If you can’t find the good life, life in God, the life of ease that God promises is God’s way, in the church, where can we find it?
Again, I don’t have the solution, but I want us to become mindful of the problem. As a church, how can we make each other’s lives easier instead of harder? What models exist in our tradition? As a church, we are supposed to take care of each other, support one another. Acts 2:44 tells us that “All who believed were together and had all things in common.” Some of the greatest advances in culture and science in the West came out of monastic communities where people kept a rule of life, simple lives held in common. Or consider the Beguines. The Beguines were women who had no dowry and, so, little prospects for marriage. They banded together in communities, shared housing, worked, saved, and focused on God. Sometimes they were able to save enough for their own dowries and moved on to marriage and family. But sometimes they found that they liked the life they had, working for their own money, sharing it with people they cared about, studying and meditating and working for justice. They had found the good life and wanted nothing else. Maybe Sophia is on to something.
Finally, government. In a few minutes, we are going to write letters to Congress asking them to support programs for the hungry and the less fortunate. Take a moment to think about how these programs impact the lives that people actually live, how they might move someone toward the good life. When I worked in an office, I was usually there late. I got to know the cleaning people a little bit. One woman told me that this was one of three part-time jobs she held down. Her oldest kid, 21, was unemployed and getting in trouble with the law. Her 16-year-old was struggling in school. She couldn’t go to the parent-teacher conference because she couldn’t afford to take off work. Even if she could, she would probably be fired if she missed a shift. There’s always someone else to take her place. She struggled. To put food on the table, to keep a roof over her head, and to try to give her kids a chance at something better. The schools were underfunded, the teachers overworked, and if something went wrong, there was no net to catch her and her family. Is that the good life? Is that life in God? A lot of activity – she wasn’t lazy by any stretch; she worked a lot harder than I did – but not much came of it. There was no security, no peace, and disaster loomed every moment of every day. How do you find God in that, even expect the possibility of God in the middle of that? Where can her time and attention go?
Now, imagine a world in which her children were guaranteed to have something to eat, guaranteed to have a roof over their heads, guaranteed to have healthcare. How would she be spending her time? How would they grow up? Instead of watching their mother struggle in futility, maybe they see her finish her education, fulfill her dreams, and maybe they think they can have dreams, too. In a democracy, we get to make choices about the lives we create for the people in our world. We don’t just have to imagine what if. Remember that when you vote and remember that as you ask your representatives to care for the poor and the hungry in our community.
The essence of worship, of study, and of relationship is time and attention. Where is yours? Where is ours as a church? Where is ours as a nation? What kind of world are we building in our personal lives, in our spiritual lives, and in our lives as citizens that allows our time and attention to be spent on the things of God, that allows life in God to flourish? Isaiah tells us that life in God is a life of justice. Let’s begin to think about how we can structure our lives together so that we might share our bread with the hungry, house the homeless, and clothe the naked so that our light breaks forth like the dawn. That is the good life.