Have you ever been lost?
I suppose that we’ve all been lost in various ways. Haven’t we taken a wrong turn on some country road and found ourselves somewhere completely unrecognizable? Or jumped on the wrong bus and ended up in a foreign part of town?
You probably know by now about my sense of direction – the problem is I don’t have one to speak of. If a normal sense of direction was a thoroughbred horse, mine would be more like a blind inchworm.
I have managed to get thoroughly lost in relatively small buildings. I can very easily get lost following simple directions. When faced with a simple choice between left and right, I will almost invariably go the wrong way.
Because it’s so easy for me to get lost, I live with a pretty high level of anxiety whenever I have to get somewhere on my own for the first time. When I first came to London, very few buses announced the stops. And since I didn’t really recognize much of anything, a bus trip to just about anywhere was a challenge. I’d have to leave extra early… I’d study maps before I went, staring at them the whole trip – trying to trace our progress on the paper – starting to panic when I couldn’t match the streets to the map – and even with all that, I would still very often miss the stop. I’d get out it some unfamiliar place, not sure if I’d gone too far or not far enough – and try to find the bus to get back.
Walks in the country – rambles – hikes… these activities that sound so pleasant to most people strike fear in my heart. In places without street signs and people to ask the way – without better instructions than “bear right at the interestingly shaped tree” or “turn left at the big rock”, you really have to rely on some kind of inner sense of orientation – which I don’t have…
Now, some of you will not be able relate to this fear at all. You have a confidence that you can always find your way back. I envy you. For me, it’s different.
What’s so terrible about being lost?
At the most basic level, I suppose I’m afraid something will happen to me ‘out there’ where it’s dangerous. I’ll freeze to death or be eaten by a wild English… umm… OK… freezing is still a possibility… OK, it’s a remote possibility. How about starvation? Thirst? Yes, there may be some practical issues to being physically lost, but it’s fair to say that they loom larger in my imagination than in real life.
But the words of one of the best known hymns of the English language – the one we sang earlier today – speak of a rather different kind of being lost.
“I once was lost but now I’m found.”
Amazing grace was written by an English clergyman called John Newton. Newton had an interesting life, so say the least. By all accounts, he was pretty awful in his youth – a master of profanity, a deserter, mutineer, and a slave trader.
Newton had a dramatic – although not entirely sudden – turn-around later in life. He gave up slave-trading, but – at least for a while - kept up the other aspects of his apparently rather challenging personality. Eventually, he did become a clergyman and apparently a reasonably good one.
Newton went from being a slave-trader to an abolitionist. Although he never said as much, many assume that this is what Newton’s hymn is telling us. We went from being lost to being found. From being on the side of a terrible evil to the side of compassion and justice.
Newton took inspiration for his hymn from an obvious source, from the Bible. In the book of Luke, the story is told of the prodigal son who returns after having taken and squandered his inheritance and then is warmly welcomed by his father who says of him “he was lost and has been found.”
The message of that parable is that God – represented by the father – is ready to love and welcome us – all of us - even if we have ventured very far from the good. Even if we are lost, we can still be found.
Have you ever been lost?
We’re coming up against theology here, and that means that we may each go in very different directions as we think about being lost and found. But, I think it doesn’t really matter exactly how we understand the nature of things – whether or not we believe in a supernatural God that can find and embrace us.
What I know is that we can feel lost. We can feel very lost. We can feel at times that we don’t know who we are – that there is no point in going on – that there is no way to get back to a place that feels true – a place that feels like home.
Although, as Unitarians, we declare our belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every person, there are certainly times when we lose – or we are lost to – that sacred self within.
When we feel lost, no place feels like home. No place feels safe. We are on guard – frightened – perhaps aggressive – often ready to numb the pain with one addiction or another – a remedy that worsens our situation.
And when we are lost, we need to be found. I think of the great old films where the heroes come riding in on their galloping horses to save the day.
But the kind of being found we need is very different from having the divine rescue team appear out of nowhere – angel wings beating and gentle hands reaching down to hold us.
As much as I would like that to be the case, being found is not something I can ask anyone to do for me. It is up to me to at least participate in my own finding.
There was a devout believer who heard an urgent news report on his radio that a flash flood was within minutes of the valley where he lived. Immediately he fell to his knees and prayed for safety. The words were still on his lips when he became aware that water was gushing under his door. He retreated to the second floor and finally onto the roof of his house.
While he sat on the roof, a helicopter flew by and the pilot asked over the loudspeaker if they could lift him off. “It’s not necessary since I have the Lord’s protection,” he replied. Moments later the house began to break up and he found himself clinging to a tree. A police boat, braving the waters, approached him for rescue, but he assured them that the Lord would save him. Finally, the tree gave way and the man went to his death. Standing before the Lord, he asked, “Lord, I’m glad to be here, but why didn’t You answer my prayer for safety?” God responded, “Son, I told you over the radio to get out of there then I sent you a helicopter and a motor boat what more did you want me to do!”
Whether we believe in that kind of God or not, our being lost and found is very much in our own hands. We must participate with the universe.
Can we ever truly be lost? My faith tells me that we have a place – we have a worth that cannot be diminished – we are home. And although we can never truly be lost, we can forget where we are. We can lose the knowledge of our interconnection – of our worth – lose the awareness that, in fact, we are home.
Albert Einstein is credited with the words that form the first line of David Wagoner’s poem “Stand Still”, as we heard earlier:
“Stand still. The trees ahead and bush beside you are not lost.”
You are not lost. No matter how far you have wandered, you only have to rediscover that you are home.
It is easy to lose sight of where you truly are. We are subject to all varieties of illusion and delusion – anger, drugs, shame, guilt, alcohol, desire, greed, fear – all of these can make us certain that we are far from our true home.
And we all get lost. And we all need to be found some times.
This is a place for being found. It is a place where we can remind each other of what home is. Every time we call each other to be our best selves – every time we treat one another as if we are sacred – every time we expect the best – every time we push ourselves to act with trust, with kindness, with compassion, with understanding… every time we do these things, the illusions fade just a bit and the glimmering vision of home becomes just a bit clearer.
We are the lost and we are also the rescuers. We are the creators of the place called home.
May it be so.
Have you ever been lost?