|Return to Sermon Index Page|
|Scripture: Psalm 139
As a child, and as a young woman, I was a dancer, not an athlete. While I could move my own body gracefully and purposefully to music, I could not seem to get the hang of propelling objects like softballs to connect with softball bats, like tennis balls to connect with tennis rackets, or like volleyballs to connect with my bare hands. I grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, DC. In elementary school, I had two good friends whose names were Linda and Linda (really!). We lived within biking distance of each other; we were in the same class each year; and we went through Brownies and Girl Scouts together. Linda and Linda were both very athletic: always into some kind of game. They were always the first girls chosen for any team in school; when it was a game for girls, they were always picked to be the captains. So I tried hard to play and was a good sport about it, because I liked being with them. And they were good sports about watching me dance.
In the summer between 5th and 6th grade, when I was still a Girl Scout, my troupe leader decided that we should each get our Girl Scout swimming badge. She enrolled us in swimming classes at Glen Echo, an amusement park by night, and a huge swimming pool by day. The big buzz among us - Linda, Linda and I - was not about the swimming lessons; it was about the huge public locker room where we would have to change into our bathing suits and where someone might perhaps see us or we would certainly see each other. I survived the dressing and undressing hurdles and did reasonably well with the various swimming strokes, although I never quite got the breathing rhythm right with the breast stroke and always wound up coughing up a lot of water. I even made it through the test where I had to jump into the pool fully clothed, with heavy shoes, and tread water for 10 minutes to prove that I could save myself from drowning if I ever fell into the water fully clothed with shoes on. I also discovered that, while I could hang in there with all of this swimming stuff, there were 2 things I could do in the water better than anyone else. First of all, in moderately shallow water, I could do a handstand, hold it longer than anyone, and point my toes and legs in various lovely ballet positions all this with my head underwater. Secondly, I could float I mean really float. I could push off the bottom with my toes, lay back on the water, put my arms out, and my feet just come right up and my toes stick out of the water and I could just lie there for the longest time. Maybe its because my zodiac sign is Cancer we are the water people or maybe its a compensation that short folk have or maybe its a truly innate unique quality all my own.
Now floating is a highly under-rated skill. In junior high school, whenever I didnt want to hear what my parents were trying to say to me while I was in the pool, Id just lie back and float and then I couldnt hear them, I didnt run out of breath, and they couldnt reach me. A few years later, when I had an attentive boyfriend, I could lie back and float and he could put his hands on my feet and push me all around the pool as if I were a raft. Somehow, this seemed really cool to me at the time. I liked it much better than playing Marco Polo.
Many years later, I still love to float and I believe that it is not only wonderful to do in the water, but it is also a spiritual metaphor and a spiritual experience as well. I lie back and the vertical world disappears. It becomes amazingly quiet and I dont have to do a thing. In fact, if you do something or start worrying about something, you cant float, you sink. I can lie there and watch the sky and the clouds and the birds and have that amazing bodily sensation of trust, of knowing that the water is holding me, and I can just be.
Im an ESFJ, according to Myers-Briggs. For me that loosely translates into a somewhat extroverted, rather concrete, highly feeling, well-organized person. Given that, Im not able to just let myself be very often, so floating is a true visit to my opposite side. Its also a good metaphor for me about what I need, physically, emotionally and spiritually, to renew my body, my compassion, and my soul. Im looking forward to some time to float this summer, not only in the water, but also during some of my vacation days. Im looking forward to some days where I can just be with the rhythm of the day, sunrise, sunset and not have to accomplish anything, not have any goals, not have to make something better. And I wish that for you as well this summer.
I also believe that floating has something to teach me about trust and about faith. There are times in our lives when we face a crisis that we cannot do anything about, that we cannot solve in our usual problem-solving mode, and the ability to float is one spiritual practice that can help us through those dark times. Let me share a story by Dawna Markova about such a time. She says, "When I was in the hospital, the one person whose presence I welcomed was a woman who came to sweep the floors with a large push broom. Of the 50 or so people who made contact with me in any given day, she was the only one who wasnt trying to change me. One night, she reached out and put her hand on the top of my shoulder. On her next visit, she looked at me, with no evaluation, no trying to figure me out. She just looked and saw me. Then she said simply, `You are more than the sickness in your body. You are more than the fear in your body. Float on it. Float above it. You are more than your pain. And I remembered floating when I was young, in Lake George, in the Atlantic Ocean off Coney Island, in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Africa. This Jamaican woman had led me to a source of comfort that was wider and deeper than pain or fear. She touched my soul with her compassionate presence and her fingerprints are still there."
In another story, Marv Hiles, the editor of the spiritual journal Daybook, recalls being an eight year old boy, at camp for the first time, terrified of the lake, sitting on the dock all summer when everyone else was rowing boats. Finally the last day of camp, Marv says "My fear gave way to desperation. I found a boat, pulled up the anchor, and pushed off into the lake. I can to this day re-enter that feeling of floating free on the utterly smooth water of the lake. I feel the sheer surprise of discovering, not only that I wasnt going to sink to the murky bottom, but I that I was being supported by the water itself. The water had arms, like someone loving me and holding me. The water which I had feared so long could be trusted." As Hiles notes, often the very thing we fear most turns out to be something that sustains us.
Many of the accounts I read of near death experiences include an initial floating above oneself and looking down at ones body. Kathleen Singh writes in her book The Grace in Dying that many people, as they die, appear to melt, to float into Spirit, in serenity and peace, simply dissolving out of their bodies. When I think about my own death, I am not afraid of what will happen to me when I am dead. I dont worry about hell and I believe that, while I cant give a name or a picture to where I am going, it is a state of harmony and spiritual beauty. What I fear in death is letting go: of my life, of my loved ones, of all I treasure on this earth.
So spiritually, prayerfully, the practice of floating - of letting go, of resting my body and myself in trust, held up by grace is, for me, a crucial path on my faith journey. That practice of floating resting in trust is one that can renew my tired self, that can ease my passage in crisis, and that can, I believe, sustain me in that final step of my earthly journey.
These next 5 weeks of summer, I invite you to join me in practicing a bit of floating on the grace of God. Remember with me the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 139, "If I take the wings of morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand will guide me and your spirit will give me strength." David Rosenberger translates this passage as "I could fly on a gold ray of sun, from dawn in the east, west to the stars of night, and your hand would point the way."
In my spiritual practice, in my prayers, during these next 5 weeks, my intention is to find times when I can symbolically lie back, with arms open, breath easy, doing nothing, trusting God to hold me. Denise Levertov says it perfectly:
As swimmers dare
to lie face to the sky
and water bears them,
as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them,
so would I learn to attain
freefall, and float
into Creator Spirits deep embrace,
knowing that no effort earns
that all-surrounding grace.
Let us pray. In silence, bring your attention and your focus to this moment. Breathe in and out, deeply and slowly, inhaling calm, exhaling any stress. As you breathe, relax your neck and shoulders, relax your arms and hands, relax your chest and stomach, relax your legs and feet, relax your mind. Let go of tension; let go of thoughts.
Imagine yourself floating easily, effortlessly on water, on air, on a magic carpet, on a raft, on a boat, on a star whatever image works for you. Your feet are up, your arms are out, your face is open to the sky.
You are floating you are supported and held and sustained by the Divine.
There is light all around you Holy Light the Light and Love of the Creator within you and around you. Breathe in and out deeply and slowly, knowing that Light and Love flow through you as you float.
Soak in this moment soak in the light soak in the love let it flow through you.
Imagine now, from this place of floating, slowly and gently, letting your feet down, letting them touch firm clear sand or firm resilient carpet, and as you imagine slowly standing up, your arms stretch out and your hands open. From this position of openness, send light and love to several people who you name in your heart.
You, O God, are present before us, you are present behind us, and you hold us in the palm of your hand. Amen.