Harrowing Of Hell
September 25, 2022

A Home Renovation to Save the Soul

The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.

Good morning, Epiphany. I’m still back from sabbatical and gladder than ever to be here, and I am still peeling back some of the insights and surprises I encountered while away. You remember two Sundays ago how I so well represented the Christian lifestyle at an ice cream parlor in Berlin, and in the process saw my soul leap front and center as needing a bit more attention.

Kelli preached about soul care last Sunday, observing that it is in the little things that our souls are attended to. Kelli told a soul story about being lost during a service and how a monk helped her find her place in the Prayer Book; and then another one helped her; and then another one helped her. (Do not judge her!!!  Who here hasn’t been lost during a church service? If you haven’t maybe you haven’t been to church enough).

Anyway, the point is that to experience our own soul requires looking through the thing that is happening to the deeper thing, itself. Paul, in his letter to Timothy, calls the deeper thing our soul seeks, the unapproachable light (1 Tim 6:16).  And there is nothing like a home renovation to reveal the unapproachable light that our soul seeks or one’s willful blindness to it.

Did I mention we are at the front end of a home renovation? Now when I do a home renovation, I’m going to do it right. I’m going to thoroughly assess what needs to be done. I am going to find the right team to do it. I am going to seek economies of scale, both financially, and through prudent time management. And I’m going to, of course, achieve the proper aesthetic balance, a feng shui, that perfectly reflects my personality so as to achieve harmony in my soul.

And yet, in pursuit of this “doing it right,” I found, as Paul wrote in his letter to Timothy, that I was being “pierced with many pains” (1 Tim 6:6:8).  And I am not just referring to the pains of what is seems the renovation will cost, but also, and more so, the piercings of my feng shui not completely lining up with my wife’s. I know! Stunning, given the purity of my design vision.

Turns out the devil loves home renovations. (If you don’t believe in the devil, you   clearly have never done a home renovation.) You see, the devil delights in taking a thing that seems to be the thing in the moment and setting it between two people and then letting them convince themselves that it is the thing, and that their preferences and priorities for the thing is the most important thing.

The devil delights when we let the thing shade the unapproachable light, and so blind us from the really real, the great glory, that can be revealed in the project itself.

A home renovation, in other words, provides the perfect music for the devil because to use Paul’s words, you know he is dancing when “we are dislodged from the godly contentment that God hopes for us” (1 Tim 6:6). What is godly contentment?  It is a soul first lifestyle. It is a lifestyle seeking the thing behind the thing. It is a lifestyle that seeks the unapproachable light, and in doing so, receives the secondary benefit of joy and peace and contentment. And what gets in the way is the delusion, the selfish delusion, that the thing on the table is the most important thing.

Now, if you’re not sure if you are making the thing the thing, rather than seeking the thing behind the thing, you can assess the situation by evaluating your level of contentment, or alternatively, the number of piercing pains you are experiencing.

The thing I put on the table, as the thing itself, was a photograph hanging over the piano in our living room. It is big and has a big story behind it. I like big stories. A famous person gave it to me, well, sort of a famous person. Some of you computer sorts might know his name, because he made a lot of money by being the right man, with the right skills, in the right place, at the right time in history. And so, he retired rich to be a photographer.

Our paths seemed to cross on a regular basis for a period of time and he invited me to his studio and allowed me to pick out a photo that I liked. So, I chose one with a great glass chalice of red wine in the foreground, sitting in a vineyard in the Palouse in eastern Washington near where my daughter went to college. It was taken at night, facing the north star, done with a long exposure, so, the stars seem to be circling in the purple sky. 

I found it very eucharistic, though, when I pointed that out to him, he said that wasn’t his intent. Nonetheless he gave me the photo, and I brought it home and hung it on the wall in the living room over the piano. Then Kristin came home, and she noticed it. (eyebrow raise) Turns out she doesn’t love it as much as I do; and yet, she didn’t insist that it come down. It’s now hung there for years.

Now it turns out that in a home renovation you spend a lot of time looking at walls. The photo came up. Kristin suggested that since I love it so much maybe I should find a place for it in my office. I countered that maybe we should hang it over the fireplace. (2nd eyebrow raise) Piercing pains? Loss of contentment? Witnessing the devil on the dance floor? The only way we can chase him off is to turn on the unapproachable light, which requires removing the thing that is blocking us from seeing the thing behind the thing, which for me was hanging on the wall.

And so, being not entirely dense, in fact, rather, being committed to living a soul first lifestyle, I thought more and more about that photo, andI had to admit that while I liked the photo,  I valued the story behind it more than the picture itself, simply because it was given to me by a moderately famous guy, and somehow, that was more important to me than my wife’s feng shui. And that’s dumb.

That’s a dumb devil to dance with. And, when I dance with that devil, when I make the wrong thing the thing itself, it diminishes my soul, by diminishing my capacity to connect with the other, who in this case happens to be my wife.

Which brings me to another point Kelli made last Sunday in her sermon: that too often it is a person very close to us whose souls we most overlook and maybe even diminish. And that’s dumb. That’s a dumb devil to dance with. Because they are often the person God put in our life to teach us something that we cannot see about our souls. They become our soul teacher.

So, it occurred to me that it would be good for my soul if I just gave away the photo. This soul first kind of thinking is something I’ve been working toward over the years through daily prayer, conversation with church elders,listening to fabulous sermons like Kelli’s, and hearing words from the Bible like Paul’s letter to Timothy…all toward more easily seeing the unapproachable light, and more importantly what is blocking it, which, in this case, was the big photo I was carrying around.

The Christian lifestyle is the soul first lifestyle where we seek contentment within the unapproachable light. So, I said to Kristin, that we don’t need to rehang the photo anywhere after the renovation and that I’d give it away. To which I received a 3rd eyebrow raise, as Kristin (I suspect) witnessed the devil dancing back into the room… He is a wily foe, offering a future renovation quid pro quo, disguised by a spirit of acquiescence. I saw it too, and confessed in that moment that I would not do that. (You are my witnesses.) No quid pro quo.

And here is the great thing about the unapproachable light, it’s sometimes illuminates something that you are unable to see when you were letting the wrong thing be the thing itself.

So, I’m sitting at my desk in the living room, and my daughter Margaret comes bopping through the front door. Now, I have a personal commitment that whenever anybody in my family enters the room when I am at studying, I stop what I am doing, I pull out my chair,  and I pay attention to them.

So, as I did that, I saw the photo on the wall, and asked Margaret if she would like to have it. She was delighted. It reminded her of the Palouse.

And so, it seems, that my devotion to the photo not only blinded me to the more important priority of Kristin’s aesthetic preference, but also hid from me a new connection I could have with my daughter. The really real is so much better.

Now I want to finish this sermon by reminding you that this sermon was not about a home renovation or the preference of a particular photograph. It’s about fighting the good fight to clear the devil from the dance floor in pursuit of the unapproachable light that we are in the midst of right here, right now.

This is the soul first lifestyle. This is what Jesus teaches about, and Paul writes all about, and we talk all about here at Epiphany, it is soul care, it is about fighting the good fight of faith that always and inevitably reveals contentment within our souls, and always, and in every way, benefits all the world.