Joann Lagman—August 17, 2014
17 August 2014
Good morning. Thank you for inviting me to be your guest preacher today. When Fran and I ﬁrst talked about this while we were at O'Shaunessy's or "The Annex" as I hear you like to call it, I looked at the bio's of all your guest preachers on the All Saints website. I saw the heading "boring stuff" and I thought, "uh oh". And now I see the bio's are under "Summer of Awesome Preachers", so I hope that I will live up to that expectation.
In the Philippines, the stars are brighter at night than they are here. I'm not sure if it's because of the lack of a lot of city lights in rural areas, proximity to the equator, or even the silence sharpening my other senses.
When I was ﬁfteen due to a whole multitude of reasons, I ended up going to a boarding/ convent school in the Philippines. I grew up in a household with Filipino parents and had spent the ﬁrst ﬁfteen years of my life in the suburbs of Chicago. And now, here I was, far from my parents with a bunch of Roman Catholic old Spanish nuns, in boarding school. It was a very difﬁcult time in my life. Though I looked Filipino, I couldn't speak the language, and I was really an American. The cultural norms and nuances of interaction with members of extended family often went over my head. I was in trouble a lot.
The years passed and after three different high schools in three different years, things settled down a little bit. I went to college and then medical school, to return to the United States in my mid twenties... only to move back in with my parents. (Which was awesome, by the way.)
Today's ﬁrst reading is about Joseph reuniting with his brothers. In last week's readings, we ﬁnd that Joseph is the favorite son of his father. His brothers are jealous, plan to kill him, but instead decide to sell him into slavery. He is then taken to Egypt. Much transpires then, including imprisonment. He dreams, and God is with him. He is released and rises to a position of power, saving Egypt and the surrounding nations from famine and death. !17 August 2014! All Saints Episcopal Church, Chicago ! There are elements of this story that most of us can probably identify with. Jealousy, anger, lies, dreams - prophetic or otherwise, maybe even imprisonment or some other brush with the law. My sister can, as my brother and I ganged up on her mercilessly. My brother can, in his relationship with our father. I can, because of Andrew Lloyd Weber's version in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" that Donny Osmond was in. You know the one, with the song, "Close Every Door" in it. The lyrics go:! Close every door to me, Hide all the world from me! Bar all the windows And shut out the light! Do what you want with me, Hate me and laugh at me! Darken my daytime, And torture my night
(Be happy I didn't sing that for you.)
Joseph is the son of Jacob, who wrestled with the angel. And now, he wrestles in this darkness. There is now an inner darkness that accompanies his outer darkness. The reality here, beyond the musical, is an uncertainty as to whether he lives or dies, and if he lives, what sort of life will it be? Darkness into the depths.
What is darkness anyway, besides the absence of light? We associate darkness with depression and death. With crime and isolation. Maybe even vampires, according to Barbara Brown Taylor in her book, Learning to Walk in the Dark. “Darkness”, she continues, "is shorthand for anything that scares me—that I want no part of— either because I am sure that I do not have the resources to survive it or because I do not want to ﬁnd out. The absence of God is in there…"
So in a primal and even post-modern fear, humanity works to eliminate darkness. We turn on ﬂuorescent light after ﬂuorescent light until we have a city that never sleeps. We run and we hide. We go to sleep with night lights. But sometimes the darkness catches up. And sometimes we respond with fear and with anger. We lash out, or we turn it 17 August 2014! All Saints Episcopal Church, Chicago inward so that it gnaws at our insides or makes us feel like we're falling into a bottomless pit.
What would happen if for one moment we stopped, took a deep breath and looked at the darkness? To actually feel it on our skin, and listen to it? It takes enormous grace and courage to stop running, turn around, and experience it.
Psalm 139! Even the darkness is not dark to You,! And the night is as bright as the day.! Darkness and light are alike to You.
It is in this darkness, not the darkness of evil, where I believe that we can ﬁnd God. I believe as we turn and look and ﬁnd God, there is a turning of our hearts that occurs. We begin to look at each other with eyes of compassion. And as we recognize our own darkness and become present with the darkness of others, it can lead to forgiveness.
In November of 2013 typhoon Haiyan struck Tacloban and the northern part of Panay in the Philippines. It was the strongest tropical cyclone ever recorded. There was more than 6000 fatalities, destruction of infrastructure, loss of crops, and other sources of livelihood, and people were left with nothing.! ! Filipinos and members of the world community asked themselves what they should do. I certainly didn't know. I knew I didn't want to go. I wanted to maybe give a little donation, post something on Facebook, and go on with my life. I had spent years in Iloilo, on the Island of Panay where there had been a large number of fatalities. As I mentioned, it had not been a happy place for me. The ﬁfteen year old in me, alone, powerless, and in trouble did not want to go.
This was my darkness where God was present. The type where you expect a loud voice, but instead get a whisper. The type where instead of seeing a bright, blinding 17 August 2014! All Saints Episcopal Church, Chicago light, you feel depth and presence. Where instead of prayers done over a microphone in front of a congregation, you hear the silence of your heart. And in that silence, I started to heal.
You see, something about this particular tragedy had stopped me in my tracks. When I looked at everything objectively, never mind the fear, it seemed that I had every tool that one who wanted to be helpful could possibly have. I'd learned two Philippines languages, one that belonged to the people we were going to serve on this mission trip. And here I was, twenty one years later a board certiﬁed physician. I had attended medical school in the Philippines, and so I was familiar with how medicine is practiced there. My family was safe. I had family and friends who are members of the local government, medical personnel, and clergy. God even gave me a church that was so touched by the tragedy that occurred half way around the world that the they were willing to spend time and energy to raise money for a mission trip, and even go themselves to the Philippines to help.
I realized in a very real way that there had been purpose in my difﬁculty. ! We weren't going to be able to "save" the Philippines, but we were going to try to make a difference in the lives of some of the people affected by this. And I felt my heart start to heal.
So Church of the Holy Nativity in Clarendon Hills planned a medical-humanitarian mission for February of this year. By the end of our ten day mission trip, we had taken care of one thousand and four hundred patients, also immunizing four hundred and sixty of them against pneumonia. We gave away 500 shovels, hammers, and saws, two hundred mosquito nets and blankets, two ﬁshing boats, ﬁve hundred fruit trees, and two hundred vegetable plants.
I am aware as I write this that it seems patchy and a little (or a lot) bumpy. Looking in through my own darkness is an ongoing process for me, and probably will be the rest of my life. Sometimes it's the type that's not dark to God, and sometimes it's the type 17 August 2014! All Saints Episcopal Church, Chicago where I think that God is absent. This is part of my own humanity. I sometimes ask God if there couldn't have been some easier way. My heart continues to heal.
If I may, I would like to leave you with one last image. It is sort of archaic, but one I have found ﬁtting for my life. One way I think of God is as a master weaver. One who takes the complexities of the pattern of threads in my life and weaves it into the fabric of the universe along with everyone else. I sin, I make mistakes, and sometimes I let the grace in, just like everyone else. He takes all these things to Himself and makes the stars that illuminate the darkness.