A Three Part series for Lent: Sermon by Bishop Denise Ferguson

Part 1, Skotosis: Out of the Darkness

Holy God, as we journey through this Season of Lent may our hearts, minds and lives be open to your wisdom and respond to your yearning. Amen.

On the Feast of the Epiphany I attended a service here at the Cathedral. Dean Frank was preaching. He spoke profoundly of the tragedy of the bushfires, still raging at that point in time. It was an excellent sermon, in fact one of the best sermons I have heard and I said so at the time.

In that sermon Dean Frank introduced me to a new word; one that resonated deeply and sparked this three sermon series. The word was ‘skotosis’.

As Dean Frank said at the time, ‘it is a Greek word meaning the deliberate and intentional choosing to remain in the darkness, not to see the consequences of action, turning one’s back on a crisis.’

This definition brings to mind the saying attributed to John Heywood in 1546; ‘there are none so blind as those who will not see. The most deluded people are those who choose to ignore what they already know’

… which in turn is said to be based upon the passage in Jeremiah 5:21 21’ Hear this, you foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear:’

Sound familiar?

While the word skotosis was new to me, the human condition it describes certainly wasn’t. Sadly, humanity has a long history of only seeing what we choose to see. 

Moving from darkness into light; from intellectual blindness to insight, is a journey that requires willingness to engage with difference; an exercise that can be both liberating and uncomfortable, especially when we find ourselves coming face to face with the dark areas of our own lives, our own blind spots.

Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst talks about facing the shadow side of our personality; The side of our being that we choose to reject and repress. We all have parts of ourselves that we don’t like, that we think society won’t like, that we imagine God won’t like.

The journey through the Season of Lent is one where we are invited to review and renew our relationship with God; look for those obstacles in our lives that block wholeness in our relationship with God.

As one commentator wrote – it is a time to sift our souls to see how much of the truth remains. It is a time to test our values, integrity and purpose: To ask the question ‘What does it mean to live deeply into our journey with God?’

Michael Ford, in his book Eternal Seasons; A Spiritual Journey Through the Church’s Year writes “Lent is a spiritual season which calls for greater openness to the word of God and conversion in every area of our lives. It is a time to face the darkness within and expose it to the light. Lent is the season to confront our demons and expel them.”

Skotosis is the human condition that limits or blocks the sifting of our souls, thereby keeping us in the darkness of our own short-sightedness. 

Skotosis could be said to be the scourge of the day, both within and beyond the church, and we are all complicit.

This past week, at the National Bishops Conference, Archbishop Kay Goldsworthy spoke of the blindness of moral and social apathy and the subsequent ways humanity justifies that blindness.

Homelessness, climate change, domestic violence, racism, people whom we perceive to be different;  particularly our First Peoples, and those who identify as LGBTIQA+; even the current pandemic and our response to the Corona Virus carries a degree of moral and social apathy; an element of intentional blindness.

These responses invariably centre on ‘I’, the individual response, rather than ‘we’, the communal response.

Too often I hear people say ‘Why should ‘I’ take responsibility, shouldn’t the government, the police, the education system,… someone else?’ but who?

Often it takes a crisis to move from Skotosis, blindness to epiphanea, revelation. Only then can we make a choice to embrace metanoia or change.

A year ago today one of our nearest neighbours, Aotearoa New Zealand, found themselves at the centre of an unimaginable terrorist attack. The perpetrator spoke out after the event and said that he chose Aotearoa New Zealand because no one would ever anticipate that something so destructive could ever happen there.

He was right. However what he didn’t anticipate was the power of ‘we’, when the people of Christchurch and wider New Zealand, shocked saddened and outraged by what had happened , came together to support one another in ways that hadn’t happened for a very long time.

We, here in Australia have also found ourselves in crisis; fire, flood and drought. In response ‘we’, the wider community has witnessed and been a part of what can only be called a renewal of the spirit of Australia, responding to the devastation of these natural disasters.

The power of common thought, word and deed that changes lives and communities.

This is heartening to see but it is only a beginning. 

Humanity stumbles from crisis to crisis. We remain reactive rather than proactive. In general, moral and social apathy continues to hold its own just below the

surface of whatever the presenting crisis of the day might be.

So, how do we change?

Again, I quote Archbishop Kay Goldsworthy ‘ This apathy is global, it is not confined to our churches, however the church has a particular responsibility to respond. To see as Jesus sees.’

To see as Jesus sees, the vision of God in Christ is a vision of reconciling love extended to the whole of creation.

The Good News of God in Christ calls hearts and minds to turn (metanoia) in an entirely different direction to the wider world around us; to love as he has loved those among whom he lived. …

It is life realised only through an ever deepening participation in God and what God is doing in the world.

This is the heart and the gift of our Lenten journey.

This is the heart and challenge of our Lenten journey.

It is a challenge, because to break through our own skotosis, our own blindness means to be willing to engage in and with the other; the other perspective, person, ideal, ethic. That can be incredibly painful, and for some almost impossible.

It is a journey from the ‘I’ to the ‘we’; an intentional choice to be in relationship with one another, even in our difference.

Christianity is about being in relationship, with our Trinitarian God and with one another.

The Christian faith is about the ‘we’ not the ‘I’. It is about serving the common good and learning and growing with each other. That doesn’t mean we are all the same, it doesn’t mean the relationships will be easy.

It is a journey we are each invited to join. Only we can choose to accept the invitation.

My journey of growth and discovery hasn’t been easy. At times it has been very painful. Too often I discovered that what I thought to be truth was in fact a construct of my own limited experience and environment.

What I thought and understood to be of God was, in reality, human construct: Skotosis, intellectual and at times egotistical blindness: A hardening of the mind against unwanted wisdom.

Moving from this place of blindness to one of insight and transformation was challenging and inspirational.  It expanded my perspective on life and the world around me; it opened my vision and understanding of God, humanity and the world in ways I could never have anticipated.

It was a journey that while deeply personal, had to be undertaken in community. For it was only as I sat with those whose experience was different to mine, as I listened with my heart to their experience, that I began to understand that life and faith wasn’t as neat and tidy and compact as I had perceived it.  As a consequence, I now find myself advocating for justice and equality in ways I couldn’t have imagined thirty years ago.

The greatest caution for me though is that this is a life long journey. On my office wall I have a plaque which reads ‘It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.’ I need that reminder because I don’t know it all, and never will.

I need the Season of Lent every year to remind me not only how far I have come in my journey with God in Christ, but that there is still so much further to travel.

Skotosis, Epiphanea, Metanoia.

Darkness to light to transformation.

How are you travelling this Lent?