The Moreness of Things

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Perhaps I need to apologize this morning…in working on this sermon, it seems all I have to offer are snippets and glimpses of my own struggle in what I have encountered—what has encountered me—these past couple weeks… Looking toward this Feast of All Saints’ in the midst of the swirl of life…

So, I offer this to you more as a meditation than anything polished…

I keep two important photos on my desk at all times: Meme, my grandmother, holding our daughter on her first Christmas, and Daddar my grandfather, holding Evelyn by the hand and walking her around his yard to show her his ‘flowerbushes.’   He was known to put large, red, artificial flowers in his rose bush just to make his neighbors doubt their botanical skills—to make sure they thought his bloomed first.

They are two of my favorite photos, of two of my favorite people whom I miss very much—whom I love but see no longer.

I lit a votive candle for each of them today, on All Saint’s Sunday, to have something physical, an outward sign, close at hand…something sacramental.

They have both been dead for a few years now, but they are most definitely still alive…we are still connected…held together, somehow…in that mystery of life.

There have been moments when I feel them so close, Meme more so than Daddar, because she and I have always been close—and always will.

Meme visits me every now and then in dreams.  We sometimes have very important conversations about what is going on in my life.  Every time I wake up in the morning after one of these dreams, I feel more grounded…reminded…that we are still held together in a way that I cannot explain—but for which I am so grateful.

Don’t you think there is a mystery of our existence in God that we are, for some reason, bashful about?  We are hesitant in talking about these mysterious experiences…these glimpses. There is this yearning in us, this awareness, which we perhaps don’t normally talk about—but which comes out from time to time.

Sometimes when I visit with folks, we share stories about experiences we have had.  Those experiences where, when they tell me, they look over their shoulders to make sure no one else is close enough to hear.  They lean in and say, “do you think this could really be real?”

“Of course it is real!” I tell them.  And then undoubtedly they relax and open up and share what they have experienced with their loved ones who have died, what they have experienced in moments of prayer…the deep feel of things.

The materialistic pressure of the world around us is so very strong, that urge to reduce everything down to a physical explanation so that the mystery or depth of things is squeezed out…except it can’t be squeezed out entirely.  The deep soul of life finds its way in.

There is a Moreness to things that is quite stubborn, and it stirs our hearts and makes us wonder…and realize…that there is More to life than we can readily explain…that hope is real.  That God is real.  That God’s presence is with us, within us, within everyone we meet…

I think this time of year with All Hallows’ Eve, the Feast of All Saints and the Commemoration of all Faithful Departed, or All Souls’ Day, draws our eyes toward, pulls our hearts toward…this Moreness—as it has drawn the eyes and hearts of the saints and sages throughout time.

St. John the Divine was on the island of Patmos for many years, and he recorded a series of visions in what became the Book of Revelation.  And there’s a whole lot of strange stuff in there that folks have been trying to understand for centuries.  John encountered this Moreness and the best he could do was capture it in the images he gave us…

In today’s reading, one of these elders whom he encounters stands with him while John beholds this scene of worship and praise from “a great multitude that no one could count.”  And he asks John, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?”  They are those who have “come out of the great ordeal,” we are told.  They are the multitude who has been gathered to worship and praise the God who created them.  John has been shown life on the other side of the veil, if you will…

In the first Epistle of John (not the same John, really, but we won’t dwell on that), he invites us to reflect on this Moreness, this mysterious part of our existence, looking toward that age-old question of what will happen to us when we die: “Beloved we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.  What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is…”

We will see him as he is…

We will see things as they really are…which leads us to an interesting question: perhaps the root of so much of our struggle in our faith is that our sight is limited and we become frustrated.  We see, as St. Paul described, through a mirror dimly…through a clouded lens…

We know there is more to things…more to life…more to existence than what we encounter in the consumer-addicted world in which we live.

We know there is a depth to things calling out to us…

Our hearts know that there is that Moreness just on the other side of a wall…just through a door…just around a corner…apparently just out of touch… Yet there.  Beckoning to us… So, when we have a dream of a loved one who has died or have an encounter…or a moment of God’s closeness during a hymn or on a walk…or sitting with a spouse or loved one…or when someone is born…or when someone dies…and life opens up…and there is this warmth…and peace…and hope…

It reminds me of a poem by Rilke, when he imagines how God is so close…right there…yet, apparently, just out of touch…

You, God, who live next door—

if at times through the long night, I trouble you
with my urgent knocking—
this is why: I hear you breathe so seldom.
I know you’re all alone in that room.
If you should be thirsty, there’s no one
to get you a glass of water.
I wait listening, always.  Just give me a sign!
I’m right here.

 As it happens, the wall between us
is very thin.  Why couldn’t a cry
from one of us
break it down?  It would crumble
easily,

it would barely make a sound.  [1]

The wall between us is very thin…

This desire to rest in the Moreness of things has been in my heart these past few weeks, before, during and after Carolyn and Suzanne Williams’ funeral to be sure.  But also in talking with friends in the parish scared about their dear friend who had a heart attack.  Visiting with others who have such meaningful stories, experiences, and yearn for a space to go to—to be held in—something deeper, more profound.  Supporting others struggling with how to be present to children in the midst of pain and heartache and addiction.  Holding pilgrims in prayer as they journey through the deep and thick space of the Holy Land and soon Rome.

Often when I get home in the evening, I sit in my meditation room and look back over the day…trying to pay attention and notice all the ways we are connected….

And, friends, that is where I encounter this Moreness, this depth of existence…this presence of God…

I experience it in the connectedness of things… In those moments when we realize how tight our hearts are bound together—no matter how far the distance between us.  In those times when, out of the blue, it is as though my grandmother is sitting next to me and I can hear her voice in my mind…in my heart.  I can hear her laugh.

In those moments when we are transported from a space where we wonder if God “is real” to resting in the spaciousness of an awareness of God’s presence that infuses us…with a peace that truly does surpass our understanding.

This is our sacramental life.  This is the deep nature of things…the reality that contemplative practice invites us into.  As Tilden Edwards describes, “within us there is a capacity for touching reality more directly than with the thinking mind.  It is activated when we’re willing to let go of the thoughts that come through our mind and to sit in the spacious openness that appears between and behind them.” [2]  Only here can we come to understand what it means to partake in what Jesus describes as “Blessedness.”

The Rev. Dr. Stuart Higginbotham
November 4, 2017
All Saints’ Sunday

[1] Ranier Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, Translated by Anita Burrows and Joanna Macy (New York: Riverhead Books, ), 53.

[2] Tilden Edwards, Embracing the Call to Spritual Depth: Gifts for Contemplative Living (New York/Mahwey, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 2010), 6.

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