"Attention, Hope & Repentance"

Proper 11.A.23
Wisdom 12:13, 16-19
The Rev. Melanie McCarley

The author, Rivvy Neshama, in her book Recipes for a Sacred Life, writes about the importance of gaining perspective. “One of the gurus I went to hear in the seventies was a man known simply as Stephen, who started a commune known as “The Farm.” His teaching I remember most was this: Attention is energy. What you put your attention into, you get more of. He meant it literally too, giving a whole new meaning to “What you see is what you get.” She continues: “At the same time, attention requires openness: open eyes, open mind.”

I suspect the author of the book of Wisdom would agree. In today’s Canticle: “A Song of God’s Strength in Mercy” which we recited earlier in today’s service, we are told that God is all powerful--but this power is best seen when manifested in restraint. The author writes: “Although you rule in boundless power, you administer justice with mildness; you govern us with great forbearance though you are free to act without constraint. You have taught your people by such deeds that all who would be righteous must be kind. You have filled your children with good hope by stirring them to repent for their sins.” Hope and repentance? How can these two be linked? Isn’t repentance mainly about guilt and remorse? In this reading, however, we are reminded that kindness and hope are fruits of a repentant heart.

This reading speaks to me as I arrive home fresh from three months away on sabbatical. As many of you know, I’ve spent the past several weeks traversing the Southwest--mainly Arizona and New Mexico. My hope was to learn more about Native American peoples. Before I left I prepared for my sabbatical by reading…learning about the history of our country; a history both heart-rending and brutal. We hear a good deal about how angry our country is at present--and, to be perfectly honest with you, my heart held no small amount of trepidation in venturing into a region I had never before been. Would the people there be angry or resentful? Would I be welcome? Would I find myself so weighed down by an oppressive history that the entire venture would be overshadowed by a sense of guilt and shame? Would this be any fun at all--or just an exercise in blame, guilt and despair?

I could not have been more wrong. Like the author of the Book of Wisdom, I discovered that repentance leads to hope. Repentance, really--is the act of seeing--of paying attention--listen, look and turn around (literally, that’s what the word “repentance” means--to “turn around”). If you can see where you have gone wrong, you have a finer hope of a better road to travel in the future. Do it well, and repentance doesn’t lead solely to remorse, but to hope. And hope is what I discovered in the southwest.

When Phil and I arrived in Phoenix, we visited the Heard Museum. We joined a tour and one of the first things we learned was that one of the words I was accustomed to reading and using, was “Anasazi”, which in my mind I understood as “ancient ones.” Our guide explained why we should no longer use this term. It’s a Navajo word and what it really means is “ancient enemy” or “enemy ancestors.” And, because Navajos were different people than the Pueblo people, this makes sense. They were ancient enemies. But, think about it, particularly if you were a Pueblo person) would you want to refer to the people of your family who came before you as enemies? The Pueblo peoples of Arizona and New Mexico understandably do not wish to refer to their ancestors in such a disrespectful manner, so the appropriate term to use is “Ancestral Pueblo” or “Ancestral Puebloan.” Makes perfect sense. My eyes and ears were opened.

Many of the places we visited could only be seen if taken there by native guides. Time and again, I found my eyes opened to the wonders of civilizations which should never be considered primitive or uncivilized. In Tucson, while getting my hair cut, the hairdresser, who was a member of the Tohono O’odham (Desert People) told me about harvesting the fruit from the Saguaro cactus which was then in bloom, and how much she was looking forward to participating in this rite. More often than not, what I heard wasn’t so much anger and resentment--but a joy in one’s culture and pride in remarkable civilizations, as well as a hope that people would come to value cultures and traditions which have frequently been ignored in the history many of us have learned in school. The kindness and faith, so freely displayed, that I encountered with people in the southwest was a balm to my troubled spirit and gave me a sense of joy in this region and its peoples.

I was impressed by the ways in which history in the Southwest regions of our country--in museums, national parks and other venues, is being taught. I found myself welcomed and led, in a gentle manner, as to how to understand cultures which, despite centuries of oppression, are still important and vibrant. Over and again, I found myself treated kindly--a reminder that the righteous must be kind--and I found myself filled with hope--because what I was able to see, despite the continuation of many problems in this region, is a more vibrant future not only for Native Americans, but also for people such as myself. Repentance comes with awareness--it opens hearts and minds. It brings us hope for a finer future.

I left St. Paul’s in April seeking understanding, and I discovered a part of our world more beautiful and far more diverse than I expected. For example, I had no idea how mountainous the region is. I look forward to sharing with you some of what I learned and experienced in the weeks and months to come. I learned about the painful history of our country in this part of the world--but came away with an appreciation of people who refused to have their culture obliterated. I also came away with an understanding as to how Anglos and Native Americans are working together to preserve history and traditions, and present a more accurate understanding of the rich culture of this region. I also began to understand that there will alsoways be limitations to my understanding about the people of this region and their culture. Many aspects of Native people’s faith is private. Those, such as myself, who are not members of a particular tribe or people aren’t welcome to visit the interior of kivas (sacred places) or to learn about many aspects of ceremonies--not surprising given that so much of native people’s cultures have been misunderstood misrepresented over time. Attention has led me to an understanding of limitations and humility as well.

All of this is to say that while I cannot tell you how Native Americans truly feel about Anglos (after all, many continue to make their living by catering to tourists and their needs), I found myself blessed to have had the opportunity to spent a quantity of time in a place so different from my customary haunts on the east coast. Kindness that comes from righteousness and a holy hope for our future--this is what the Scriptures tell us we are promised by God; it is what I believe Jesus wills for us as we follow in His way. The past three months have been a great gift one of kindness, of repentance and discovering good hope--which I look forward to sharing more with you as our journey together continues. In Jesus’ name. Amen.