I am haunted by a recurring dream I had as a teen. The dream started out innocuous enough. I stood with a group of friends talking about nothing in particular, maybe planning what we do for the weekend. Then a thick black line would appear on the ground between me and them. Of course, as dreams go, I was the only one who noticed. As the conversation continued, the line would widen and deepen and divide my friends from me. When they would finally notice, they would tell me to jump over it and join them. At this point, they saw it as a gap a few inches wide while from where I stood it was several feet wide and growing. They were angry that I seemed to be choosing to stay away from them. I was frightened that I was alone. And then a voice would rise up out of the chasm, “The only way across is in.” This voice was deep and strong and terrifying.
Sometimes the dream ended here. Other times I would try to get across by building a bridge, throwing a rope, or finding a dead tree that would reach across. Whatever method I tried, wouldn’t work. If I tried building a simple bridge it would crack in half and fall into the chasm. If I tried throwing a rope to the other side, no one would be able to catch it. And, of course, the tree would always fall in, long before it reached the other side. My efforts to cross would always make my friends laugh and the voice would be louder and angrier with the same message, “The only way across is in!” I’d wake up scared and confused every time.
While I had this dream many times, I haven’t had it in decades. But I’ve been thinking about it this week in terms of the Isaiah text. The Prophet is pretty clear about where God is in the chaos of human actions. God is tired of meaningless fasts and empty rituals. The people have not noticed the chasm widening at their feet. They have not noticed the depth of injustice, oppression, hunger, homelessness, poverty, and shame right in their midst. Perhaps they even went to so far as to laugh at those who were trying to do something about these problems.
As an adolescent, I thought the dream was about my struggles with an eating disorder and depression. It very well may have been. But when I think about it now, it seems to be a comment on so much more than my own small life. The only way across the breach between me and God or me and my neighbor is in. Any attempts to avoid repentance and repair will be woefully inadequate and might even look funny to those standing by and passing judgement. I wonder how my dream would have ended if I had had the courage to jump into that great chasm, to sink into the depths and find a new way.
Every time I go to a march, a rally, or a protest, I am overcome with waves of emotion. Just this week I participated in a protest of the travel ban on Muslims. When I arrived there were a couple hundred people. By the time I left two hours later, there were more than 5000 people and they were still going strong on a Tuesday evening! The variety of voices and faces and ages chanting together, standing together, marching together for justice fill me with hope. Perhaps this is a glimpse of what jumping into the breach looks like…
The Prophet’s call is clear. The breach must be repaired. God wants nothing more from us than to create systems of justice, free the oppressed, feed the hungry, house the homeless, clothe the poor, and let go of shame. None of this can be done from the edges of the breach. It can’t be done by shouting instructions to those who are trying to make repairs. It cannot be done by laughing at faulty efforts. The breach that is disturbingly deep in our world, our country, our cities, our neighborhoods, our churches, and our homes needs all of us to jump into it. We need to experience the fear and discomfort of letting go of familiar, safe ways, and to allow God to guide us to something new. Then we shall be called “repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.”
May we all find the courage to offer God the fast God chooses.
RCL – Year A – Fifth Sunday after Epiphany – February 5, 2017
Isaiah 58:1-9a, (9b-12)
Psalm 112:1-9 (10)
1 Corinthians 2:1-12, (13-16)