Proper 12, Year A
Our friends work in Manhattan and recently bought this house as a weekend retreat, and it is a WONDERFUL retreat, open and airy and solid and simple. By happenstance (our friends haven't had much time to decorate) and intention, it's furnished with an aesthetic that people have come to call wabi-sabi. I deliberately avoid the word "style" with reference to wabi-sabi, as "style" connotes something added and put on, but this place seems to be much more about paring back, letting things be as they are. The woods are mostly unfinished and fabrics unbleached; metals have touches of rust and the fronts of the bookshelves bear worn paint and nail-holes from the hinges the planks bore when the wood was part of something else. The overall effect is the kind of simple and graceful beauty of the Adirondak chair I'm looking at -- good wood made into something simple, practical, and comfortable, weathered from years of sun and rain and gentle use -- and the kind of tranquility of surroundings in which there is nothing that is neither beautiful nor broadly useful.
The house is not opulent or spectacular, and little besides the location suggests big-budget. It's not what I expected when I heard that its previous owner was a major film producer. And I think that's why it's more like heaven than anything I'd expect in a major film on the subject. Pop-culture visions of heaven that I know about have tended toward the rococo in style. Pop heaven has lots of marble, lots of velvet, lots of very ornate carving and painting with lots of movement and drama; everything looks expensive, and there's nowhere to put your feet up. And pop-culture visions of that decisive turn in history that we sometimes refer to as "kingdom come" are even more expensive big-budget productions: the explosive special effects (and awful dialogue, incidentally) of Jerry Bruckheimer's Armageddon or the overblown and fireball-ridden drama (also with utterly ridiculous dialogue -- could it be a coincidence?) of the Left Behind series.
This Sunday's gospel gives us a very different vision of what "kingdom come," the inbreaking of heaven on earth, is like: a seed planted, dough kneaded, farmers farming and trading, a merchant's selling and buying, fishers fishing. To make a film about it, you wouldn't need a special effects budget, and the cast is mostly unknowns, ordinary people doing what ordinary people do. And yet this is the process through which we believe the world, the whole of Creation, is being transformed.
It may not be spectacular in the way of summer blockbusters, but it's a much more powerful vision. If we believe that the kingdom of heaven is like kneading dough, we're likely to look for heaven's coming in our daily bread, in the making of it as well as the sharing of it. If we believe that the kingdom of heaven is like herbs growing and farmers farming, we're that much more likely to be mindful of where our bread comes from, and to seek justice in our own buying and selling. Oscar Wilde's observation that "what your people need is not so much high imaginative art but that which hallows the vessels of everyday use" may not be true of all art, but it's true of those who would render a vision of apocalypse, the revealing of God's kingdom among us. We need visions of the kingdom that inspire us to work as healers and reconcilers in Creation and among all God's children, not ones that shrug off the world and people God made with "it's all gonna burn."
Yes, the King of the Universe, the judge of the nations, is coming, as Paul was quick to remind Christians. But as Christians, we believe the one who is coming is none other than Christ Jesus -- our judge is our intercessor and our servant. When we follow him, when Jesus' vision shapes ours, we find humility with dignity, treasure that is old and new (Matthew 13:52), the integrity of being wholly and simply who we are. It's a wabi-sabi that, since it is the wholeness in which Creation was born, is accessible from anywhere in Creation, on city streets and in soup kitchens as much as mountain retreats, and by anyone who intentionally enters into Christ's reconciling work.
Thanks be to God!
[For a brief, practical, and Westerner-friendly treatment of wabi-sabi, try The Wabi-Sabi House.]
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What strikes me about the Gospel reading is the life changing effect of these small moments. A man is working away in a routine way--woosh! suddenly he's all about a treasure! A merchant is working hard, bulding up a business--woosh! suddenly one pearl is the whole deal.
What I see in these two pieces is the connection of two elements:
1. Some unique opportunity creates an occasion for response.
2. Someone responds with decision that values the occasion more than any past attachment.
With all due respect, I don't see these parables offering a vision of people working in vocations such as healing or bread making or anything else. I see the focus here on the experience of choosing to live from a vision of the disclosure of ultimate value.
Posted by: James Eaton | Jul 21, 2005 11:12:39 AM
Yeah - but they see these treasures while they are in their normal/simple life - giving the normal simple value - because that is where the treasured moments -- the things of ultimate value - really are. oneday - in the normal life you realize - the treasured kingdom is now - and you are the elect, even though you are just simple and normal -- and kingdom work is simple and normal. Right?
I am still having angst about the whole "elect" thing thoug ---
Posted by: Leah | Jul 25, 2005 3:39:02 PM