Isaiah 40:1-11 and Excerpts from Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh
Sunday December 10th, 2023
By Nicole M. Lamarche
Welcome again on this second Sunday of Advent just as you are, with whatever you are carrying or however you are feeling, maybe you are a little tired? Some of us were up late last night! But it was worth every second! I got to see some of our sages wearing coconuts as a top. That is something to stay awake for. What a gift that we can come to this place, this circle of peace.
I invite you now as you are moved to take some deeper breathes, tuning into deeper things, aiming to hear beyond the surface to whatever message there is for each of us today. I invite you to join me in a spirit of prayer to open our hearts and calm my nerves. God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
I wasn’t sure I was in the right place. It seemed like a warehouse, and it was dark and I didn’t know if the person who had invited me was there yet. It suddenly seemed more vulnerable than I had intended, had imagined, was ready for, even. I feared I had made a huge mistake, leaving the “Boulder bubble”on a weeknight. Why did I say yes to this?
That was earlier this week and I was nervous because the point of the gathering was to share an experience, a meal, an evening with complete strangers. 100 people total around one long table of tables.
This is what the non-profit Set Longer Tables has been doing for a few years, gathering strangers around tables of different sizes for the simple mission of bringing people from all walks of life together to share a meal at one, long table. Because they believe in the power of the table. Doesn’t that sound like a secular way of talking about communion?
We were told to bring a dish to share and to not speak about what we do for work. This was very handy for me as sharing what I do for work is a real buzz kill in group settings for me!
The room was laid out beautifully, the tables in white and set as lavishly as if it were for a wedding, candles and greenery, a place setting that was arranged just so and upon each plate was a card with one name. When it was time, the host thanked us for taking the risk to come, for showing up for dinner with strangers and we were invited to find our name and our place at the table.
Again, we were reminded to try and discuss our passions and what people might be surprised to learn about us, instead of the default question in this country, which is, “What do you do?”
We were invited to ditch this question in part because often it can feel more like we are probing one another for where to place each other, how to categorize one another on the ladder of worth. Are you with me? So we were freed from that and what was left was our stories.
The man who sat across from me has lived in the Denver for 30 years and has watched his neighborhood change and his friends get pushed further and further out. He retired from American Airlines and loves cooking for his friends. He can host 22 people in his backyard in Aurora.
The man who sat diagonally from me went to college in Indiana and grew up in Fort Collins and he loved his grandpa who died not long ago. He inherited his grandpa’s truck which was stolen out from in front of his home last year and now it’s an impossible time to buy a car.
There was a sort of holy hum in the room, the sound of equal parts delight and discomfort.
The woman across from me had a pile of silver hair neatly arranged on the top of her head, red lipstick that I saw her apply without a mirror! That takes skill! Her large speckled brown couture frames sat perched in just the right spot on her nose. She had survived cancer, had just turned 60 and recently attended a gathering of women her age where they danced around and reclaimed the term Crone and where they crowned one another with a crown. She told us that while our culture had reduced the concept of a crone to being a sinister older woman, she was all about reclaiming the term and live into its original meaning of which is how women can gain wisdom and knowing with age.
The guy seated next to me shared he loved music and used to be a DJ. He went to CU and pined about the time when you could just show up at a party without being in the Greek system. He is an introvert and shared that his wife wouldn’t come because she was worried about germs at a meal with 100 strangers, but he said that after the pandemic he realized especially how much he needed people, so he came without her. He asked what I was into as we were waiting in the line for food and I shared about the grant and being excited to study the Divine Feminine. He paused and quizzically he looked at me and said, “Do you mean the hip hop album?”
I had no idea! He told me that the album was important in that genre so later I looked it up and discovered that there is a hip hop artist named Mac Miller with an entire album called The Divine Feminine. It even has soft piano and surprising lyrics about not just romantic love, but about what he has learned from women throughout his life. I was surprised!
Who knew? I never would have guessed! And I never would have guessed that Sean, this lover of hip hop, who was into a different kind of Divine Feminine. I never would have guessed that he drives a Volvo and is a fellow reader and devotee of the Sunday New York Times.
As I was sitting there, hearing this holy hum of fragments all around me, I was thinking about all the assumptions that we make about one another, all of the things that we put upon one another, all of the stories we tell about each other before we have any information. These end up being created limitations- what we impose upon our interactions, that really end up limiting us.
Which is likely why some of the best spiritual teachers of our time speak of inner depth and growth as being about “identifying and releasing ourselves from these blockages by recognizing the unconscious reservoir of expectations, assumptions, and beliefs in which we are already immersed.”(1)
I think that term reservoir is spot on because for most of us, the space we hold for assumptions is deep and wide. Especially when we add into the mix all of the tribal identities of this moment, where even our consumption of media is polarized, politicized, it feels like so much of our life together is that way and that there isn’t much that we hold in common right now. There is war far beyond us and there are millions of mini wars right here.
This fragment that we heard from the prophet Isaiah, this piece of sacred text assigned to us on this second week devoted to peace, these words speak of the comfort to a people are so desperate for and the words cry out for the Divine to do something! We hear that call to “prepare the way of the LORD, to make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.”
But it seems to me that often we think of preparing the way of the LORD, often we think of making a way for peace as something someone else does or something that the Great Mystery does or as if it is something mystical or just beyond us, but what if that isn’t true?
What if part of the invitation for us as people of faith right now is as we explored last week to raise our consciousness so we can rise above the chaos and the created confusion in order to see and know more clearly? What if recognizing and owning our unconscious reservoir of expectations, assumptions, and beliefs is literally the path to peace? What if our role right now is as much about unseeing what we know or think we know as it is about seeking more wisdom or new ideas? What if that is how we create peace?
We gave been gifted with this gathering where we can practice our unknowing and still we do this acknowledging that we are each arriving from different places and in different places. The invitation is for you to share only as you are moved, so for the next two minutes you can be in the role of a listener and a learner and if you are inspired to share, you are welcome to do that too!
What is an assumption people often make about you? How can we more easily let go of what we map onto one another?
Beloved of God, as war rages on in many parts of planet earth, what if we prepare the way, what if we create peace by unlearning? By letting go of the created limitations we impose on one another? Because as we heard from Thich Nhat Hanh, “For things to reveal themselves to us, we need to be ready to abandon our views about them.” Which to me means for things to reveal themselves to us, for peace to reveal itself to us, we need to be ready to abandon our views about one another too. May it be so. Amen.