Learning Time for April 23 at Harrow United Church- What we see in each other

You can often tell, after just a couple of minutes in conversation, how a person looks at life. Are they a glass half full or half empty person? Or do they see the glass as cracked and leaky, or smashed on the floor, and careful where you step?

Is life a glorious gift, or a pointless endurance test? Is love something bigger than us, that makes life beautiful, and livable, or a foolish fairy tale only good for greeting cards and sappy movies?

Another way to put it might be, is there a God, at work in our world and in each of us or not? 

In 1915, during World War 1, which was one of the worst human conflicts in history up to that point, and a dire and sad time, a woman in England named Evelyn Underhill published a book called Practical Mysticism. She was one of a long line of poets, writers, and people of faith over the centuries who shared a mission to help their fellow humans to grasp that there is more to life than leaky broken glasses.

The inconveniences, and pains, sadnesses and terrors we experience in this life are real, but they are not the whole story. 

Early in the book, she told the story of two people who were each out for a walk. They were not together, but as things go in stories, they walked exactly the same path, but had vastly different experiences.

The first fixed their attention on the fact that they were obliged to take a walk. For them the chief factor of existence was their movement along the road; a movement they intended to accomplish as efficiently and comfortably as they could. 

This first person did not wonder what may be on either side of the hedges. They ignored the caress of the wind until it threatened to remove their hat. They trudged along, steadily, diligently; avoiding the muddy pools, but oblivious of the light which they reflected.

The second person took the same path, and for them it was a perpetual revelation of beauty and wonder. The sunlight inebriated them, the winds delighted them, the very effort of the journey was a joy. Magic presences thronged the roadside, or cried greetings from the hidden fields. The rich world through which they moved lay in the fore-ground of their consciousness; and it gave up new secrets at every step.

When the two walkers met up, the second told the first about the fabulous experience they’d had, and the first refused to believe they’d walked the same road. 

The first walker fancied their companion had been floating about in the air, or was beset by agreeable hallucinations. The only way to change the first walker’s opinion would be to somehow persuade them to look for themselves. (Adapted from Evelyn Underhill, Practical Mysticism)

Underhill said it was an old story, like a well known nursery tale. I don’t know if that was true. She could have made it up, to make her point, which is something like, you can’t experience the deeper, fuller reality of life, until you have become open to it. 

One person can go through life and discover numerous signs all around them, of wonder and love and the miracle of life. 

Another can live in virtually the same circumstances, and miss all those signs, and only notice the hardships, the misery, the reasons to complain. That’s how they will continue to experience life until something happens to open the eyes of their heart.

We may know someone like the first walker, who seems aware only of the drudgery and sadness, and not able to notice, or believe in the wonder and beauty. There may be good reasons for them to be that way. Life can be incredibly hard. 

We might wish we could say the right thing, or push a button to unlock a door or open a window, that would help them to grow in their awareness, and have the comfort, the joy, the love in life, that makes it possible to endure, and at times even rise above the hard times.

But there are no magic words or buttons. The long line of poets and writers and mystics that remind us there is more to life, also teach that in order for us to become aware of “the more”, many of us have to experience a process of change or transformation. 

There are other words for it. Conversion. Initiation. Movement. Growth. Maturing. 

One of the functions of a community of faith is to invite people in, who are just beginning to get an inkling that there may be something more to life, and to encourage them. Part of how we do that is by being friendly and kind. We can show them, by how we are, that we believe, we trust there is more to life than the present hardships.

We also do it by telling the stories, and repeating the actions, the rituals of our faith, that were given to us by Jesus, to remind ourselves, and to show others a way to look at life that is an alternative to the glass being half empty.

This telling of our faith stories, and repeating the actions shown to us by Jesus, is the heart of the Gospel story we heard today. 

Luke’s Gospel was written at least 100 years after the earthly life of Jesus. It contains stories told to people who joined a community of Jesus followers, to help them see life in a new way- a way that included wonder, and love, and hope. They were glass half full stories.

In today’s story, two people were walking down a road. They met a stranger who engaged them in conversation. 

Over the course of the walk, they told the stranger about their friend and teacher Jesus, in whom they had placed such hope, and who they had watched die a painful death. The stranger knew a lot about Jesus, and made connections between Jesus teachings, and Jewish scripture. The stranger had a wider view of life that left room for God to be at work, even in the midst of grief and sadness.

Even though the stranger had a lot to say, nothing seemed to get through to the two sad Jesus followers. Words can only do so much, it seems. 

The wonder of the story happened when they shared a meal. The stranger took bread, blessed it and broke it and gave it to them. 

They’d seen this before. They’d eaten this bread before. It was the bread of the last supper, when Jesus told them to do these things and remember him. It was the bread of feeding thousands of people, after a child offered 5 loaves and two pieces of fish.

Suddenly, the two knew, and could celebrate there is more to life than death. 

They didn’t waste a minute rushing back to share the good news with the other disciples. Amen

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