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Based on the scripture readings:
1 Samuel 3:1-10
Mark 9:30-37

2003 September 21
Kenneth F. Baily, Senior Pastor

Every Day Spirituality

There is a story that I heard from a preacher long ago, and this is the way I recall it. Two men were walking down the street in Manhattan. One of them was a Native American and the other a first generation New Yorker. Friends for a long time, they were walking in silence until the Native American said, "Listen to all those crickets!" The other man furrowed his brow and said "Crickets?  All I can hear is cars and horns and buses and barkers. How can you hear crickets over all that noise?" The first man stopped and said, "Watch this." He took a handful of change out of his pocket and dropped it on the sidewalk in the midst of the traffic and din. Up and down the block, heads turned to see where the money had fallen. The first man turned to his friend and said, "What we hear has everything to do with what we listen for."

All week I have been thinking about the topic of everyday spirituality. I have been thinking about discussions from our Search Committee and our Christian Education committee on how we, all of us, can discover moments of peace or dimensions of God in our pre-existing everyday lives. How can we have the opportunity, the discipline, the blessing of something divine in our ordinary times. And I have deepened my belief that such a practice is central to our health as Christians no matter how demanding or incongruent it might seem with what we do.

I don't usually turn to the scripture this early in my sermons but I want to today to receive a Biblical model for seeing and hearing the divine duringBack to top the day, because it is rich and fantastic as well as basic and achievable.

The story from Mark is the last in a series of four pronouncements that Jesus will suffer, die, and rise, and that the last shall be first in the new realm. Apparently this message was tremendously important and the disciples could hardly grasp it. This time Jesus uses a new example to make his point. He takes something invisible and makes it visible. That is, to make his point about the new order of things in God's realm, he takes a child and puts it in front of his disciples.

Now children were invisible in Jesus' time. Remember how whenever he grasped one the disciples said, "Cut it out?" Children had zero status. This child is so invisible that the gospel writer can't even remember if it was a boy or a girl. Our English says "he" but the original doesn't know he from she. Yet Jesus' action was simple: He took the child, put it in the midst of them -- which is a rich phrase -- and embraced it in his arms. Jesus doesn't embrace too many people in his life so this too is of enormous import. The same way Simeon hugged Him when He was a baby, He now hugs another child.

There are many layers of meaning in this quick tale, but one close to its heart is this lesson: to understand God we have to see things right in front of us that we haven't noticed before. As one commentator says, the disciples didn't even know they were missing the kids, but they do now. In their everyday lives, they were asked to observe those made invisible and notice more about what was all around them.

Now, as I told you, I got up a head of steam about this early in the week, so I've been asking myself, how do I do this? How do I notice the crickets in Manhattan or the invisible signs of God's kingdom in my midst? And part of the answer is quite simple. I choose to. I make the effort to. I change a little and proceed differently. And anyone can do that. Back to topAnd, if we believe Jesus, everyone should.

So I was in downtown Boston on my day off. I was walking near Post Office Square and the Fleet Financial Center. And everyone was walking with their heads down, so they could listen to their cell phones and jaywalk without injury. And I was behaving that way too, rushing for the T at Park Street. And suddenly in front of the Fleet I saw these spindly little trees, with two-inch trunks. And I looked at them, and they were absolutely beautiful, and they had these tiny little leaves, and I focused on those, and I realized that I could hear those leaves rustle even above the horns and phone conversations all around. And it was a beautiful moment. And I remember it now.

The next day I was at the Registry of Motor Vehicles. Talk about an arid wasteland! I was waiting an hour to hand in a form that I wish I could have mailed. And I remembered my challenge, and I looked around and listened, and this time what I heard was just as important as the leaves. I heard so much anxiety and fear in people's voices. So much discomfort and I realized that this is how we lead so much of our public lives. Which concerns me. But as I listened, since I was causing myself to do this, I kind of smiled, too. The mere idea of trying to hear something from God at the Registry rather amused me, and the fact that I did, on some level, Back to topdelighted me. And it stretched me further.

The core of an everyday spirituality is choice: you must choose to have one. The starting point of this spirituality is observation: listen and look at what has previously been invisible. Then seeing you must act. You can develop methods for all this on your own, or you can use one of mine. On the back of your morning program is a simple prayer based on the letters ABC, CBA. It is easy to memorize for use near Downtown Crossing or even state agencies. Abiding, Bountiful Creator: Comfort, Bless, Amaze. It is just a resource to remind yourself who you are and whose you are anywhere, anytime. You can change some of the words if you want or find others entirely. What you need is a simple prayer that can be offered everywhere to start this process.

Now, you might be asking at least two questions: how can I realistically use this in my law office, my teaching situation, my child care time, my professional situation? And, if I start listening to leaves and anxious people, won't I lose my professional edge, won't I be distracted, won't I tune out on the very world that we so often hear that God values?

First, have you got time for email, phone calls, or online shopping? Have you got time for TV and radio? You've got time to spend ten seconds at the office or in your home or in your car saying a six word prayer. You can pray and operate heavy machinery on the same day.

The second question is deeper, though, and can't be answered too quickly. Will I lose something in this process? Here the answer is yes and no.

The best way to begin this answer is sideways, drawing a lesson from Zen Buddhism, which is not a specialty but an interest of mine. One expression of Zen Buddhism -- a path of liberation -- identifies Four Noble Truths. The first of these says that life as we usually live it is burdened by suffering and frustration. The second says that clinging to things, grasping at them, is the cause of suffering or frustration. And this grasping stems from a type of unconsciousness that ignores its surroundings. It is blind to the gifts of creation that are all around. The third truth says that nirvana, which is good, is literally the cessation of holding onto things that are overwhelming. And that nirvana, the cessation of grasping, leads to Back to topwaves of joy and creative power.

The Christian story says much the same. Good or bad, where your treasure is, your heart is. Go, release what you have. In losing you discover finding. This yoke is easy. Even Jesus did not grasp even at being God, but emptied himself. Those with eyes to see and ears to hear, get started. The Christian story recognizes that life as we usually live it is burdened by broken ways and unnecessary possession where suffering abounds. Yet we are called to see the fullness of creation as well as things all too often invisible such as rustling leaves, neglected family members, the homeless, the abused, the frightened foreigner, ourselves. Nirvana and repentance have a lot in common. They both take a new direction starting today.

The Christian story says we do lose something with an everyday spirituality. We lose some practices and habits and blinders that we've used, maybe even to keep ourselves operating at a productive pace. And that is risky and scary. But we gain something, too. We gain a sense of the values of God that diverge from our culture's values. I'm not saying all do, but I must report many do. Yet God earnestly calls us to these alternate values not so that we will lose something or join a particular team but so that we will live in a new way that shares and promotes the health of all.

What are you listening for? What measure of suffering or frustration in your world do you long to release? What are you missing that is right in front of you? How much would you like to see this entire world pursue liberation? How many concerns of those in need do you long to engage?

An everyday spirituality is not a stress management trick or a quick fix for systemic problems. It is not a short cut. And it does cost something. But it is one ingredient of embracing a divine creation and of seeking harmony with a divine imagination. It's good for us now, it's good for the long term, and it's good for this world. It is available any time you are ready. Why not now? Amen.

Copyright 2003 Kenneth F. Baily.  Used by permission.

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