Gifts of the Dark Wood: The Gift of Temptation

Finding your unique life path takes courage, imagination, instinct, and a little nudging from the Holy Spirit, said Rev. Jana Purkis-Brash in a sermon Sunday, April 2, 2017, Princeton United Methodist Church.

Her text was II Corinthians 5: 16-19    17 Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come: (Good News Bible). It was part of a sermon series based on the book by Eric Elnes: Gifts of the Dark Wood: Seven Blessings for Soulful Skeptics (and Other Wanderers), a guidebook for spirituality in a post-Christian world. Here is a summary of her sermon:

As Elnes points out, to tempt someone you have to convince that person you are on his side.

In Luke 4, The Devil tried to be Jesus’ friend in the wilderness.  In the llustration by William Blake, the pious looking man next to Jesus has no horns or pitchforks. He might be a Hebrew prophet. Blake realized that Jesus would reject an overtly evil tempter and that all temptations would have to be about doing good, like turning stones into bread to feed the hungry, ruling the world, or performing impressive miracles.

But there is a big difference between ‘doing good’ and ‘doing the good we are called to do.’ If we walk the path that brings us the feeling of being most alive, we might have to say no to doing a lot of good things. Jesus did feed the hungry, change the political equation, and perform miracles — later. His higher calling was to live more fully into his humanity.

In both Jewish and Christian mythology, Jesus’ adversary, Lucifer, started out on God’s side. (Note that these stories are NOT in the bible). As Elnes says, pride and shame convince us we are separated from god. If we are proud, we think we are smarter than God. Or we are shamed, we call ourselves unworthy. As humans, we long for the path that leads to the dark wood but we think we can find our own way — or we are too shamed to go.

Meanwhile the Adversary makes wide roads that provide an easy path but lead away from being human. Roadside taverns serve beer that mimics the feeling of joy. Some taverns take the form of churches serving a brew of self righteousness. We humans feel we have no need to venture into the dark wood — we can come back to the tavern, or the tavern/churches.

Despair is the gift God planted a gift in people’s souls, and it is accessible only when deep in the woods. Then — God created a moment in each day, a moment of grace, that gives a glimpse of how it could be if we break free.

Venture out into howling wind on edge of dark wood. Those who follow the path will be certain it is their path. It will evoke a sense of peace and joy never experienced on the brightly-lit roads. It will lead them to — home.

Have the courage to step into the path of the dark wood and find your home.