Seeing Things As They Really Are
Sermon Preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, November 22, 2009
Luke 12:16-21 (9th Sunday of Luke)
What does it mean to be "rich towards God"? All human beings are intrinsically "rich towards God" because we are made in His divine image and likeness. The problem is that we have forgotten who we are. Abraham Heschel once wrote, "Man is a messenger who has forgotten the message."
The Holy Fathers often echo the ancient admonition to "know thyself." Orthodox mystics consider self-knowledge to be the greatest of the spiritual gifts.
We do not know who we are. Why? Because we consist of two realities: we are both physical and spiritual; the one we can see the other we can't. We know we have bodies. All our five senses revolve around the fact that we have a body. It takes no more effort than looking in the mirror to see that. But the spiritual part, that is something different entirely. We cannot see it. What evidence is there for the soul? Where is it? What does it look like? How does it work? Do we have any control over it? The idea of the soul sounds either like a fantasy or like far too much work so we would rather just stick with the physical. And we say, "It's ok for those poor fanatics who care about invisible things (they are a little crazy anyway, right?), but as for me, I am just not religious."
So, the race is on. The decision is made. I will chase the Great American Dream for it is the only reasonable road to happiness. And if I can find some church that agrees with that, well maybe I will join up and get a little divine help in pursuing my material happiness. If not, then it means that spirituality is as irrelevant to my life as I have always thought and I will proceed without it. It turns out, in the end that we end up chasing a dream that can never come true. The happiness we seek, when it comes, never stays for long.
While we are busy making our ways in the world we still feel something inside, a dissatisfaction, a slight discomfort, a feeling that something isn't quite right. We aren't really happy and we don't know why. Nothing seems to fill the hole we feel inside no matter how hard we try to fill it. So after we fill up the barns we have and find no lasting satisfaction in them, we accumulate more stuff and build bigger ones. Still, the excitement doesn't last and we think, "I will build an even bigger one! That will do it! Just one more!" But that doesn't do it either. Happiness is always just one step, one barn, one trophy spouse, one toy, one achievement away. Always just around the bend.
The excitement over winning the lottery fades quickly, dissolving into that black hole inside we sense is ready to devour us. It is the fear of that interior emptiness that drives us so relentlessly. Life turns into a frantic exercise in trying to stay ahead of the uneasy feeling that is biting at our heels. It is an exhausting way of life with only momentary benefits and finally comes the day when it all ends in death and all we have worked for crumbles into dust or ends up in somebody else's hands leaving us nothing to hold on to.
It is easy to understand the existentialists, nihilists and the writer of Ecclesiastes, "vanity of vanity, all is vanity." Why? Because we have forgotten the message. We are made in the image of the invisible God. If we ignore invisible things we are badly missing the boat. The road to happiness does not lie without, it lies within. When we finally recognize that everything we can put our hands on is passing away and everything we can gather is like sand through our fingers, then we begin to regain our memory. We are made in God's image. Nothing we can see, touch or gather can make us happy, but God can.
Until we pay attention to the vague sense of uneasiness we feel and get a handle on what that is all about, we will never find the way out. We have to stop trying to make it go away with whatever it is that gives us momentary relief and get on with finding some real answers. This means we have to stop running away and face the music. We need a little courage. It is, as we suspected, not an easy road. There is a barn made by God inside of us that needs filling. It is much bigger than we could ever build and there is only one thing that can fill it.
"Man is an animal which has been given the vocation to become God." The only real and lasting happiness we will find in life comes in connecting with this truth and living it out moment by moment. That black hole of a barn inside begins to close when Jesus is allowed to enter our conscious lives for He is the only one who can fill that immense and infinite space.
And it is simple, oh so simple. Once we have opened that door our job is to keep the door open! How? By living each moment with a conscious awareness of our vocation and the Lord's presence. By living each moment as if life really mattered. By learning to see God in every blade of grass, in every changing leaf, in every child, in every friend, in every neighbor, in every stranger. By mining the great treasure that God has placed in our depths by meditation and prayer. By touching the divine image deeply. By rejoicing that we have been so marvelously and gloriously made. By learning to sing His praises with every breath we take. And ultimately by silence.
The Name of God in the Old Testament cannot be pronounced. It is represented by four letters in Hebrew called the sacred tetragrammaton, YHVH. Although unpronounceable one can try, but the only sound you can squeeze out of those mysterious, sacred letters is the sound of the breath going in and going out. Thus, with every breath, whether we know it or not, we are saying the Name of God. The secret is to remember this as often as we possibly can. It is as simple as that. This is the foundation of Christian spirituality. That is how we have been made. That is how close God is to us. He is in the very air we breathe and in every breath we take. When we become conscious of this, a new life takes root and one little breath at a time we begin to wake up from our long sleep and see things as they really are. At last we begin to remember who and why we are.