The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope
Transcribed by: Gaile E. Zimmer
In his book The Message of the Psalms, theologian Walter Brueggemann talks about the seasons of our lives and that as predictable as the seasons in our lives, there are cycles that our community of faith take us through. There is the season of orientation, and that’s the time when everything seems to be going according to plan: equilibrium, stability, security, trust, homeostasis. Most of us like to live in that space, but then something comes along quite unexpectedly that disrupts that. It could be the loss of a loved one, loss of a job. It could be an earthquake and a crane collapse that moves us out of that safe, secure homeostatic space into disorientation where things are anything but orderly, anything but predictable, anything but a place where we want to linger. But then again, unexpectedly the sovereign God in our midst will cause something quite unexpected to happen yet again that pulls us out of the pit of disorientation into new orientation: changed, a new identity living into what has happened to us and transforming us to be in a different place.
And as I was thinking about Brueggemann and the truth in that cycle in seasons of our lives, I looked at that Scripture appointed for today from Philippians in the example we have in Paul. The Scripture began with essentially his curriculum vitae. He was of the people of Israel, a Hebrew born of Hebrews. Like a good Hebrew boy he was circumcised on the eighth day. Not only that, he was from the tribe of Benjamin, all the best credentials one could hope for. And then, separate and apart from his birthright, he zealously became a very proud Pharisee and zealously was doing everything that he felt he was called to do, and he did it really well. And then out of the blue, out of his season of orientation something happened that knocked him right off his horse. He encountered the resurrected and living Christ right in his midst; knocked him off his horse, right on the ground.
I would call that disorientation. It turned everything in his life, everything that he believed to the core of his being, right upside down. Then through God’s guidance through Christ he had a new identity, a new orientation, a new purpose. Not only did he get a new identity, he got a new name, Saul became Paul, and we see that in Scripture over, and over, and over again that in the midst of the seasons of our lives, God will be with us, and shape us, and frame us in a new and different way. Abram became Abraham, Sarai became Sarah, Jacob became Israel, Saul—Paul, Simon—Peter. Peter, the rock upon which Christ would build his church.
How do the Scriptures in the biblical narrative intersect our lives, and particularly today? If we reflect on the last few years in the Cathedral’s life, all of us would acknowledge they’ve not been easy. With the economic meltdown of a few years ago, the Cathedral had to cut its budget almost in half. The same with its staff. It was hard. It’s been hard, and we were just sort of getting our footing, feeling pretty safe and secure in that season of orientation, having beautiful services, balancing our budget. Things were humming right along, smooth sailing, right? And then in the midst of that security, Sam announced he was leaving, Wendy announced she was leaving. The earthquake happened, hurricane, crane collapse. I don’t know about you, but I think that would put us fairly squarely in the disorientation season, and our natural inclination is to get out of the pit of disorientation just as quickly as we can because it’s uncomfortable there.
It’s hard to say goodbye to people we love, who’ve been so seminal in our lives. It’s hard to look at our beloved Cathedral, with fencing and police-tape lines and steel beams, which one of our congregants told me looked like giant water spouts. It’s hard, and our natural inclination is not to stay in that space, but to rush out of it, to fix, repair, to have things be back to normal, back to the way they were. I’d like to invite you to join me in doing something that is against our human nature, which is to slow down, be intentional in our prayer and our discernment, for how God is and will use this time for us as a community of faith to shape us, to transform us—so that when we come out of that season of disorientation we, too, will have a new orientation, a new identity, a renewed identity as a people of faith.
I’m not saying that God causes bad things to happen to test us. I don’t believe that for one second, but I do believe, to the core of my being, that God is with us in adversity. And if we open ourselves and are intentional in our prayer and discernment, that God will show us something new, different, stronger, deeper. The past few weeks as we have been wandering pilgrims all over the metropolitan area, one of the things that I have observed is this incredible core and community who will go against all odds to be together, to gather as the people of God, to gather as a beloved Cathedral community. There’s power in that.
This past Thursday was the Cathedral’s birthday, and our wonderful mason foreman, Joe Alonso, very early that morning, sent an e-mail to the Cathedral staff reminding us that on September 29, 1907, the foundation stone of our Cathedral was laid and on that day maybe 20,000 people gathered on that hill with the extraordinary proposition that there was a place for a spiritual home at the core of our country. On the foundation stone that was laid that day is inscribed and the word was made flesh and dwells among us. Joe reminded us that foundation stone is still there. Solid as a rock, right underneath Bethlehem Chapel, reminding us of our roots.
Eighty-three years later the last finial was placed on one of the west towers. That day, former President George Herbert Walker Bush was there to remind us of our unique calling as a spiritual home for the nation. That finial is still there, by the way, strong and secure. It took eighty-three years to build our Cathedral. It will take a while to restore it, but I want us to be prayerful and thoughtful about what we’re rebuilding. Who we are within that community, within that beloved Cathedral, and, importantly, who we are outside of it? Our collect today says that God is always more eager to hear than we to pray and to give more than we either deserve or desire. This, my friends, is the time for us to pray, to be open to God’s leading, to live fully into what it means to be community, and this community of faith, so that when we go back into that Cathedral we’re really clear about our call to lift up the light of Christ to a hurting and suffering world. I know it’s going to take a lot of patience.
Those of you who know me well know that I’m a “J” on Myers Briggs—and not just sort of a “J.” I like decisions, I like clarity, I like things to move along. It’s going to be living in that time of tension of what we want to have happen and doing it in God’s good time. So join me in prayer, join me in taking your patience pills. And know that all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well. Amen.