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Ladder to the Light: Faith

For most of the summer I will be using Steven Charleston's Ladder to the Light to illuminate how we can create a community of faith and create the kindom of God. The first rung on the ladder is faith.

3 Pentecost, Proper 6

13 Jun 2021

With all the vitriol and the “othering” in which we humans engage, there is one thing about which there can be no argument: at one time we were in a womb, a place of darkness and quiet. Our birth stories may vary; but every human being has in common the womb. It is from that place of utmost security that we have our start. No one remembers the womb; most of us have little if any conscious memory of our lives before about three years of age.

Jesus said to Nicodemus that you must be born again and the poor fellow, literalist that he apparently was, tried to figure out how an adult could re-enter the womb to be born again. Jesus rolled his eyes and sighed, but patiently explained to him the metaphorical meaning.

What if we did re-enter the womb, but in a conscious and at the same time subliminal way? Steven Charleston recently published a book called Ladder to the Light about such a venture. In the culture of several SW indigenous American tribes, there is the kiva. The kiva is in one sense like a church or mosque or synagogue or a temple; it is a holy place. But to enter you must descend a ladder to the darkness below. You go back to where you began: the quiet and dark place of the womb. And then you start on the journey to re-discover the light. He takes the reader through eight steps: faith, blessing, hope, community, action, truth, renewal, and finally transformation. This is where I want to take you this summer. For it is my belief that Jesus was all about individuals taking these eight steps and that the salvation of the entire world is held in our ability to climb the ladder to the light.

So let us prepare ourselves and descend the ladder to the floor of the kiva. It is there we can start to confront our doubts and uncertainties. If you have no doubts, no uncertainties, then this journey into the kiva may not prove fruitful for you. But if you do, I hope you will find a new way to connect with your faith and ultimately transform your life and those of others.

What is faith? Paul says we walk by faith and not by sight. We trust what we cannot see. I don’t think he means we walk by “beliefs” but rather something deeper. When I was a toddler I was fearful of thunderstorms. I would run to my mother, who in those days still often wore dresses with a long and full bottom and I would wrap myself in her dress, which of course rendered her immobile unless she wanted both of us to fall. She would patiently hug and hold me and I knew I was safe. I had the utmost faith my parents would care for me. Seeing them tangibly reinforced my faith, but the confidence I would be watched over and cared for was not a matter to be questioned.

Communally we have much reason for our faith to becomeshaky. The world we live in gives us continual messages of darkness and despair; often I must quit listening to the news. I guess I fear what I cannot see or control. We often stand together in that darkness; afraid of what is not in our control; afraid of changes we neither like nor want. What we can learn from our traditions, be it Jewish scripture and midrash or the teachings of Jesus, is that we do not have to dwell in that kind of darkness, but that our ascent from the depths, from the bottom of the kiva, needs to be made with others and we can emerge as a new people.

Bishop Charleston says faith is perception. If we see the world around us as only darkness, then that is what we get. If we see darkness but believe in light, then we get a new possibility. If we scatter seed we may see only the odds that the seed will not grow and fail to see the hidden possibilities.

There is a children’s story called The Carrot Seed by Ruth Kraus. A boy plants a carrot seed and waters and watches and waits for it to sprout; all his friends and family tell him nothing will happen and that he is wasting his time. When I plant my garden, I water and watch and wait and I am rewarded with herbs and vegetables and flowers because I have faith. And yes I have my share of failed garden experiments, but that is the nature of faith as well.

In Boone a fire destroyed a downtown business about 10 years ago. Some saw only a vacant lot where the building had stood; with the downtown dying they did not think it worth rebuilding. Just leave it. Others saw a new possibility and this month a new outdoor space with a small shell pavilion were dedicated. The farmer’s market has moved there; a concert will be held monthly during the summer. New life because someone had faith.

Maybe by having faith that things can be better we make them better. Why would I work for what I believe to be right and just if I have no hope that things will ever change? But if I have the Spirit beside me, or in the Celtic tradition above, below, and all around, then I can do the impossible. We can do the impossible. The most incredible things have been done by the least likely because they felt the Spirit and it led them. Without faith, without the Spirit the darkness is just that: darkness.

If someone comes with one candle, the darkness is dissipated. We don’t need 150 watt bulbs (although with LED’s the term is becoming archaic). Some folks, it seems, want to be in the center of the light. Or worse they believe they ARE the light. I don’t trust them; I never wanted to be there. I just want to be able to carry my candle and to illuminate the darkness just a bit for someone else.

Faith does not mean you will succeed; don’t trust anyone who claims to be always successful!! What it does means is that you are willing to try, and fail, because the cost of not trying is even higher.

Faith is not about what is absolute and unchanging, but rather what is uncertain and ever changing. Faith and doubt are eternal dance partners. [1]

So do not be afraid if you doubt. Doubt can be the antidote for blind faith and the need to question and change and grow is all wrapped in the role doubt plays in our own faith journey. When I was in my late teens, I stopped attending church services; there was just no meaning to them, and religion seemed divorced from the reality of my life. I did not sense God was playing any useful role. A decade later I circled back, not because of a life crisis but just because, and found that my faith had changed and matured. And it has had its ups and downs. The current political climate and inertia in dealing with human and environmental justice often cause me to doubt much.

It will always be something.

I hope when we gather to worship and hear the Word we are able to leave here with our faith renewed and restored, if only a little and, as our parting words command us, to go and love and serve the lord.


[1] Charleston, Steven. Ladder to the Light p 28. Broadleaf Books. Minneapolis; 2021


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