"Walking into a new story"
Clare L. Hickman
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Ferndale
August 19, 2018—Proper 15B
Proverbs 9:1-6; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58
As Wisdom says, in that passage from Proverbs, “Hey! Dumbbells! (snaps fingers) Get over here!”
Which, you know, works for me. Sometimes I need it that direct. Need to be reminded that I can be a total idiot about myself and my own life. Need to be smacked upside the head and invited, challenged, told in no uncertain terms that I’m looking at it wrong. Looking at it limited. Looking at it through a lens of fear, that overwhelms me and lets me shut down. Looking at it through a lens of willful ignorance, that allows me to keep pretending that’s the way it is.
But Wisdom ain’t havin’ it. You. Yes, you! C’mere. Come, and I will feed you. I will. Come, and I will point out a new path. A clearer path. A path into greater truth. A path into greater wholeness and growth and health. Come, and I will show you the way!
It’s an invitation into a new way of looking at the world. A new way of seeing the world. A new way of understanding yourself in the world. Frankly, that’s what Jesus is doing too, in the Gospel of John. He’s inviting his followers to see the world differently and to live in the world differently: to live as children of light. To take hold of eternal life, which is less about what we understand as temporal (as in, you will live forever), and more about living in a way that echoes things that are eternal. That is, eternal life is life that is God-like. Eternal life is life that echoes the dreams and purposes of God, right here on earth. You can live like that, Jesus promises. It’s right there, close as breathing, if you can be brave and wise enough to take hold of it.
And the purpose of the spiritual life is to do just that. To see that you can live differently, be differently in this world. To realize that you can live inside a different story. That you can step into God’s story for you.
One of my favorite writers, Liz James, wrote about this recently. She and her kids—smart kids, brainy kids, not particularly focused on physical or athletic things kids—had decided to participate in the City Walk. They would walk right the way around their city, to the tune of 80 kilometres (which she helpfully translated into American as “bonecrushing-freaking-holy-hanna-forever”).[i]
Anyway, so, these folks from a family who had always prized mental over physical accomplishment … these people who had tended not just to ignore but to disdain physical strength and ability … these folks set off at 4:30am to walk. And in doing so, they began to walk themselves into a new story about themselves.
At the 15 mile mark, James realizes that while she has been a 190 lb woman most of her life (which made her a different shape from a lot of the walkers), she has also been carrying that weight around for 25 years and has the strength that comes from that! And her son, her super-cerebral son who was inspired to do this kinds sporty thing by a much-admired uncle by marriage, her son realized that the “I am not athletic” story of who he is just wasn’t really believable any more.
Because there he was, fifteen, twenty, thirty miles into a long-distance hike. There he was, doing it. There they were, walking into a whole new story of who they were and who they could be.
Which paralleled what she and they had been doing for themselves at home, as they moved through her divorce. As they figured out what that meant about who they were together (and now separately) as a family. As she figured out what that meant about who she was and might be as a person.
Like on the City Walk, which she describes: “We hiked until the plodding of our steps carved new things in me, like droplets carve new paths in water. We walked until the ground felt like an extension of our feet, and I did not walk through breathtaking fields of flowers as much as I bloomed alongside those fields. We hiked until I realized that this city that I have lived in all my life and thought I knew every inch of was overflowing with places I'd never been. (Like the me that I've lived in all my life, turns out, is also filled with all sorts of uncharted places).”[ii]
They walked into new stories. Which is what we have to do. We can’t really figure them out while we’re lying on the couch. We have to walk into them. Especially when big changes are afoot. When we are shifting from deeply grooved old patterns into something new. When we are being invited into a whole new perspective on the world. We have to step into it, to begin to walk the path, in order to begin living the new story.
It can be hard to imagine, because the old reality seems so true, so inevitable, so unchangeable. And sometimes a new story feels like death, because we loved the old story and don’t want to let go. And sometimes a new story feels impossible, because the old story just feels too powerful for us to break free. And sometimes it isn’t that clear. We love the old story, but we’re not sure if it’s actually true. We hate the old story, but we can’t imagine ourselves another one. Sometimes we get stuck in that. Sometimes we get mired in the downside of “It is what it is.”
That’s what the crowd says to Jesus today: “How can this be?” (by which they meant, “This can’t be”). And Jesus responded, “Oh, but it CAN be!” Whatever story about yourself that you’ve been stuck in, you can walk out of that story and into a new one. Those stories about yourself, about who you are and what you are capable of … those stories that were whispered to you by parents or 7th graders or the advertising industry … those stories you repeat to yourself about mistakes you have made, or why things don’t work out for you … you can walk yourself into another story.
Because the story of your past does not have to be the story of your future. Just as the story of the world as it is does not actually encompass all of what might be. It can be different; it can be new; it might well be better. You can be different; you can be new; you might well be better.
Step into the invitation that Jesus offers. Walk onto the pathway to eternal life. Enter the story that takes hold of hope and promise and possibility. The story that is the story of God’s dream for the world. The story that lives and breathes transformation and redemption and second chances. The story that claims (no matter what the evidence) that love is more powerful than fear, and life is more powerful than death. The story that eternal reality, which is to say Godly reality, is more powerful than the limits of our human realities.
Walk into that reality, knowing that when we take those steps into a new story, we do not walk alone. It is Divine Wisdom who bids us there. It is Jesus who assures us over and over that this reality is real, and that he is the path and the destination and our companion on the way. It can be. It is. C’mere, and start walking! May it be so. Amen.