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I have just finished a book about nine working class college students from the State of Washington who won the Olympic gold medal for the rowing competition in 1936 in Berlin, Germany.  It is a classic sports book, and I was surprised by a mystical message in their story.  When the nine would talk about their experience years later, they minimized the glory and the global politics, but rather focused on fleeting moments they shared of grace where the nine felt like one person, rowing with such connection, such joy, that they felt in the presence of the divine.  This moment made everything else pale in comparison.  It was their pearl of great price.

Tonight the gospel beckons us to ask what experience is our pearl of great price?  Jesus offers two parables side by side designed to help us locate our treasure and commit to it.

Spontaneous and Habitual Contemplation

In the first parable about the treasure in the field there is no indication the person was looking for it.  He/She may have been a tenant farmer working the field, a hungry person looking for scraps of crops or someone out for a walk.  The point here is that the reign of God is sometimes like running into treasure unexpectedly.  It must be that there is treasure all over the place and sometime we see it through no effort or intention of our own! Thomas Merton’s calls these moments “spontaneous contemplative experiences.”  These are moments where we see clearly, where we see the love behind everything, where we see how connected everything really is.  They are a pure gift.

Once we have a gifted encounter with the infinite, we want to make a habit of it!  We begin the journey of the second parable where merchant actually knew what he was looking for, he knew there were pearls out there and he searched until he found them.  He had already lived the first parable so he knew it was out there.  This is where the Kingdom of God is like an activity that requires practice and intention.

Both the parables demand a strong commitment to secure the treasure and the pearl.  We need to buy the field!  A couple of weeks ago we looked at the indiscriminate nature of God giving us chance after chance after chance of encounter.  Buying the field means that we have faith in these encounters, that we study them together, that we treasure them as our teacher in the contemplative life.  Buying the field means we mark the spot so we can return.

Falling Into the Treasure

So how do we increase the odds of finding treasure?  We need to start by looking in the right place.  Jesus taught that the kingdom of God is within us.  We are not searching for something outside of ourselves, we are not waiting to be touched by someone far off.  The pearl of great price is within you, often lost in the weeds of ego, rules and wounds.  I love the image of “buying the field” within to give the treasure some room, to create a space within that we can find again.

How else can we increase the odds of encountering treasure within?  Do you know what it feels to be looking for something and feel that you are close?  Richard  Rohr’s says this journey to the treasure within has a definable feeling to it.  He says the spiritual journey is much more like letting go and falling inward rather than striving for something.  We miss the pearl so often because we hang on to concepts, beliefs, memories, worries, wounds and masks.  He says “There is a part of you that has always loved God and said YES to God.  It is the part of you that is Love and all you have to do is let go and fall into it.  It’s already there.”  The treasure and the pearl are already there.

Habits that find treasure within tend to foster this “falling.”  We fall by getting in the present moment, by merely observing, not clinging to, our thoughts and feelings, by anticipating surprise, by avoiding control and performance.  I know for some of you the habit is meditation, for others it is walking in nature, for others it is music, spiritual reading or intentional sharing with others.  There are lots of ways to practice falling.  Lucky for us we get to practice together.

Are these short, little stories good news for you tonight? Perhaps it would be good news for you to be like the boys in the boat and have faith in those spontaneous moments of connection and let them teach you.  Perhaps it would be good news for you to rekindle a habit where you practice the art of falling, falling into divine Love within.  Let’s practice letting go and falling a little tonight around this table of communion.

Amen

George von Stamwitz

The book referenced is “Boys In A Boat” by Daniel James Brown

Richard Rohr’s quote came from his Daily Meditation on July 22, 2014.

Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community
Liturgy for the 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Saturday Evening, July 26, 2014
Focus text: Matthew 13:44-46 (“The Pearl of Great Price”)

Photo by The Happy Rower on flickr.com

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