Among the Wild Animals
A Meditation on Mark 1: 9 – 15
Rev. Cathy C. Hoop Grace Presbyterian Church February 18, 2018
We failed to get my dad into rehab for alcohol addiction. We tried. I still remember our intervention with him as one of the most difficult and most loving things I have ever done in my life. Thirty years ago there was so much more shame associated with addiction; not that the shaming and blaming has disappeared. My dad’s was a classic story. Back injury during the war which he managed for most of his life. Inevitable back surgery. Pain meds which eventually ran out, and the slide into self-medicating through alcohol. I am not saying that my father didn’t have choices, but I am saying that I am grateful that going to rehab doesn’t have the same stigma it once did so that others may not have to suffer as he did.
My mother went to rehab after a horrible car accident when she was 85. She hated it. They made her do occupational therapy. I would visit her, and in her most sarcastic voice she would say, “Watch me! I can pick marbles out of playdoh! And I can even do it with my toes!” Did I mention that she hated therapy?
I know a fabulous preacher who has a speech impediment. You’d never know it to hear him preach. He participated in speech therapy as a child. His story of being called into preaching, stutter and all? That’s a terrific story. It isn’t a story, however, that is without pain.
Lou and I almost bought a cute little bungalow in Nashville early in our marriage. The price was great, but it was in desperate need of rehab. With our minimal skills and limited funds, we decided the cute little bungalow with the rotted floors and windows would best be left in more capable hands. It was eventually rehabilitated, by someone else. When we would drive by and see the piles of rotten wood piled on the sidewalk, we were reminded that it would have been too much for us.
Several weeks ago, a handful of folks gathered here on a Saturday morning to think about Lent. To think and pray and read the scriptures we would be hearing over the weeks to come. We met to brainstorm, to listen for direction. We read six weeks of scripture passages to one another! Ideas were shared. I found something on the United Methodist website that kept tickling my brain, and so I shared it with the group. It was the idea of approaching Lent as an experience of rehab.
The truth? It made us uncomfortable. Did it carry too many connotations? Or was it too limiting? Would just the word, “rehab” turn some people off? Our discomfort was screaming for attention. If one word could stir up so much in this small group, what could it mean for our community of faith? One word, “rehab,” one concept, “rehabilitation,” but a whole world of emotions and stories, hopes and fears. What might this one word mean for us, individually, with our unique stories? What might this one word mean for us as a rehabilitated community? One Grace church, which emerged from two and is still evolving.
(Whispered) “Rehab.” “I heard she’s gone to…rehab.” It used to be something we whispered about. People went to “dry out” rather than receive treatment and care for alcohol addiction. We whispered about it the way people used to murmur about cancer or seeing a therapist…as if by keeping it quiet, we wouldn’t have to think about it. By keeping it quiet, we could pretend bad things didn’t happen. Now, it is almost the opposite. Today, rehab is almost…well…trendy.
Home renovation is so stylish that there are entire programs dedicated to the experience. On Rehab Addict (HGTV) old homes are restored to their original beauty. The title takes a slightly unholy twist on the concept of rehab, acknowledging that rehab itself can be addicting. When a house is “resurrected,” rather than destroyed, we celebrate…it’s funny how much easier it is to celebrate the rehabilitation of a house than of a human. We don’t shame the house for needing rehab. Why do we still shame one another? It’s true that a house can’t make choices, so it is not a perfect analogy. Though the house is not to blame for its own decay, neither can it ask for help. Why do we make it so humiliating to ask for help?
If you haven’t experienced rehab yourself, whether in recovery from narcotic addiction, or physical rehab after surgery on a knee or shoulder or hip, you know someone who has. Athletes, cardiac patients, stroke sufferers – so many reasons that people need the services that rehabilitation can provide. We are going to borrow this concept of rehab and consider how it might apply to our spiritual lives. Of course, our spiritual selves are not separate from our physical, mental and emotional selves. All of these threads that compose our being are inter-related, each affecting the other. Chronic pain can affect our spiritual lives as much as it affects our mental wellbeing. It will be up to you to consider how to interpret this Lenten invitation within your own life.
On Ash Wednesday, we acknowledged our own mortality; today we are invited to name the wildernesses in which we exist. From here we will move on to explore the concepts of intervention, program and recovery, ending with the promise of renewal at Easter. As we explore Lent through this lens of “rehab,” we acknowledge that God works through human agencies – nurses, physicians and therapists of all kinds – to support us on our path to wholeness. We can talk about these things. If we can talk about these things, why is it so much more difficult to talk about our life of faith, and the ways in which we long for God to meet us in our brokenness?
Our bodies can be both strong and vulnerable.
Our souls can be both strong and vulnerable.
This is a universal truth.
I long for the day when we will admire vulnerability as much as we idolize strength.
Jesus entered the wilderness, strong of body and strong of soul. He lived there with the wild animals as companions and the angels as caregivers for forty days and forty nights. Jesus didn’t have 40 years to wander and prepare as the Israelites had. He wouldn’t live 40 years. So the gospel writers tell us that Jesus spent 40 days on his wilderness pilgrimage before entering the promised land of his call to ministry. A promised land does not equate to a life of ease. So don’t kid yourself. In our baptisms, we signed on for a life of un-ease. We will have many wilderness pilgrimages to take. Sometimes a wilderness is of our own making. Sometimes it just happens to us, and sometimes it is a result of choosing to walk in Jesus’ way.
Wilderness is both beautiful and terrifying, pristine and overwhelming. We think of the wilderness into which Jesus entered as barren and frightening. He encountered his darkest temptations there, possibly his deepest fears. Certainly not for the first time or the last, but he intentionally confronted them in the wilderness. He allowed them to be named and explored.
What is your personal wilderness? Naming it is the first step on the process of recovery.
And you know I have to ask…what is our community’s wilderness? Well, how long do we have…you were wondering why the sermon was at the beginning of the service???
This week we once again witnessed the devastation of children and their caregivers being mowed down, and we are looking for something to blame in addition to the shooter. We blame the FBI. We blame mental illness. We blame and blame and blame, but the children just want to know when something is going to change. According to the website Every Town for Gun Safety, 96 Americans are killed with guns on an average day. On an average day 7 children and teenagers are killed with guns in America. 62% of firearm deaths in America are suicides. That is a pretty bleak wilderness. But it is one from which we could choose to be rehabilitated. Who will you write? Who will you call? To whom will you send your money in support of a way out of this wilderness?
One wilderness of our own making. There are simply too many to name, but today this one in particular screams for our attention.
Consider your wilderness. Consider our wilderness. Name it. That’s the first step. Name and describe your wilderness and share that with someone you trust.
Then, as you live with the wilderness that you have named, imagine Jesus, in the wilderness, among the wild animals and the angels. I doubt that wild animals frightened Jesus much. The mouse and the owl; the snake and the rabbit; the coyote and the roadrunner. The coyote and the roadrunner? (That’s a joke…We need a little levity, even in Lent.) They were his companions on his wilderness pilgrimage. They reminded him that there is life even in the midst of wilderness. As you name your wilderness, name the wild animals that accompany you. They may be friend, they may be foe…what will you learn from them? What might Jesus have learned from them? And watch for the angels. For they are there, too. God provides even in the midst of wilderness. God provides. Let us journey on through wilderness together… let us journey on to intervention, the intervention of God’s abundant and shocking mercy. Amen.