The Art of Abundant Living: Seeing The Color Purple
Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost • September 24, 2017
Pastor Elyse Ambrose
Sacred Text – An Excerpt from Alice Walker’s The Color Purple
Listen, God love everything you love – and a mess of stuff you don’t.
But more than anything else, God love admiration.
You saying God vain? I ast.
Naw, [Shug] say. Not vain, just wanting to share a good thing.
I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere
and don’t notice it. […] People think pleasing God is all God care about.
But any fool living in the world can see [God] always trying to please us back.
Yeah? I say.
Yeah, she say. [God] always making little surprises and springing them on us when us least expect.
You mean [God] want to be loved, just like the bible say.
Yes, Celie, she say. Everything want to be loved.
Everything wants to be loved. Everything. Wants to be loved. Our friends and family want to be loved. The dog wants to be loved and offers her belly to receive love. The flowers offer fragrance and beauty and want to be loved. The ocean as its crashing waves hug the warm sands want to be loved. Roots as they reach out to the nourishment of soil want to be loved. Trees as they outstretch their branches to the life-giving sun… A child who colors outside the lines and smiles as she shows you her artwork… Everyone you see on the street and in this sanctuary wants to be loved. You… I … we want to be loved. Appreciated. God wants to be loved. Loved by way of our appreciation for all that God freely gives as gifts during this journey of life. Sometimes we forget these gifts all around us. We lose sight of them amidst all the hustle and bustle, amidst packing lunches and protesting police brutality and borders, amidst our huge life moments and our dash to follow our dreams; busyness and sorrow and even a zeal for justice hinders our capacity to acknowledge and celebrate the color purple, and subsequently God.
Rushing to make it to the subway or the highway before the commute becomes a burden. Hastily searching… keys… wallet… phone…ok, let’s go! And out the door we go. Earbuds in, sunglasses on… you’re a person on a mission. Things to do. People to see.
Earthquakes and hurricanes destroy entire cities, many of which lack the resources needed to restore normalcy as soon as we would like. It’s tragic, if even numbing or desensitizing. But its real. And we mourn and worry.
Sometimes we hold jobs we dislike, anxiously awaiting vacation time, or at least the close of the workday. We imagine a time in our lives, in the future, when everything will be fine and we’ll have everything we need. I’ll be so happy when I’m out of this marriage… I’ll be so happy when I’m out of school… I’ll be so happy when…
Life, with its challenging moments, goes on. Life, with its beautiful moments, goes on. Day-by-day we look for flashes of light amidst the shadows. A promotion. A birthday. The birth of a child. Reasons to celebrate. With joy we welcome the reprieve from the onslaught of bad news on our TVs and our timelines. Some of us take intentional time with friends to unwind and be rejuvenated. Some of us take vacations and moments of self-care. These moments remind us there is so much good in the world… right before our eyes. We are calmed. Balanced and harmonious. At peace. And then… boom… more life happens and we’re back into the cycle of longing for a break from the bills and the external or internal noise… longing for some time to regroup and renew … longing for an impeachment or a break from racial, gender, social injustice. This up and down takes a toll on the soul. We long for a reason to praise the God we know is good, even when we can’t see it.
This up and down of uncertainty and hopelessness certainly doesn’t feel like abundant life. Abundant life cannot consist of merely waiting for celebration-worthy or even pretty okay news to drop into our lives more steadily than bad news does. No. I think God has much more in mind when we think abundant life. In this sermon series, we’ve talked about the abundance that can be found in living the beatitudes, and we’ve talked about the abundance available to us when we are willing to honor our wounds, we’ve talked about the abundance that can be found when we free ourselves to love, but wait… there’s more! What if there was abundant life through the gifts that surround us everyday and call us to appreciate them? To love them? To delight in them and to find pleasure in them? What if each day holds a multitude of gifts that we miss in our haste or our cynicism or pessimism? in our pain or our loss?
The sacred text for today reminds us is that in all these states of being, wherever we may find ourselves— emotionally, mentally, physically — there is always the color purple.
Now, please… I ask you. Resist the temptation to see me as Pollyanna-ish. Resist the temptation, to say, “yeah, but my bill collectors aren’t calling you!” or “yeah, but, you don’t know what it’s like to lose a loved one! Or to have an addiction!” I may not. But listen to the Spirit. Resist, the “yeah, but…” Resist feeling that too much joy and delight and laughter means we are childish, irresponsible, and don’t take life seriously. Let your belief in God’s goodness take root. Let your hope in the potential for better tomorrows and todays grow within you. Let your eyes be open to the color purple all around you. There are many reasons to not feel joy. To not feel hope. To not feel love. But we cannot let these incidents of life dictate what we choose to see each day. Choose to see the color purple— the gift that God shares for your delight. For your peace. For your joy. Choose to see in that gift a symbol of God’s presence and grace right in front of your face, normal and mundane… as well as extraordinary and life-changing.
But, Pastor Elyse, how can we relax and be in delight when the world is going to hell in a handbasket? We have to be vigilant about calling out oppressions; they are vigilant as they act upon us. We have to lend a helping hand. We have to fix this and see about that. We have to, or no one else will!
I hear you. And I’m with you. And I’m glad for your commitment to bettering this world and your life. But, the questions arise: who taught us that we need to constantly be in a state of productivity, discounting delight as productive for our own wellness? Who sapped all of the sense of joy and laughter from our Christian communal lives together, where some of us even feel uncomfortable joking in church? Who taught us to feel ashamed or gluttonous every time we are enraptured in pleasure? Friends, could not abundance invite us to rest, both in God and literally, while we “stay woke”? To play even as we protest? To delight as we dismantle unjust systems? We’re in the territory of the both/and. Is there a way in which we can enact these deeds of love, which please God, even while we accept the opportunity God offers us to please us back, as Shug reminds us in today’s sacred text? “People think pleasing God is all God care about. But any fool living in the world can see [God] always trying to please us back.”
Not long ago, I was experiencing a state of depression over the course of many months. During that time, I had an unhealthy relationship with food. And I wasn’t sure what to do with my life and was at what I considered to be a dead-end job. At the time, I practiced a faith in which I rarely felt God was pleased with me and I thought of myself as sinful, unworthy, and in many ways insignificant. During that time, I took a visit to my hometown of Gretna, Louisiana in order to find comfort and a sense of grounding. I went to my mother’s backyard, as I often found these things in nature. As I sat in one of her patio chairs, I began to cry, feeling the confusion, the sense of hopelessness, and sorrow that I had come to know so intimately in that season. The tears flowed as I allowed them to, down my cheek and into my lap as I hung my head. Just then, my goddaughter came outside, almost skipping toward me, joyfully calling my name, “Lele” as she would call me. I seem to remember that I went outside in order to have some time away from her child-like energy at a time when I was feeling so low. In a way that I could not have predicted, she stood calmly by my side and placed her hand on my shoulder. Which caused more tears to flow. Attentively she stroked me shoulder, then began to call for my mother whom she called “lita,” short for abuelita. “Lita, Lele crying,” as only a three-year-old might say, summoning an adult when the situation felt beyond her. In that moment, my goddaughter, Amyah, was my color purple. Her care was my color purple. A gift that God was sending for my joy and wellness. A gift that I didn’t know I wanted, but that my spirit needed.
In moments like these, and even amidst the highs, I believe the color purple is always near, if only we might see it. It’s easy to forget God when things are going well. But the color purple is still there, a reminder that so is God. These gifts are not a cure for our sadness or a fix-all for our problems, but they remind us of God whose desire is to be loved in return as we value all the good that God has shared with us. And this is what enables us to go forward powerfully and in peace as we transform our lives and bring justice to our worlds. We cannot do this work on an empty tank.
Good news for today is that one doesn’t need to have perfect vision or any vision at all in order to see the color purple. We only need hearts willing to see beauty and prepared to take in delight. Spirits receptive to the evidences of God’s care. And arms wide open to receive from nature, from the ones we love, even from ourselves so that we can find the abundance that comes from knowing God has not left us alone and will never. But is always sharing God’s very best for our good. Thanks be to God.