Rev. Jenn Tafel’s Sunday Sermon from July 16, 2017, for those who missed it:
July 16, 2017
Good morning! I am honored to be here once again sharing in this special
time of worship and celebration.
It is moments like this that I treasure.
As summer took off this year—so did I—on a one of a kind road trip with
my mom. I had put out in Facebook-land a while ago the idea of going on a
lighthouse tour of Michigan. After all, our state boasts the most
lighthouses—at one time there were almost 250 but currently about half that
amount are in decent condition and able for people to visit. And this is
possible to understand given that there are 3,288 miles of coastline in the
state—including just over 1,000 in island coastline miles. This is a lot to take
in. No, we didn’t get to every single lighthouse—but we got to many of the
well-known and well-loved ones. We also got to nooks and crannies of the
state that I’ve only heard about. It was nothing short of amazing.
Why lighthouses? When I was still in the process of completing goals for my
ordination, I was achieving clinical hours for a CPE (clinical pastoral
education) unit at a hospital in Jackson, MI. The supervisor, Ned, had
shelves upon shelves in his office dedicated to a collection of lighthouses. I
asked him about it one day. He explained to me that it was a metaphor for
the work he does in the hospital as director of spiritual care services. The
people who come and go from the hospital are often experiencing depths of
darkness that few understand. If he could shine light into these people’s lives
in any way he considered his job done. That image has stayed with me
through my ten years of ordained ministry and the training leading up to it. I
understood my call to ministry and my call to Michigan in new ways on that
day in Jackson.
My mom landed at the Lansing airport on June first and we headed west to
Whitehall, MI where we would see the first of many lighthouses—and it
didn’t disappoint. It was great to see this site at sunset on Lake Michigan. It
was the perfect place to begin the journey that my mom mapped out (she
worked for AAA most of her life, after all) and leaving enough room for
mystery and adventure (like a sunset on Lake Michigan).
The thing left out of most of the maps, tour books, and descriptions of the
lighthouses (that is until you visit in person) is the magnitude of the number
of shipwrecks in the Great Lakes. Maybe other people understand it, but it
didn’t dawn on me until we were face to face with the lighthouse and the
lake. One of our stops was at the shipwreck museum on Whitefish Point on
Lake Superior. It was a foggy day and we were faced with facts such as
there being over 6,000 shipwrecks and 30,000 lives lost in the five lakes. In
the moments on our tour when I was faced with such facts, I went back to
what my colleague Ned said about being a light in the darkness. There are
times when the shipwreck is inevitable despite all the efforts and calls for
help like bad news at a hospital. The light still shines on and hopefully it can
be a beacon and guide for loved ones. We need the light. We need such a
symbol of hope.
As I said, my mom had the journey mapped for us and there was room for
added sites along the way. I was receiving messages from friends around the
state (as they saw my pictures on Facebook) of what to see and what I
shouldn’t miss. I knew about certain parts of the state that were imperative if
were heading their way on the highway. We got to look for Petosky stones in
Lake Michigan, grab a state route 22 sticker (a special highway near
Traverse City), Mackinaw fudge, dinner on Mackinaw Island, Tahquamenon
Falls in the Upper Peninsula, pasties, Escanaba in da Moonlight (there was
even a full moon!) and more.
One place that I had never heard of was Kitch-iti-kipi which “is Michigan’s
largest natural freshwater spring. The name means big cold water and is
sometimes referred to as The Big Spring. Its original name was the “Mirror
of Heaven”; given to it by the early Native Americans.”
As we were driving around the state, I knew I would be coming here to
deliver this sermon today. I love the moments in my ministry when I can
bounce ideas off my mom—she’s experienced a few sermons in her life as a
minister’s wife but also grounded enough to know what everyone else wants
or needs to hear. After we got in the car from seeing such a sight—she said,
“You should write about this!” And the rest as they say is history.
But what could I say? The pictures don’t do it justice and yet, I am really
excited to share such an adventure with others. And then I put on my
thinking hat (not terribly difficult being grounded in the theology like ours).
“Mirror of Heaven”—that is what stuck out to me. Surely the person who
grabs at details would say, “I don’t see fish in the sky or clouds in the
water!” As Swedenborgians, there are few of us who remain literalists. At
the same time, I was puzzled at how to make sense of what I saw and the
theology running through my head. If you know me, you know I like to
figure out such puzzles—and hopefully I don’t leave you more puzzled.
I came up with the sermon title based on what some spiritual folks like to
use in their liturgies or spiritual practices, “As above—so below.” To me,
this is a call upon the creator of the universe to make what we see in the
natural world a reflection of what is in the spiritual world—or heaven. And
yet, as Swedenborgians we also know that what we see externally is a
reflection of our inner/spiritual life. Yes, it’s complicated. Yet it’s our call as
angels in training to do the work of self-reflection and regeneration—so that
our waters become clear rather than remain murky.
Like this road trip with my mom—I wouldn’t want to take a journey like this
by myself—mentally, spiritually, or physically. I couldn’t do it physically as
I tore a ligament in my ankle last year and it still gets fatigued after lots of
driving or walking—which we did plenty of on this trip (over 3,000 miles).
And my spiritual walk is one I don’t want to do alone either. While I’m not
in a committed relationship, I have family and friends who I’m blessed to
walk along side on our spiritual journeys. And, our theology says that
relationships are imperative for real spiritual growth to take place—we need
Let’s think about what Scripture and Swedenborg had to say about the river
in the Garden of Eden or “Land of Pleasure” in the Inclusive Bible’s
translation. Scripture tells us it split into branches. “A river flows through
Eden to water the garden, after which it branches into four tributaries. The
first stream is named Pishon, or “Spreader.” It circles through Havilah…The
second stream is named Gihon, or “Gusher,” and it flows through the entire
land of Cush. The third stream is the Tigris, which borders Assyria on the
east. The fourth stream is the Euphrates.”
Swedenborg’s reading says:
“The river in the garden depicts wisdom. It branches into four rivers, of
which the first is goodness and truth themselves. The second is a knowledge
of everything involved in goodness and truth, or in love and faith; these
things belong to the inner self. The third is the faculty of reason, and the
fourth is secular knowledge, both of which belong to the outer self. All of
these flow from wisdom, and wisdom flows from love for the Lord
and faith in him.”
Now, the words create an image of branches from a main water source, the
river, reaching out into the earth. It’s holy and beautiful—for we are the
earth and this is one way how God flows through us, right? It makes sense.
And here’s where it gets complicated—as we aren’t the only rivers, right? If
this is the case—it means that our deltas, tributaries, streams and creeks
mingle, overlap and ultimately direct the course of the water. Yes? And
don’t we see this playing out in life? Our families and childhood experiences
directed our water flow one way—and as we add people, school, careers, life
experiences, and our cultures to the mix our water systems overlap, change
direction, and sometimes the water get cluttered, murky, and even toxic.
When we engage in regeneration, when we call on the spirit of God to help
us—the water changes—we are changed. When we do this in community
and experiences like the one we’re encountering now—our collective water
system shifts. While we mingle and overlap (sometimes putting up dams),
let us remember the one who creates and sustains life. The neuroscientist and
physician, Jill Bolte Taylor, says, “Be responsible for the energy you bring
into this room.” This applies both as we understand ourselves as energy but
now as waterways. What energy or water do I want to contribute to the
experience I’m having? How can I shift so that happens? How can I engage
with others to shift larger systems? Is God part of the equation? What
happens when I surrender and put God in charge?
As we walk away from one another and this experience today, remember we
are all mirrors of heaven. What and how do we want to reflect?