Romans 8:22-27; Psalm 42:1-7; Matthew 5:13-16
Today in the calendar of the church we remember the sixteenth-century nun, abbess, and mystic Teresa of Avila. Born Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada to a family of partly Jewish ancestry, she lived at a time of incredible persecution of the Jews known as the Inquisition. Educated by Augustinian nuns, she began to feel called to the consecrated life and joined a Carmelite Order. She eventually became distracted by the mollified Rule of the Order and set out to found a reformed Order called the Discalced Carmelites. The word ‘discalced’ is derived from the Latin word meaning ‘without shoes.’ Throughout the course of 25 years, she traveled frequently establishing 17 convents of the reformed Order. She wrote many letters, poems, books on the religious life, as well as an autobiography: The Life of Teresa of Jesus.
While it would be easy to project a certain saintly color of piety on Teresa, her autobiography proves her to have been very unconventional for what we imagine a contemplative nun to be. She is said to have been a very passionate person, describing in her autobiography mystical visions, highly erotic in nature. She writes viscerally of one of these visions in which an angel repeatedly thrusts a golden lance into her heart: ‘I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it.’ We can hear overtones of the Song of Solomon that seem to mix the essence of eros and agape, that is erotic love and Godly love. In her vision we experience her desire to be one with God.[i]
Ever since I was a child I have always been fascinated and moved by the Olympic torch – the light which is lit several months before the opening of the Games at the site of the ancient Olympics in Olympia, Greece. The light is then carried by torch-relay across the world to the site of the Games. Traditionally, it has been carried on foot by athletes. But it first traveled on a boat in 1948, across the English Channel, and then by airplane in 1952 to Helsinki. In 1976 the light was transformed to an electronic pulse and laser beam. And in 2000 divers carried it underwater near the Great Barrier Reef.
If it’s true that in spring, a young man’s fancy turns to love, then in summer, this young man’s fancy turns to … the beach. And not just any beach, a particular beach, Lumsden Beach.
As a boy, I grew up spending every summer at our family cottage at Lumsden Beach on Last Mountain Lake in southern Saskatchewan. The lake itself is long and narrow; stretching about 60 miles from one end to the other, but at its widest point is barely 1.5 miles from one side to the other. Our cottage is near the southern tip of the lake and a couple of miles beyond us the lake literally disappears into muck, and weed and marsh before coming to an end in the open prairie of the Qu’Appelle Valley.
In the last number of years the marsh at the end of the lake has been restored and the area has become home once again to many bird species including piping plovers, whooping cranes and pelicans. As dusk falls at the end of the day, it is not unusual to see flocks of pelicans heading down the lake from their fishing spots, to their nesting ground in the marsh. It’s truly a magnificent sight as these large, unwieldy birds fly gracefully down the lake heading home to the marsh for the night.
Like all marshes, this particular marsh plays an important role in the ecosystem of the lake. It provides a home for rare and unusual birds, as well as the not so rare and not so unusual. It’s a wonderful place to catch frogs or watch birds or maybe even spot a beaver going about its business. The marsh provides a whole other world to explore that is neither lake nor prairie as it acts as a threshold from one to the other and back again. Like so many other similar places, the marsh at the end of the lake is a place of discovery and mystery simply because it is a place of transition. It is a threshold one must cross to get from lake to prairie. It is a liminal place that one must enter in order to pass from one to the other. It may be just a marsh at the end of the lake, but it’s also a place of discovery, a place of mystery, a place of encounter.
Preached by The Rev. Christine Whittaker
The Reverend Christine Whittaker, Rector of St. Michael’s Church, Holliston, and a regular participant in the Muslim-Christian Dialogue sponsored by the Massachusetts Council of Churches and the Islamic Council of New England. She has recently returned from a three-month sabbatical focused on Muslim-Christian relations, which included worshiping at the Islamic Center in Wayland and travel in Ethiopia and Iran Her sermon will reflect on her experience as a professing Christian in a context where Islam and Christianity are often seen in conflict.