Egg Salad Spirituality
Isaiah 6:18; Luke 5:111
Once in a moment of pastoral despair, Martin Luther commented on the sorry state of the human condition. “You know,” he said, “the problem with most of us is that we have lost the ability to shudder. We have lost the ability to feel awe, to recognize mystery, and to fall prostrate at the feet of the holy.”
I think that in many ways Luther is right—in our time as well as his own. Spectacular sunsets come and go—but we’re still too busy at the office to notice. Babies smile and crawl and explore and delight—but we miss it because we’re trapped on the phone or glued to the computer. Oceans roar in tempestuous wonder and caterpillars weave intricate designs—but we are oblivious—so absorbed in our me-centered melodrama that we are blind to the wonders of nature. My friends, we worry, we manipulate, we deal, we conceptualize, we argue. But when was the last time we shuddered?
This morning Isaiah shudders. This consummate temple priest—fine tuned in the rituals of piety and worship—competently doing holy things in holy places—Yes, Isaiah finally experiences—what the holy is all about. In the process he discovers what his life is all about. The text tells us that “in the year King Uzziah died”—yes, in the year that the familiar authority and center of Isaiah’s life disappears, he has a dream, he has a vision. And it blows his mind. There—high and lofty is God—filling the throne—a luxurious velvet robe covering the sanctuary floor. There is smoke and voices and six winged angels flying all around. This polished professional priest all of a sudden feels awkward, overwhelmed, swept into a place he cannot control, a situation he cannot understand.
“Wow!” “Woe!” The text tells us that Isaiah’s first response is guilt, unworthiness, a sense of bewilderment. “Woe is me. I am lost. I am unclean!” And yet I wonder. Is his response really guilt—or is it awe? Is it really unworthiness—or is it humility? Is Isaiah shying away from his own inadequacy—or is he shuddering—shuddering in the midst of God’s abundance?
There have been a few “shuddering moments” in my life, for which I am grateful. One of them occurred on July 4, 1982 in Morristown Memorial Hospital in northern New Jersey. Anna was four days old, it was early in the morning, and we were alone in our sundrenched room. What could be more ordinary than a woman holding a baby? But it turned out to be one of the most extraordinary moments of my life. Mystery washed over me—the awe of birth—of my body creating such a miracle—of God’s image being born once more in the humanity of my child. At that moment, I felt totally inadequate for the task of mothering this girl child. Yet, I also felt strangely empowered and immensely blessed to have been given the chance. Yes, on that day, in my spiritual smallness, God handed me a great and grand mission. God gave me the grace and strength to do it. It was at that moment, I shuddered.
Isaiah’s call is one of those wonderful paradoxes so often found in scripture. Isaiah senses his smallness in the midst of God’s bigness. But this diminishing of his ego leads to an expansion of his soul. When he understands his proper place in the vast expanse of God’s grace, he becomes energized and focused on his particular work in God’s world. It is when he shudders and surrenders and obeys, that he finds power and passion and authority to be a prophet in God’s world. By facing the truth about who he is not, Isaiah embraces who he really is. And he hears his call to be unique in God’s world.
In a similar paradox of wonder and welcome, Jesus calls Peter into a greater sense of his self. This brash, brawny fisherman is called from one kind of fishing to another—from one sense of service to another. What is most amazing about this gospel story is not that a fisherman lets a carpenter tell him what to do. It is not that Peter both lets his net down and leaves his net behind. No, what is most amazing about this story is the trust, the risk, the spontaneity that Peter expresses. What is amazing is that Peter is willing to leave everything—to go with someone he does not know, to places he has never seen, to carry out a mission he does not understand. What is so amazing is that Peter starts over—trusting God’s call—trusting that he can still be and become more than he ever dreamed possible.
I think it is significant that for both Isaiah and Peter—the call of God comes in midlife. Isaiah is an established temple priest holding a plum position—settled and solid and safe. And Peter? He has spent years honing his skills, building his muscles, learning the rhythms of the sea. Both of these men have already answered one call. Both of them have successfully met the demands of adult life. But, as it turns out, God is not finished with them yet. Just as God is not finished with us yet either. When they least expect it—and maybe when they least want it—God calls Isaiah and Peter again.
One writer relates a dream that she experienced as a sort of midlife wakeup call. She writes: “At a point in midlife when I was facing the option of choosing some new theories and untried behavior, I dreamed that I was in a social situation where there was a large table of food. This table stretched across the entire room. It held a bounty of colorful, peculiarlooking, unknown foods. I stood among all the strangers who were in the room ignoring me and I wondered what food I might choose at the table that would be ‘safe.’ The only thing there that I recognized was egg salad, so I put a large helping of this on my plate and walked away from the table. When I woke up, I laughed. There are few foods that I dislike, but egg salad is one of them. Yet, in my dream, I chose the egg salad, which was a ‘safe’ food because I knew it. How loudly this spoke to my fear of insecurity and of risking some new nourishment for myself. I resolved that day to let go of my ‘egg salad’ approach to life.” (Joyce Rupp, Dear Heart, Come Home, p. 107)
My friends, how much are we wedded to an egg salad kind of living—sticking to that which is safe and familiar and predictable—nourishing ourselves with that which no longer satisfies? How much are we protecting ourselves from God’s mystery, God’s otherness—muffling that voice calling us to a self and a service beyond the normal, beyond the now? And how might God be trying to get through to us—what is the vision or the dilemma, where is the struggle or the surprise where God is calling to you? Remember that it was in the midst of boredom and restlessness that God called Isaiah. It was after a frustrating night of failure that God called Peter.
Then there is one more question. What is God calling us to leave behind? Is God calling us “to leave everything” as he did for Peter—to leave all the familiar values and rhythms and relationships—in order to be useful in God’s kingdom work. Or is God calling us to be like Isaiah—who, scripture tells us, stayed put as a priest, but just shifted gears focusing on prophecy instead of temple purity? Which is it? Is God calling you to leave everything—or is God calling you to rethink and reshape our energies right where we are? It’s always one or the other, my friends. Life never stays the same. Our flowing, changing, growing God is always calling for us to flow and change and grow as partners in the work of creation.
There is rich metaphor in the story of Peter’s call. The sea, in scripture, is always a symbol of God’s deep and vast mystery—an ocean of grace where abundance abounds. The boat is an ancient metaphor for the church—tossing about upon God’s sea of grace—traveling toward the shores of the promised land. And Peter? He is the symbol of all of us—all the disciples through the ages who are struggling to respond to Jesus.
This morning, we are also given the image of “the catch”—Peter “catches” God’s superabundant grace—Peter is “caught” by the power and promise of God—Peter is sent out “to catch people”—to embrace us and save us within the vast and safe net of God’s care. The actual Greek word means to “catch alive.” To be “caught alive” is to be rescued, not captured—it is to be strengthened, not weakened—it is to be drawn into the abundant grace of God’s kingdom. All of this calling business, all of this catching business begins with God’s initiative—God catching us and claiming us and calling us. But it ends with our response—our response of trust and risk and hope. It ends with our surrender to the holy, our willingness to change, our courage to say, “Here am I, Lord….Send me.”
May be it be so for you and for me. Amen
Susan R. Andrews
Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church