By Rev. Joan Kessler
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
This morning, I want to share with you Seeing By Heart by American artist Steve Perrault. This work just seems to draw me in. I see the vibrant red bench. Am I being invited to look at the tree rooted in the red earth? Or something else? I notice the skill of incorporating architectural lines, windows and walls, and shadows and light. There seem to be two walls present, encapsulating a middle ground where the sun is shining down.
In the artistic statement found on his website, Perrault says: Simple and formal structural components can provide a visual language that encourages a sense of order and harmony…I create passages of inside-outside space, lightness and darkness, containment and expansion, screening and distinction….I believe art-making demands an inner life. Observing art is an invitation to an inner life. Genuine art leads one to face oneself. As Henry David Thoreau said, “We are constantly being invited to be who we are.”
As you look at this piece, Seeing By Heart, and I wonder why the artist entitled it as such. Where is the heart located? What side of the landscape are you viewing from? The artist skillfully holds the tension of paradox in my humble opinion and challenges us to take a longer view than what is immediately before us.
I share this piece with you this morning because it speaks to me of faith and perhaps does a better job of defining it than mere words alone. From my perspective, Seeing By Heart is the goal of faith, a long view to my spiritual life. And what do I mean by long view? Well, I gaze through the window, held in place by walls that are open to the rest of the landscape – to see the tree growing in the red earth. Trees have a formidable presence on our landscape, and I suspect we all have some awareness or have read the popular books about how trees form community and can communicate, support, and interact with one another in a forest. They remind us of the resiliency of nature; they have learned how to transcend time, to grow and to heal and to regenerate.
Trees learned long ago that the key to life is cultivating good relationships, standing deep within a knowing that surpasses human understanding. And it is this timeless quality of trees, old growth forests, towering spires that seem to reach to the heavens and beyond that give me a sense of hope and immortality. They exemplify renewal and persistence. Much of our ancestral knowledge is interwoven with the knowledge of trees and they have been good companions to us along the journey. We must work to protect them, their ecosystems, and the things they have yet to teach a humanity with so many misguided priorities. Perrault is asking me to sit and to take time to notice the tree and what it might be saying to me.
Hebrews chapter 11 shares beautiful prose to describe faith as the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen. It is not a black and white, all-or-nothing definition of this experience we call faith. It is not wishful thinking. It is a turning and enfolding of our life’s experiences that lead us to hope. Faith is more than a matter of belief, our thoughts about things and our understandings of how things work. Faith reveals what matters to us, what we value most deeply, who and what we trust. And this is what makes faith unique to each one of us because it comes from the inner life we cultivate with practices, sharing and building community, prayer, meditation and connecting to the Holy, the Source of our beings.
Abraham and Sarah are held up as examples of faith in action. To the writer of this letter to the Hebrews, they were the matriarch and patriarch of the biblical story. They left everything they had in their golden years of life to set off on a journey to an unknown land in order to live into the promises God longed to give them. The sense of call, of yearning for a life of fulfilment with children and generations to come was a most powerful pull on their lives. Their faith enabled them to trust, to go forth, to put one foot in front of the other so they could move into a yet unseen future.
Faith is something we exercise, we do it; it is active and relational. When I think about the history of this community, Winfield United, and I don’t claim to know every detail, but I know enough to have a long view and recognize the continuum we are part of…sometimes we need look back to see how far we have come. This is critical to be able to move ahead. More than twenty years ago, the congregation made the decision to re-envision its property. You sold your church building, and you bought other land and you rented space for a time being. And then you sold that land and bought yet another property. And when the time was right, through a lot of vision and sweat equity, this place is where we find ourselves today. You trusted the journey and that this was the right project, not that it was always easy.
The faith of individuals melded together to create a vision for the future, the future we are now realizing. And yet, we continue to look ahead and journey into the unknown – always towards a better country. Faith is what shows up Sunday after Sunday and the days in between. “Community” is what you say when asked “What is the best part of Winfield United?”. And yet I would add to this that the spirituality of our inner lives, the Presence of God which is within us and at work around us, but it takes our attention and intention to cultivate. Faith is the foundation upon which we build this community.
Frederick Buechner, a wise theologian and writer says this about faith:
“Faith is better understood as a verb than as a noun, as a process than as a possession. It is on-again, off-again rather than once-for-all. Faith is not being sure where you are going but going anyway. A journey without maps…Almost nothing that makes a real difference can be proved. I can prove the law of gravity by dropping a shoe out the window. I can prove the world is round if I am clever at that sort of thing—that the radio works, that light travels faster than sound. I cannot prove that life is better than death or love better than hate. I cannot prove the greatness of the great or the beauty of the beautiful. I cannot even prove my own free will; maybe my most heroic act, my truest love, my deepest thought, are all just subtler versions of what happens when the doctor taps my knee with his little rubber hammer and my foot jumps. Faith can’t prove a damned thing. Or a blessed one either.”
May our faith continue to grow and change and challenge us these coming months as we return to our activities and gathered life.
Welcome back! Amen