Sermon preached November 18, 2012
Texts: I Samuel 1:4-20
I was born in 1959. Let me make this easy for you – 53.
I did not know this at the time, but 1959 was a phenomenal year for jazz. USA Today, in a 2009 article said, “1959 was one of those rare stellar years in the jazz universe when all of the creative, commercial and celestial forces aligned.” Wow. Sounds like a good year to be born!
I realize that talking about jazz does not necessarily grab a lot of people. Jazz, in a good year, represents about 3-5% of music sales. Nevertheless, I hope you will indulge me for just a little longer here. In 1959, four significant jazz albums were released. All four make it near the top of lists like 100 jazz albums that shook the world (all in top 20). There is Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come, perhaps the least well-known of these four. There is Dave Brubeck’s Time Out with “Take Five” as a centerpiece. There is the best-selling jazz record of all-time, Miles Davis’ Kind of Blues with tracks like “So What” and “Blue in Green.” Then there is Charles Mingus’ Mingus Ah Um, which starts off with this song. “Better Git It In Your Soul”
Mingus, Better Git It In Your Soul
As [Hannah] continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore Eli thought she was drunk. So Eli said to her, “How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine.” But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord.”
When was the last time someone mistook your spirituality for having a little too much to drink? Better git it in your soul.
Now spectacle is not a value in itself. We have all witnessed people whipped up into emotional peaks for hurtful purposes. We know of religious spectacles that ended tragically – Jim Jones in Guiana, David Koresh in Waco. Spectacle and emotion are not valuable all by themselves. Yet God wants God’s love and Spirit woven into the depths of who we are. God desires to have God’s love and Spirit penetrate into our minds, our hearts, our souls. God wants our relationship with God to be our deepest, truest relationship. God seeks to engage us mind, heart and soul.
Anne Lamott’s latest book is about prayer. You may in fact be wondering what I even mean when I use the word “prayer.” It’s certainly not what TV Christians mean. It’s not for display purposes, like plastic sushi or neon. Prayer is private, even when we pray with others. It is communication from the heart to that which surpasses understanding. Let’s say it is communication from one’s heart to God…. Or let’s say it is a cry from deep within to Life or Love, with capital L’s” (Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, 1-2) The book is entitled Help, Thanks, Wow – the three essential prayers. Better git it in your soul.
In encouraging us to go deep, to let our faith be a part of our emotional life, I am not saying that we will always feel wonderful and spiritual and close to God. I am not saying that we should wait for the feeling in order to pray and love. While I hope to grow, and hope we all grow to a place where our prayers come from the deep places inside, like Hannah’s, and our actions of goodness, kindness and love flow readily from a heart filled with love and joy – well sometimes we need to act before the feeling is there. Sometimes we need to pray even when we don’t feel up to it. Our actions are part of forming our hearts.
During a crisis time in his ministry, when John Wesley was struggling with the adequacy of his faith, of his journey with Jesus, a man named Peter Boehler advised Wesley this way. Preach faith til you have it, and then because you have it, you will preach faith (Heitzenrater, Wesley and the People Called Methodist, 77). Boehler was not asking Wesley to be disingenuous. He understood that sometimes we act ahead of where we are, that actions shape our hearts, minds, and souls, and don’t simply flow from our hearts, minds and souls. He also understood that while we seek a congruence between faith and feeling, our feelings can ebb and flow, and we should not simply wait to pray or do good until we feel like it. The goal, though, is to get it in our souls – to have God’s love and Spirit shape who we are, to have our relationship with God in Jesus be the deepest, truest of our relationships – that place where we can pour out our hearts in anguish, where we can share our deepest hopes and disappointments, where we can sing our most beautiful songs, and express our most profound moments of awe.
As I was thinking about this action on the way, living out faith even when our feelings may be lagging, I thought about Ruby’s Pantry. I will confess to you that there are moments, particularly early in a Ruby’s Pantry week when I am thinking, “Again?” I don’t always feel like Ruby’s Pantry. But it is where I need to be, and almost without fail, something gets into my soul. Last month a woman shared with me that she had a piano that she needed to get rid of as she was moving. It would be free to anyone who would be willing to come and get it. Just a couple of days before she moved, I received an e-mail from a person interested in the piano. A connection was made, the piano found a new home. The woman who received the piano thanked me by e-mail. The woman who gave the piano thanked me in person at Ruby’s Pantry Thursday.
This past week a woman came to volunteer. She shared with me that it had been a few months she was last able to do so. Her mother had been ill, and she was flying frequently to Vancouver. Her mother died, and volunteering at Ruby’s Pantry, she said, was part of her getting back to normal. We are about distributing food at Ruby’s Pantry, but we also create community here every month – a community of kindness and dignity and joy. I was touched this month, by the sheer number of volunteers – students, entire families, but even more by the quality of community we were able to create here and are able to create here for a few hours once a month.
Better git it in your soul.
Hannah’s story in I Samuel continues. Chapter 2 begins with Hannah’s song. My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God. I am not sure that translation does a lot for us. That “exult” language is not really our language. Here is Eugene Peterson’s rendering of the first part of Hannah’s song. I’m bursting with God-news! I’m walking on air…. I’m dancing my salvation. There she goes again, crying out from her heart, expressing the depth of her soul. This time it’s joy, thanksgiving, gratitude.
Can we get there? When was the last time someone mistook our spirituality for having a little too much wine to drink? Better git it in your soul.
Toward the end of her book, Anne Lamott writes: Amazing things appear in our lives, almost out of nowhere – landscapes, seascapes, forgiveness – and they keep happening; so many vistas and so much healing to give thanks for. Even when we don’t cooperate, blessings return to our lives, even in the aftermath of tragedy. Things get a little better when we ask for help. People help us. Most astonishing of all, people forgive us, and we eventually forgive them. Talk about miracles. The kids turn out to be okay after all. The widow finally gets back on her feet. If you’re like me, you ask your higher power for help, and then cause further need for help by procrastinating, or refusing to cooperate with simple instructions that follow sincere petition. And yet even so, grace, progress, blessings continue to be given to you, because God gives. It’s God’s job. (99-100). I think Anne Lamott is bursting with God-news, walking on air, and dancing her salvation.
Can we get there? On this week of Thanksgiving, can we get there? For all of us, may we git it in our souls. Amen.