Exhaustion. Exhaustion is one of the most powerful spiritual elements we can experience. We often hear of one form of this concept when people talk about addiction and ‘hitting rock bottom’. It is often said that an addict has to find their rock bottom first in order to finally want to help themselves. No real transformation can occur until the addict exhausts whatever fuel has powered their chosen path. Sometimes this exhaustion occurs in the mind, and it appears we make a new decision. Other times, the fuel of the body runs out before the spirit gives in- physical death is the result.
Most people spend their entire lives trying to avoid exhaustion. There is a great fear attached to losing some measure of the control we’ve come to think we have over our lives. We believe it is a blessing when we are relaxed and experiencing pleasure, and a great punishment, or ‘bad luck’, when we experience tension and pain. This is actually far from the truth.
I was on a train some time ago, reading a book and waiting to depart the station. Next to my train, quite close, was another train. The other train was so close that you could only see the side of the other train but no other point of reference- no sky, ground etc. After some time, being engrossed in the book I was reading, I looked up to see if there was a delay as it seemed like we had been sitting for some time. Just as I looked up, I noticed the other train beginning to leave in the opposite direction. The windows of the other train floated by, faster and faster until it felt as though it was buffeting our train as it left. Being already tired from my trip thus far, I was mesmerized by the moving windows until they stopped. I immediately realized that, now having a frame of reference, IT WAS I WHO WAS MOVING- our train had been moving all along.
On another occasion, I found myself in the ocean, on my surfboard, beyond the break of the waves. Being a total novice at actually surfing, I found myself enjoying the moment more than trying to catch a wave. Being able to just be there in the water was enough. I soon noticed, only when I looked back to shore, and then back to the other surfers, that I had been taken quite far from my original point. I had no sense of movement whatsoever. To me, there was just stillness.
I recently had the honor of attending the ‘celebration of life’ gathering for my wife’s grandmother, Ruth. Ruth was an amazing, 97 year old, woman, daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, and great grandmother. As you can imagine, a life spanning 97 years makes many connections, creating a great ‘ripple of Ruth’ extending out to all she touched. I got to hear many stories from those she connected with along her path. Among the things Ruth enjoyed were puzzles. There were many puzzles at the gathering, and as I heard about all the different ways Ruth influenced the lives of others, the puzzles kept coming back to my mind.
The following day, my wife and kids became engrossed in some of Ruth’s puzzles. There was a rare quiet in a house with five people, including three young kids. I mentioned to my wife that it felt like the spirit of Ruth was quite alive as they quietly searched for each puzzle piece. Watching my family enjoy the quiet focus of their puzzles, I was drawn back to the many pictures, stories, and people, that were still fresh in my mind from the celebration of life.
Some of us have a hard time feeling the gentle, constant flow of God’s will for us in the midst of the crashing waves that occur in our lives. If you’ve ever tried to calm a screaming, writhing, toddler, in the midst of a temper tantrum, you know that your most soothing and comforting voice just doesn’t seem to get through their ears to their unsettled mind. But we also know that screaming back at them will just make things worse. The only thing to do is be calm, consistent, persistent, and make sure that our calm and reassuring voice outlasts the frantic moments the toddler doesn’t realize could be over in a moment. When the tantrum suddenly ends, and they hear our calm voice, feel that we are holding them gently, it’s like magic. They settle in and accept the comfort only they chose to turn away from just moments before. It's a wonder, at times, that this can exist all in one and the same child!
How often, in our own lives, are we writhing and protesting, perhaps even to God in a so called prayer, so fervently that we’ve forgotten how to be still, to listen? When is the last time you can remember being so still, so quiet and open, that you might hear the whispers of God in your ear?
Sermon for October 21, 2018
We don’t always want to acknowledge this, but, often secretly, many of us worship our ability, the outer world, our ideas about ourselves, other people’s idea of us, the totality of what we have come to think of as our existence, even while we profess to want to know God, to trust in God. We say we have faith but we really believe we are what we look like, where we live, what we do for work etc. If we didn’t allow all these things to define us, our anxiety wouldn’t exist, our doubt wouldn’t exist, and we would see things as they actually are and not as what we make them up to be. If we would see that it isn’t the world, or even our idea of ourselves, that we must change to find peace and truth, we would slowly realize that God has truly created us in His image. To truly see ourselves is to see God- but it isn’t the self we normally identify with. We must only become aware that we are already what we seek, and everything ‘outside’ of what we truly are will suddenly be seen in it’s perfection, as it always has been.
Forgiveness is the trail we walk to the summit, where love resides. At some point in our lives, most likely many times, we will be challenged to forgive. This might be a very personal type of forgiveness, one person to another, or it may be less personal, toward a group, a kind of idea, or toward the universe, or God, or the nature of things. We could be angry at a family member, or angry at the way things are because we have a disease or health issue. Whatever the specifics might be, we will feel so many different things- anger, confusion, defensiveness, isolation, sadness, fear, victimization - and all these things will tempt us to get caught in a cycle where these destructive forces will reinforce themselves and drive us further into helplessness and pain.
Sermon for October 7, 2018
23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.
Some will see through the illusion that the world can fulfill us relatively early. For others, it will take longer, with more painful lessons, more wearing away of the layers of our identity. When we finally see that even the greatest joys life has to offer are fleeting, unable to truly satisfy what we are really seeking, Christ points to the way beyond this predicament.
One way we can view these verses is to apply it to our worldly lives. We can see ‘taking up our cross’ as encouragement to persevere through the troubles of the world. The cross, and those trials in our lives we undergo, bind our worldly bodies, and our worldly minds, to the world. We, however, carry the cross ourselves, to our own crucifixion, often denying the final destination. We believe carrying the cross will benefit our individual identity in some way that will be lasting. We believe we can save ourselves. Our burden, and our binding, however, are the path to ultimate salvation that transcends the individual, but we must first persevere through the trial.
Sermon for September 30, 2018
2 Corinthians 12
9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”
We’ll come back to these verses , many times, because the world is loud. The world excites our senses to attend to it. The Truth is subtle, abiding quietly, and requires something other than senses, other than intellect.
First, who is the “you” spoken of here? Often, we take this for granted, as if we know who we are, how God defines us. This is a grave error. Once you make the assumption that the “you” you perceive is accurate, you are off down a path that leads to a false, self made, idea only. Your idea of who you are, as opposed to your actual identity in God, is a primary cause of suffering. In those times when we get a faint, or strong, sense of this, the ‘there must be something more’ feeling, we begin to seek. In these times, we begin to try to bring the sense of a greater truth into our moment to moment consciousness. It’s natural to want an answer to the question of who is this “you”. It cannot, ultimately, be communicated in words. You must explore it in experience, in silence.
Sermon for September 23, 2018
The lives we craft are the illusions that keep us from truth. This is why we swat away the fly. This is why God proclaims his strength is perfected in our weakness, and not in the supposed greatness of the lives we build. We spend entire lifetimes swatting away the flies, never realizing they are messengers of truth.
The presenter in the koan is symbolic of us in our lives. He picks the right place to film, the right camera, the perfect time of day. A message is crafted, the voice and tone of speech are honed to a specific style, and his clothes reflect an appropriate style for the setting and message.
Sermon for September 16, 2018
“A person once endeavored to explain the Truth. Given that this was a modern endeavor, a video was chosen as the medium.
Wisely, a beautiful clearing, by a lake in the countryside, was chosen for the location.
With a breathtaking natural scene as the backdrop, profound words began to paint a picture of our human condition. As the deep, winding, intertwined truths continued to bring forth a vision for the awaiting seeker, a fly buzzed the camera, and then the speaker, abruptly interrupting the speaker, and the message.
A video of a fly was the only thing shown at church the following Sunday.”
The truth of this “Koan” requires nothing extra from you. What you find in it is only what you would naturally find within yourself. Sit with it, ponder it, approach it as you will.