August 28, 2016

Pentecost – Proper 17

Sirach 10: 12-18; Psalm 112; Hebrews 13: 1-8, 15-16; Luke 14: 1, 7-14


In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  AMEN

Roman Catholic priest, theologian, and author Richard Rohr writes the following:

“We are all addicts. Human beings are addictive by nature. Addiction is a modern name and description for what the biblical tradition calls “sin” and medieval Christians called “passions” or “attachments.” They both recognized that serious measures, or practices, were needed to break us out of these illusions and entrapments; in fact the New Testament calls them in some cases ‘exorcisms!’” Rohr continues: “Substance addictions are merely the most visible form of addiction, but actually we are all addicted to our own habitual way of doing anything, our own defenses, and most especially our patterned way of thinking or how we process our reality. By definition, you can never see or handle what you are addicted to. It is always hidden and disguised as something else. As Jesus did with the demon at Gerasa, someone must say, ‘What is your name?’ [because] you cannot heal what you do not first acknowledge.”

In several weeks I am going to travel to the Colorado wilderness with three other Episcopal priests and friends of mine for a week-long hike in the back-country. No electricity, no running water, no internet. I am starting to get a bit anxious. I am the first to admit, as Richard Rohr states, that I am an addict. I am addicted to my routine, I am addicted to technology, I am addicted to predictability. None of these things I will have during this time in the wilderness.

I am anxious about the trip, not because of the physicality of the journey, not about exposure to the elements, but about the drastic change in my routine this will cause. I imagine that one of the outcomes of this trip will be that it will shine a very clear light upon those things for which I rely too heavily on. Those things of mine that medieval Christians labeled attachments or passions. 

Anyone who has had an addiction or heavy reliance upon something that they have kept safely hidden in the dark, well when that is brought out into the light for all to see, well, let’s just say that it can be thoroughly humbling. What twelve step communities like AA label “sobriety” or freedom from addiction, is very similar to what the New Testament calls an exorcism. It is a literal driving out of something that controls you, whether chemical or psychological.

Any person in recovery, whether their recovery is from substance or emotional abuse, is often painful, difficult, and usually produces a lot of humility. What you will also hear from someone in recovery is that that humility they receive is a gift – it is a blessing. Humility is a usually a painful gift, it is a blessing that hurts – it stings a little. But I think that any Christian would nonetheless consider it a victory and an answered prayer every time one’s ego loses and God wins. 

The simple fact is that when we shine a light upon those things that we are addicted, well, they begin to lose their power. It often hurts, but in that wounding, there is always grace. 

I remember a time when someone confronted me with some things that were true about myself that I knew about myself, but I didn’t realize other people knew about me because I thought I did a good enough job hiding them. I didn’t.   The criticism this person offered was well stated, it was honest, and it was direct. But it was still criticism. And after the initial sting of that criticism wore off, I began to realize the blessing. And the blessing of that moment of my ego’s wounding was that I was now able to see myself from the perspective of the individual who confronted me.  And that gain of perspective that I did not have before, was very helpful. Painful, but helpful.  And in that moment, I felt a sense of grace, a grace bestowed on me because, for that moment, I was humble and open enough to receive it. So the criticism was a gift. The truth conveyed to me that day hurt, but it also set me free.

I hope this trip in a few weeks does the same. And maybe that’s why I’m a bit anxious. 

I am anxious because shining a light on our own addictions, our own pain, our own suffering, is a wonderfully scary thing to do.  Doing this makes us humble, and we realize that humility is a freeing gift that liberates us from those things which seek to possess us. 

So I am going to step into my anxiety, I am going to name it.  I hope you do to.  For what we bring into the light, God always redeems.  AMEN.