“Now Jacob went out from Beersheba and went toward Haran. So he came to a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. And he took one of the stones of that place and put it at his head, and he lay down in that place to sleep. Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, the Lord stood above it and said: “I am the Lord God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants. Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!” Then Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put at his head, set it up as a pillar, and poured oil on top of it. And he called the name of that place Bethel; but the name of that city had been Luz previously.”
Is your life abundant? According to Henry David Thoreau, probably not. In his masterwork Walden he said “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” He might be correct, but that’s not the final verdict. In the Gospel of John, Jesus said “I came that you might have life and have it abundantly.” He also said “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” If all of that is true, then why don’t most people draw near to Him?
In his book Out of the Depths, Ken Kovacs said:
I think the knowledge and possibility of the “too much” overwhelms us and scares us, which is why we’re reluctant to go there, and why it’s easier to live on the surface with a superficial faith or why the Church gets sidetracked in soul-crushing debates or why we simply say to God, “Go away.” Perhaps we know that the more we acknowledge what’s within, when we become aware of our capacity, when we listen to the divine summons in the depths, the greater the responsibility. We’re conflicted, aren’t we? We might pray, “Be present in my life, God.” But we also hope, “But not too much.”
So yes, we are conflicted. C.S. Lewis said it this way: “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
God wants us to go deep.
As Ken Kovacs says
There is so much more going on around us than we can imagine. There is so much more going on within us than we know. Our world is connected to another world, and that other world, so very close, as close as our dreams, is the source of life and grants meaning to our lives. What matters most in the life of faith is making that connection. The closing words at the end of E. M. Forster’s (1879-1970), Howard’s End, says it all: “Only connect.” Only connect. What matters most is the connection, the fluid movement between heaven and earth, up and down on that ramp. I think van der Post gets to the heart of what Jacob discovered in his dream: “No matter how abandoned and without help either in themselves or the world about them, men [and women] are never alone because that which, acknowledged or unacknowledged, dreams through them is always by their side.” By their side. And I would add, as I have learned, the one who dreams through us is also on our side. On our side.
The one who dreams through us is God—this is a bold claim, I know, but the text leads us to such conclusions. My own experience backs it up. Jacob didn’t have to ask for help; it just came. It was gift—sheer grace. He didn’t have a dream, the dream had him; it was given to him. And the dream spoke so clearly to his situation—telling him that his life is worthy of God’s divine protection and promise—“I am with you and I will guard you wherever you go.” The dream grants a future, grants him a telos. He didn’t have to worry about his future. When Jacob realized this, it provided him with the assurance he needed to fulfill the meaning and purpose of his life.
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In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Hi! I’m really excited about exploring Out of the Depths with the readers of Literary Life in April. This is a collection of sermons and essays that centers around a verse that has guided my life for decades. After a being out all night on the Sea of Galilee and catching nothing, Jesus said to Simon Peter,
“Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch” (Luke 5:4).
When Jesus says to put out into the deep, I can’t help but hear this as a summons to go down and in, to enter into the depths of my being, my soul, my heart, my psyche—they’re all synonymous for me. The sea is a metaphor for the heart, a symbol of the unconscious, that which lives below the surface of awareness. It’s an invitation to go down and in, to an abundance, an overabundant yield that cannot be contained. When we go down and into the depths of psyche or soul we discover a richness that can’t be found when we live on the surface. By going inward, I don’t mean being self-focused or egocentric or narcissistic. Just the opposite. In the depths we discover a clearer, truer sense of who we are and whom we are called to be. I resonate with the psalmist who spoke to God from the deepest recesses of his psyche.
“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord hear my voice” (Psalm 130:1).
De profundis. It’s from out of the depths that we experience the pain and anguish, the pain and doubt and fears and anxieties, as well as the joy, love, grace, and the deepest desires of our hearts. From that inner place, we cry out to God and relate to God. In the depths we encounter the Abundance who dwells in the dark waters of the soul and calls us into life in the service of others.
The sermons in this collection emerged out of the depths of my experience. They were all preached at Catonsville Presbyterian Church, where I’ve been blessed to serve as pastor since 1999.
The sermons and essays also have a psychological dimension. The writings of depth psychologist/psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) have allowed me to go deeper. Jung has been companion along my way since my college years, even more so in recent years. Jung was not afraid to encounter the depths of his own unconscious and discovered there an abundance that the psychoanalytic world has yet to fully fathom. While I’m not a “Jungian,” I do believe that Jung has much to say to the contemporary Church and to the discipline of theology. Increasingly, I feel called to help bridge the worlds of depth psychology and theology. Jung’s ideas have informed my theology and my preaching (especially over the last ten years) and you’ll find evidence of this throughout, both explicitly and implicitly.
Kenneth E. Kovacs is pastor of the Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, Maryland, and has served congregations in St. Andrews, Scotland, and Mendham, New Jersey. Ken studied at Rutgers College, Yale Divinity School, Princeton Theological Seminary, and received his Ph.D. in practical theology from the University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland. He is also an analyst-in-training at the C. G. Jung Institute-Zürich. Author of The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter & Conviction (New York: Peter Lang, 2011) and Out of the Depths: Sermons and Essays (Parson’s Porch, 2016), his current research areas include C. G. Jung and contemporary Christian experience. Ken has served on the board of the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, is a current board member of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, and a book reviewer for The Presbyterian Outlook.
Ken’s weekly sermons at CPC can be found at http://kekovacs.blogspot.com/