Holy Loafing and the Peace of God

(A Sermon preached at St. Peter's, Lewes, DE, May 13, 2007, by Mark Harris. I post it here because several people in the parish wanted copies. It also (I think) relates to the question of moving beyond hate to a different place of reconciliation. For me that place is the present moment.)

This is a sermon in praise of Holy Loafing and the Peace of God.

The idea of such praise came to me from three directions:

  • The lessons for this, the Sixth Sunday in Easter, just a few days before the Ascension and two weeks before Pentecost;
  • the beginning of Walt Whitman's poem, Song of Myself, which is part of Leaves of Grass;and
  • an email from the Rector of All Lewes, who reminded me that Julia Ward Howe initiated the modern celebration of Mother's Day as a Peace demonstration.

Last week I heard an interview with someone talking about the spiritual loafing, and the speaker recited these words from good ol' Walt:

"I loaf and invite my soul,

I lean and loaf at my ease observing a spear of summer grass."

I am convinced that God is waiting for us to loaf, to take our ease, perhaps to dream and in our ease and dream to dream of peace.

But we are anxious, busy people, concerned to do something with ourselves. And, so we should be, at least to some extent. But consider this: Paul had a vision and having nothing to keep him where he was, that is no business, he could follow the vision. An angelic spirit carried John of the Revelation away above the mad visions of the struggles, and there he had a vision of the City of God in which the river flowed, with its tree whose leaves were for the healing of the nations. And Jesus, even in the last days with all its strife and struggle, knocked off a little time to hang out with his followers and spoke to them of a peace that comes to those who love him and who rejoice.

Dreams and visions and rejoicing: this is not the world of the Protestant work ethic. This is not justification by works (which we all get bound up in) either. This isn't work at all. It is something else.

It is play. Worse, it is loafing. It involves trust in the Holy Spirit, known mostly in what we would call leisure time - the moment – in dream and vision and reverie. This is trust as only a slacker could know it. It is loafing around with the Holy Spirit.

So let us praise slacking off, loafing, being at our ease.

A friend of mine was recounting a visit from an old friend of his, someone he had known for a long time but hadn't seen for twenty-five years. He came to visit this last weekend and the two of them went for a walk. And, as one is prone to do on such occasions, with old friends and leisure time, my friend began to tell his friend all his doubts about what he had done with his life. It got pretty pitiful. As his friend was listening they passed some flowers blooming by the side of the road. The visitor asked, "Do you think these flowers ever wonder what they have done with their whole lives? No. They grow, they bloom, they die. What makes you think you are so different? Stop judging yourself against some abstract idea of who you are or what you might be. It is enough to live, and bloom, and die."

That story made me remember what Jesus said, "look at the lilies in the field, how they neither toil nor spin."

This week we will celebrate the feast of the Ascension and just ten days later the feast of Pentecost. The first is the remembrance that Jesus did just as he promised in today's Gospel: "I am going away." The second is the remembrance that Jesus also said, "The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything."

In all our anxieties to be what we are supposed to be, or meant to be, or what we expect of ourselves, or others expect of us, there is this Good News: We are not abandoned to our own devices. Like the flowers that neither toil nor spin, we are arrayed as even the rulers of the world are: we are arrayed with the beauty of the fields, the fields of the human heart. We have the Holy Spirit with us. And, we discover we are mostly blessed not because we do great things, but because we are really present.

The lessons today are oddly peaceful in intent and flavor: Paul's vision ends in being welcomed to a home. The Psalm has God giving us a blessing, free of charge. John the thundering Revelation writer ends by saying "the Lord God will be their light." And Jesus assures his friends that they should not be afraid, but filled with Joy.

The peace of these lessons is also an aspect of the loafing of which I speak.

In thinking about all this I find myself singing a bit from a John Lennon song, "And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make…" For giving and receiving love is also a loafing around sort of activity.

Don't ever trust someone who says they love you and tries to prove it by getting busy. They can love you and get busy…sure, but they can't prove it by that business. Love is not work, or at least not work, mostly.

The core of the gospel this morning is "Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid." This is the loafer's Gospel.

The troubled heart is filled with "what if." The untroubled heart is filled with the presence of God and the present, the moment. The fearful heart is filled with many things, the unafraid heart is totally and completely present, to the world, to others, to herself or himself. That's what we want from our mothers, our fathers, our friends and lovers. That's what we want from God – that God be present with us. And this Good News tells us it is true – God in Jesus Christ is with us, now and every now, and present in the Holy Spirit. We are Holy Spirit people.

Holy loafing, of course, has little truck with the kind of heavy duty response that permeates much of what passes as Pentecostalism these days. In the old days we were all Pentecostalists – Holy Spirit people. But the Holy Spirit became captive to those who were busy – busy preparing for the second coming, busy waiting for the rapture, busy, busy, busy. Looking for something not here but coming, almost here, coming in by enthusiastic embrace. Looking for something requiring a push into the next moment, the next clap, the next rousing song, sermon, bible study, on and on.

The Holy loafer has no agenda for the future, any more than the flowers of the field. Holy loafers are not particularly interested, I think, in making ready for something next. They are content to neither toil nor spin.

Holy loafers do not start wars, either among nations or among churches. There are no holy loafers in the struggles in the Anglican Communion today, for in the holy present there is room simply to be. I can attest to this, for when I am most concerned in the struggles for the future of the Anglican Communion I am least likely to be a Holy Loafer, most likely to cause trouble and strife. All the struggles in our church, and I dare say in the world, happen in the effort to grasp the future or the past.

The moment for the strugglers is only a springboard. For the loafers, the present is full enough, and all there is of importance.

Well, you know the problem with such loafing around: it solves nothing about all the problems we face as a people, a nation, a church, a world. It is not busy at anything, even saving the world. Holy loafers are quite content to say that God saves and all the rest of us pay cash. They are of course considered slackers. And so we are.

Still, we Holy Loafers do know we will indeed pay for our desires spread out against the future – for our need to succeed, our needs to be in control, our need to make a difference, to save the world, to consume it all…whatever. But that does not interest holy loafers as much as the moment, the present, and the presence of God.

In Jesus Christ, God saves, NOW: in the moment, in the twinkling of an eye. "Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid." In every moment, in the only moment, the present, God is. If we loaf here, in the moment, without the urge to grasp the future or hold on to the past, perhaps here and now we can find the Peace of God.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for these words, Rev. Mark. Your ideas fit perfectly with what I've been reading in Watts' "Behold the Spirit."

    I think God must be trying to tell me something...


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