21st Sunday After Pentecost, Oct. 17, 2021
Proper 24B: Job 38:1-7, (34-41); Ps. 104:1-9, 25, 37b
Heb. 5:1-10; Mk 10:35-45
The Rev. Amy Newell-Large
The reading from Job and Psalms have such beautiful imagery from nature. I’m going to be focusing on Job, but I want to invite us into a moment of visualization with the words from the Psalm- let’s pause for a moment and close your eyes to visualize these images of nature.
O God, you wrap yourself with light as with a cloak
You spread out the heavens like a curtain
The beams of your chambers are in the waters above
You make the clouds your chariot
You ride on the wings of the wind
You went up to the hills, and down to the valleys beneath
The earth is full of your creatures
When Job has been struggling, trying to discern the pain he feels, the chaos in his life, and how to best address God about all this God speaks to him. Our passage from Job is the beginning of God’s speech to Job - not about Job’s suffering, that is interestingly absent from God’s speech- but God talks to Job about creation. There is a Zen Master from the 10th century, Yumen, he was known for being a blunt teacher, and for answering his own questions. One of the lessons we have from him is this, “I do not ask you about before the fifteenth day, try to say something about after the fifteenth day.” Yumen answered himself, “Everyday is a good day.” The fifteenth is considered the day of the full moon and often relates to experiencing enlightenment, so Yumen is saying, I’m not asking you about your life before enlightenment, try to say something about life after enlightenment. The response, Everyday is a good day, invites us to wonder- what day is every day? What is good? What does it mean to say it “is”- a state of being, a quality of the day…? Is there not a bad day?
Yumen and his consideration for everyday is a good day came to my mind as I sat with Job. Job has arguably not had a good day, or week. Yet here is God talking about the goodness and intimacy of creation. Frequently this passage has been read as God telling Job to put his problems in perspective, to look at the bigger picture. But I don’t think God is calling us to put our issues aside. Nor is every day a good day telling us that we don’t actually have problems in the grand scheme of things. We do have problems, Job had a lot of them. God knows this.
I thought too about my summer with the Night Ministry. There is a mural on Polk street in the tenderloin that reads “Today was a good day.” Like Job, the folks I was working with have been experiencing struggle, suffering, pain, loss, and fear. “Today was a good day” when I first saw it felt like an empty platitude- that sugar coating I have little patience for. But knowing Yumen’s consideration for “everyday is a good day” I had to reconsider the mural’s meaning. Similarly, when I hear God speak to Job without addressing Job’s pain I am leary of just another way to bypass the presence of personal and systemic pain that tries to point to the sunny side, or only the cosmic side.
I have done this for myself too though- just notice nature, get a better perspective, just take the time to look at the stars and I’ll feel better. In fact, as I started my work this summer I did feel weary because this is the first summer I have not been canoeing or rafting, had a campfire meal or gone on long hikes. I felt like where am I going to find my spiritual renewal? How will this summer be a good summer without my time in nature? I would have agreed readily with God in Job- oh you’re stressed out and struggling? Go for a hike! Do you not notice the vastness of creation? My problem is so small cosmically.
But I keep coming back to this- Everyday is a good day, Today was a good day. Yumen asks about life after enlightenment and yet he is answering that every day- all the days- are good. So, do I need to be in nature for my day to be good? When my spirit is renewed is that finally a good day? Is God telling Job, renew your spirit in creation and all will be well? No, right? Because God knows that Job’s suffering will still be there. I know my stress is still waiting for me. I don’t achieve a point of “good” and from then on that’s it- I’m good. Similarly, Yumen is pointing us to recognize that before enlightenment, after enlightenment, every day is a good day. Today, this day, was a good day.
The persistence of “good” is not as a final goal, or end point, but rather as the continuity of gratitude for and interconnectedness of life. Continuity of the is-ness of our being and gratitude for on going-ness of life (personally and cosmically). It is very much grounded in nightly encounters on the streets of San Francisco, and God’s speech to Job.
What can “every day is a good day” mean on the streets? Whose night is good when they’re sleeping on the streets? When their mom overdosed last month; when they haven’t had a full meal; when they’re selling single roses to keep their kids fed; when they lost their tent in the last police clear-out; or when they were hit by a car that didn’t even stop… Whose night is good?! Each night I walked I heard stories- drug use, dysfunctional families, grief and loss, past incarceration, health issues, thankfulness for a new day, gratitude for each breath, love for the street community, belonging to the dirty kids group, care for a strangers well-being, loyalty to those who have helped, tenderness for the elderly, and concern for mental health, welcoming of LGBTQIA+, anger at injustice for the poor, fear of authority, fear of illness, fear of death, joy at being seen, love of God and despair at God.
“Every day is a good day” does not mean that “good” is a static point of achievement. “Every day is a good day” for me on the streets meant persistent appreciation for connection. No matter what people are going through, we connect with each other and God within the connection. The interrelatedness of our world shines through “every day is a good day” as I notice the mutual welcome and belonging in our interactions. When we make space for one another and realize our depth of connection we know the goodness present each day, we know God present each day. No matter what someone is going through, I am not me without them- at their best and their worst. This is deep goodness every day: we can only be when we arise together.
God asks Job to rise with God, to stand up, to be present with God. God calls upon Job to remain in relationship because God is always in relationship too. Good is the persistent and consistent co-arising we engage in with God- that we arise with God and with one another through knowing our belovedness and belonging with God. Because it is through the intimacy with our creation that God knows us, and that we can trust the belonging with one another too- each of us beloved in our pain, our suffering, our fear.
I did not leave the streets and leave their troubles behind; it all remains with me. God does not leave aside Job’s suffering. Stories with me, presence with me, opening my heart in new ways, clarifying my seeing of the world around me, clarifying my seeing of myself, through knowing my belovedness and our belonging with God together. Because the more we see of each other, the more we see of our own self too, and the more present we can be for one another- an ongoing unfolding of seeing and presence, intimate with God.
The more we see one another the more “good” every day becomes, because we know our mutual dependency. All connected with God’s Light, persistent, consistent Light, interrelated humanity and creation- if only we will see it. When I meet with someone, it is always Light that permeates our space together, there is no ‘we’ to connect, there is just connecting. We are Light together, arising Light.
When the disciples again this week argue about who gets to be great Jesus responds by asking have they not known the same baptism as him, have they not taken the same cup as him? We are bound together by our belonging together in God. Their question distorts that relationship. When we see clearly we know not greater or lesser, but only together. Intimacy with God is clear and authentic, beloved all.
Today was a good day. Everyday is a good day because of the intimacy with God that gives rise to our very being- suffering or no suffering, having been in nature or walking the streets at night- we stand with God- this is good.