Reverend Nicole Lamarche

Through the Darkest Valley

Psalm 23 and Excerpt from The Hope I Know by Thomas Centolella

Sunday March 19th, 2023

By: Rev. Nicole Lamarche

Welcome again! Tomorrow is officially spring! I really hope it starts to feel like it! There are green shoots poking up in my yard! Welcome again! In this Lenten season, we are slowing down, calling it a Holy Pause for ourselves. And so in that spirit, I invite you now as you are moved, to create an internal pause for yourself, to take some deeper breaths and tune into your heartbeat to let yourself arrive here a bit more fully, as we each aim to hear whatever word God has for us this day. And I offer this prayer from Psalm 19.

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.

Sometimes people ask me how I have hope right now, in the big and little sense, in a time of war and financial uncertainty. How can we humans possibly have hope? And is such a thing really even possible, especially in these hard times. And what is hope really anyway?

As we enter this fourth week of Lent, in this slowing down and looking deeper, letting some of the noise fall away, I wonder if it would serve us well to reclaim hope?

I have been pondering if this is another thing that we have allowed to be co-opted? Can’t we, even as science affirming people of faith also be among those who have hope?

Now hope is not the same as optimism. Hope is different. Hope is a spiritual thing, a discipline of the heart of the heart perhaps. It is a practice that requires our engagement. Maybe it is like a muscle that we need to flex and use? And my sense is that maybe for some of us our capacity, our hope muscle has atrophied a little bit.

I have been pondering that because last week my body reminded me that it was three years since we closed everything down and decided to worship differently to keep everyone safe.

So much had to shift and evolve so fast! And even beyond what the pandemic has brought us, we have been through a lot as a community. And I guess I find myself grieving a little bit that it’s clear some things are going to be forever changed. There are things that I expected like the fact that I feel older and like we have been through it! I realize I am a bit sad about the things that won’t be fixed. It’s clear that some things are just going to be how they are. And that’s really weighed me down a bit. I have felt heavy. And in this Lenten season when I made some time to just let things be I realized that I hadn’t gone on a run in like a year and a half and I realized that my journal just sort of stopped in its tracks.

And I have been pondering all of these things that we had to let go of in order to survive and keep going. Our bandwidth narrowed and what we could tend to was smaller. But I decided yesterday that I was going to go for a run. I knew it would be terrible and it was.

I felt creaky and frustrated and emotional, but I just decided that I would keep putting one foot in front of the other, propelling myself forward, barely. As I clunked onward, panting and pushing, I literally felt hope, just literally welling up in me just from the fact that I had gotten myself back out there one foot at a time. I can come back! Maybe there are parts of this and us that can come back? Maybe not all of it is lost or unfixable. And it reminded me that hope, at least for me, is not a lofty ideal and it’s more like the annoying little decision to move toward the world I want. Hope is throwing my body up a hill to hear my heart race to remember I am alive! This hope cannot be taken down by cynicism. It cannot be overcome by anger. And it can be grown, magnified and shared and that’s the other reason I want to bring this message to you. Maybe there are things that you let go that you need to bring back to give you hope?

In his book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society Eugene Peterson writes that, “Hoping does not mean doing nothing. It is not fatalistic resignation. It means going about our assigned tasks, confident that God will provide the meaning and the conclusions. It is not compelled to work away at keeping up appearances with a bogus spirituality. It is the opposite of desperate and panicky manipulations, of scurrying and worrying. And hoping is not dreaming. It is not spinning an illusion or fantasy to protect us from our boredom or our pain. It means a confident, alert expectation that God will do… It is imagination put in the harness of faith.”

Hope is imagination put in the harness of faith!

Hope then is moving toward what isn’t yet knowing this is how it comes to be! What if hope is more like an orientation in the world, hanging on with what we are called to do, regardless of what is going on around us, doing our mission, imagining and also living into what isn’t quite yet?

And what if hope is trusting that somehow there is more at work, than our meager efforts? An energy, a life force that can at times appear and sometimes feel like a wind at our back… Hope is a gift to us as the Body of Christ, something we might want to reclaim.

I delighted in the fact that Psalm 23 appears in our lection this week. It was a topic of conversation at Community Office Hours at Frasier Meadows on Tuesday and it is probably among the most known and recited in our sacred text and it is often shared at funerals, vigils and other moments that ritualize loss, grief and sadness. These words have extended much comfort and have offered hope!

And here’s the other thing that is evident when we probe beyond the surface, this piece of text is also meant to be a poem of praise about what life in God is like. It is meant to point to what it feels like to devote oneself to a life beyond the self and what is possible even in times that we call a valley of shadows. It’s not just a future promise, it’s a present reality! It’s like a recipe, a description for what can unfold when we tune in deeper to a life grounded in Love. So I would like to end with a reworked version of this Psalm that I wrote for you and I would love to hear from you this week what you are putting back into your life that lifts you up that maybe you had to let go of to survive these three years.

With Love as my Guide, I will have all I need…

If I listen the Divine one will help me find rest and renewal

If I follow, I will be led to places where I am quenched
And to places where I am restored
If I follow, I will be guided to what is right and know where to go
As long as it is in the name of Love

Even when I find that I am deep in a valley of shadows
Remind me I have nothing to fear,
For I am never alone,
You have provided all of the tools I need and from that there is comfort.

The Love that is in me and all around has prepared a table,
Dare to dine even with those who are not your friends
Remember you are blessed and filled to overflowing…

Goodness and mercy will be with you always
If we dwell in the House of Love my whole life long…

Even when as the poet said, hope seems to keep to the back roads and the shadows… when we open ourselves it is there, because it is not a lofty ideal, it is choosing to move in love toward the world we want, harnessing our hearts and our bodies to the dream that the Creator holds for us…Knowing that goodness and mercy will be with us. May you find hope beloved of God! May it be so. Amen.