Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Dweller on the Threshold

Bartimaeus said to Jesus, “My teacher, let me see again.”  Job said to God, “I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.”

If you could listen to the music of only one artist or group, who would it be?  The choice for me would be easy – Van Morrison.  Known to fans like me as “Van the Man,” the Irish-born Morrison has been performing and recording music since the late fifties.  His songs range across a wide spectrum of styles: Celtic, jazz, blues, country, rock, pop, and even hymns.  His lyrics are even more eclectic; often drawn from life-experiences, yet deeply spiritual. 

As I pondered today’s readings a line from one of Morrison’s songs kept playing over and over in my head:

I have seen without perceiving
I have been another man
Let me pierce the realm of glamour
So I know just what I am.

This first verse from the 1982 song Dweller on the Threshold certainly describes something with which most of can identify – having in inkling that there is more to life, but we simply cannot grasp what it is.  If life could be equated to a modern painting, it would be like listening to an art major speak for well over an hour about its nuances and subtleties and all you or I can say about it is “nice colors.” 

Bartimaeus cannot physically see what everyone else sees, but still perceives something about Jesus that the rest have missed.  Job has been through a terrible ordeal.  He, and his ‘comforters’, talk a great deal about God, but it is only near the end that Job perceives God with clarity.  The readings play with our notions of sight and seeing, of experiencing and understanding.  It is as if our life’s work is all about gaining sight and insight of something that is always there, but we struggle to perceive it for what it is.

Morrison’s song is wrapped around this idea and it echoes the pain and frustration we humans experience when we sense we are seeing without perceiving.  The lyrics were inspired by a quirky astrology book by Alice Bailey titled Glamour – A World Problem.   According to Bailey we all have subconscious stirrings, ideas, notions, experiences, and biases, which she calls ‘glamours’, that enshroud us like fog and prevent us from seeing the world as it truly is.  Our spiritual search for answers leaves us feeling like little more than dwellers on the threshold of being able to see.  She holds that illumination comes when the Angel of the Presence shines a light on us.  Listen to how Morrison develops all of this in his lyrics:

I’m a dweller on the threshold
And I’m waiting at the door
And I’m standing in the darkness
I don’t want to wait no more

I have seen without perceiving
I have been another man
Let me pierce the realm of glamour
So I know just what I am

Feel the Angel of the Presence
In the mighty crystal fire
Lift me up consume my darkness
Let me travel even higher

I’m a dweller on the threshold
As I cross the burning ground
Let me go down to the water
Watch the great illusion drown

I will walk out of the darkness
And I'll walk into the light
And I'll sing the song of ages
And the dawn will end the night

Now, I am not advocating Bailey’s astrological leanings, but I do want you to notice how Morrison’s song mirrors Job’s struggle for understanding; a struggle that ends not because of anything he has done, but rather because God pierces through his darkness with the light of God’s presence.  And it mirrors Bartimaeus’ struggle for the sight that will enable him to be with Jesus on the way.

A moment like this happened for me last weekend when I was in Ohio to attend a family wedding.  On Sunday morning we worshiped at a church where I once served as an Assistant to the Rector for four years.  That was twenty years ago.  At the time, the parish was raising money to build a new sanctuary, which has long since been finished.  As I sat in this space I recognized many of the people I knew so long ago.  By the way, no one recognizes me until I introduce myself. 

I thought about all that has happened in my life over the past twenty years.  Yes, I have less hair and more inches on my waist, but the most dramatic changes are on the inside.  How can you communicate that to people you haven’t seen in two decades?  How can you possibly hope to describe all the vivid joys, the painful losses, the satisfying accomplishments, the deep insights, the incredible experiences?  And what about them as individuals and as a faith community?  How do they communicate to me all that has happened in their lives: the weddings, the funerals, the baptisms, the mission trips, the answered prayers, the congregational split, the prayers answered only by silence, and on and on and on?  It can’t be done.

As I worshipped I thought about this strange and wonderful journey we call life and how it had brought me back ever so briefly to a place I had been before to be with people I had once served.  I realized that if, twenty years ago, I could have seen everything that was going to happen in my future I could not have faced it – not the joys, not that pains, not any of it.  And I suspect that if the congregation could have been shown its future the response would be the same.  And yet there I was and there they were.  We had made it from that time and place so long ago to this moment.  And we had made it through the grace of God.  As I worshipped I was caught up with the feeling that this day – like every day – truly is a miracle. 

Something clicked for me during the Eucharistic prayer when the priest said the Memorial Acclamation: “Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  Christ will come again.”  Christ has died is the past, I thought.  It is where we have been.  It is no more, yet the experience of it somehow becomes a part of us.  Christ will come again is in the future.  We are not there yet and knowing what will transpire as we move toward it is not in our best interest.   All we need to know is that in the future the awaiting Christ will be with us.  Christ is risen is where we are right now.  We live in an eternal present of resurrection life and joy.  This day, this moment, this now is redeemed by God and infused with grace.  This moment, like every moment, is an abiding miracle.  As I went to the altar rail to receive communion I was caught up in an overwhelming sense of peace about all that was and all that is to come because God had brought me to that day.  It is a feeling that is with me even this morning.

Alice Bailey might say one of my ‘glamours’ was taken away.  Job might say, “I too once heard with my ears, but now see with my eyes.”  Bartimaeus, no longer blind, might encourage me to follow on the way.  Van Morrison might say, “I’ll sing the song of ages and dawn will end the night.” 

To be a spiritual person is to be a dweller on the threshold.  It is to want to know, to want to see, to want to perceive.  And it is to wait for the door to open, for the light to shine, for the dawn to come.  When we meet Job and Bartimaeus today we meet them on a day when the door is opened from the other side; a day when the thing they have long awaited is granted to them.  But for each there were many, many days of dwelling at the threshold facing only a closed door.  That may not seem very satisfying, but recognize this, when the door opened, they were there waiting. 

That is the spiritual life in a nutshell, isn’t it.  That is what the search for God and truth and insight and understanding is like.  Searching does not lead directly to finding.  Rather it puts us in the right place to receive when God’s light shines forth.  Better to be Bartimaeus sitting on the road side day after day after day so that the one day when Jesus walks by you are there, then to have resigned yourself to darkness.  Better to be Job contending with his comforters so that when God speaks you are ready to listen then to have given in and given up long ago.  Better to be Van Morrison dwelling at the threshold and waiting at the door than to have walked away in defeat.