February 3, 2013
03.02.2013 - 03.02.2013 87 °F
Sermon preached by
The Reverend Hope H. Eakins
aboard the Silver Whisper
on February 3, 2013
My daughter-in-law Lee gave me this book on Christmas. It is Help Thanks Wow by Anne Lamott, subtitled The Three Essential Prayers. It is a short book, and in many ways, the best book on prayer I have ever read. Lamott’s prayer is direct and personal. She says “Help” when she needs it, “Thanks” when she discovers good, and “Wow” in the face of awe and wonder. Wow, she says, is offered with a gasp, with a sharp intake of breath when we can’t think of another way to respond to extraordinary beauty or overwhelming kindness or even seeing a fjord for the first time, as I did on Friday in Milford Sound. The sheer awesomeness of it all, the height and depth and nearness of it all was stunning, and I couldn’t explain it or put it in a box of experiences labeled “massive glacial formations in the South Pacific.” All I could do was to say ‘Wow’ because this was an experience beyond words, an experience that couldn’t be captured or explained, like hearing a Beethoven symphony or seeing a dolphin leap from the sea or holding a newborn baby.
There is a wonderful piece of liturgy in the Baptismal service of the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. It prays that the newly baptized person may have an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere and the gift of joy and wonder in all God’s works. I love that prayer; I love praying that every tiny baby and every serious adult who comes to baptism will never lose the gift of wonder because wonder is breath-taking. Wonder takes our breath away and makes room for the breath of God’s Holy Spirit. Wonder allows us to see past all that is ugly and painful and limiting and find a mysterious and marvelous glimpse of beauty and love and truth that causes us to gasp “Wow.”
The disciples had a wow moment in today’s Gospel. Jesus stilled the sea, walked on water, and got into their boat with them and what did they say? Nothing, for as the Scripture says, They were utterly astounded. They had been terrified and overwhelmed and now they had peace; all they could say was Wow.
There is another kind of wow, the gasp that comes when we are afraid, when a building collapses or a child dies or love ends without reason and we don’t have words to describe the pain and we don’t have enough hope to ask for help, and Jesus seems very far away. It is the wow after 9/11 or a tsunami or an earthquake, in the time of trouble and darkness and affliction. And we can only sit or kneel and suffer as time passes and then one day we see the power of people and Christ to heal wounds and then one day the sun rises and our hearts beat without hurting so much and we can say help and thanks and begin to see that the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting and his faithfulness endures from age at age. And what we thought impossible has come to happen and we can whisper Wow.
One of the best Wows I ever heard was said many years ago when I officiated at the marriage of a young American boy and his beloved who was a young girl from Thailand. He promised to love her “for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health until parted by death,” and he ended his promise with the words of the Prayer Book, “This is my solemn vow.” Then it was her turn, and she made the same promise. When she came to its end, she looked at him with a radiant smile. But because she had trouble pronouncing v’s, she ended, “This is my solemn wow.”
There are solemn wows all around us. God is doing better things for us than we can ask or pray for. We can find them if we open our minds and hearts and souls to see them and say Wow. Amen.