Unplugging and plugging: Lent 5
In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
Unplugging and plugging
My dad died just before the 2018 General Assembly of the PCUSA in St. Louis, Missouri. The reason that I remember this so distinctly is because of the way I chose to deal with my grief at that moment. I traveled to Puerto Rico on a Wednesday, he died on Thursday, the funeral was on Saturday, and I flew back on Sunday. When I got to Louisville, mom came to pick me at the airport, I grabbed a few things at home, and we drove to St. Louis to be at the General Assembly for the next five days.
Looking back, I recognize that I was trying to escape from my pain and grief, using my work to do so. I remember having to rehash what had happened every time somebody that knew that my dad had passed away asked how I was doing. I also remember spending that Monday in a state of numbness, not wanting to be at the bookstore where I was supposed to be… so I hid in committee meetings for the better part of that day.
The reason I’m sharing all of this with you is that while thinking about the theme of unplugging, I also started to think about the ways that we plug to one thing to unplug from another, and sometimes we don’t plug to the things that we should. Let me explain.
Unplugging with a purpose
Lynne M. Baab states, as she does with all the spiritual disciplines, that they become a Christian spiritual discipline when they are done for a spiritual purpose. You can fast… but if you don’t do it with purpose or do it for some other reason good or bad… then it is not a Christian spiritual discipline. When you seek simplicity by watching shows with Marie Kondo, the famous organizing consultant, and keep only the things that give you joy, but you don’t do it with an intentional spiritual purpose… then it is not a Christian spiritual purpose.
What is the purpose then? Baab states that there are at least two: connecting with God, because we take our focus away from other things and get to spend time with God… and making space in our lives for God to transform us because we are more able to pay attention to what is happening in our lives.
Jesus unplugs and then plugs to God
One of the stories that Baab mentions as an example of Jesus unplugging is the passage in Mark 1:35–39. The morning after Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law, and cures plenty of sick and demon-possessed people, he rises before the sun comes up and goes out to a deserted place to pray.
As several commentaries state, this is not the only time that Jesus tries to be alone in the gospel of Mark. In chapter 6 he gets away from a multitude to go and pray, and in the evening when he is about to be arrested, he goes to the garden to pray.
But most of the time, he is not successful at going away, so we can imagine that these moments are precious to Jesus.
We can imagine that Jesus gets away with a purpose. He needs a break. He needs to reconnect with God and with himself to be able to deal with the many demands of his ministry. He seeks to have an intimate space with God, so he searches for a time to pay special attention to God’s loving voice, for God’s guidance, and for God’s support.
We can also relate to Jesus’ need for time alone. Even extroverts could benefit from a time where the mind gets quiet to have a conversation with God (not a monologue, but a true conversation) where we talk and then seek to listen to God’s voice, so that we can replenish our spiritual energy to continue our journey.
Jesus unplugs... but he plugs into God’s presence, love, and grace. Jesus unplugs… and because he knows where to plug in, he gets the energy he needs to hear the call of the disciples when they appear with an urgent call: “Everyone is searching for you.”
Unplugging and plugging
It is probable that you thought that with a spiritual practice called “unplug” I would be doing a sermon on not using your smart phone or not watching too much tv. Lynne Baab recommends as much when she says that “A day, weekend, or month without one or more forms of technology can be enlightening and refreshing.” Sometimes it is good to not look at Facebook. Sometimes we need to rest from the news, especially in the last six years. Sometimes sitting in silence in your own home is not bad. But if these things are not done with a purpose, with the purpose of plugging to God, with the intentionality of connecting to God and making space for God, then we can unplug and plug into things that do not lead to growth, to rest, to transformation or to the energy of the Holy Spirit.
I decided, for example to unplug from my grief and plug into my work. My work looks amazingly sacred and holy since I work for the church. I sold books, I edited, I preached, I did funerals, I dealt with a pandemic as a pastor… but maybe, just maybe, I needed to unplug my grief and plug it into God… and therapy… and some other things that would have allowed me to deal with my grief in a better way.
Now that I’m back to dealing with grief in a tangible way… where I’ve lost three special people from my life back-to-back… I’m trying to unplug from my fear of dealing with grief and plugging into God and into my feelings. It is hard, because it requires the discipline and the intentionality that Jesus used when he decided to step out while it was still very dark, and to go out to a deserted place to pray. Jesus decides to unplug, to plug into God, to be able to continue “plugging away.” Unplugging in that manner is the only thing that allows us to plug away. My prayer is that I can continue to unplug from anything that distracts me from God and from healthy and healing ways to deal with life. Then I will be able to plug away with the trust that God is the source of life, of energy, of love, of grace, of transformation, and of purpose. Amen.