Sermon for June 17, 2018
Imagine a moment in your life when you were suddenly scared or shocked, as if someone had jumped out from behind a door when you weren’t expecting it. Imagine that instant, right after the shock, before even the fear, or recognition, of what occurred. There is a moment of just being, without any real thought or distraction, sense of future or past, in the conventional sense. Close your eyes and identify with that state, then read on. Stay as grounded in that state as you can but don’t put too much effort forth. Just imagine it and read on from that open, in the moment, state.
In those moments when you’re able to see through the daily flow of practical, worldly life, a world dominated by the speed of our thoughts, conceptual, intellectual thinking, a constant influx, a bombardment, of images and influences, do you look for ‘something more’? Do you have a sense of ‘can this really be all there is’? Mystics throughout the ages are said to have experienced this something more. They’ve even tried to describe it, to help others follow that innate sense. Different names have been used to refer to these things- grace, realization, awakening, enlightenment, the Christ within, union with God. It all can seem so real, and yet so elusive. Even reading back what I’ve said does absolutely no justice to what seems inherently there, and yet totally beyond reach of these blunt instruments we call words.
With this sense of life’s more subtle reality in mind, think of yourself, your circumstance in this life, as if you were a Christmas tree- that’s right, a real Christmas tree. Don’t get caught up in the conceptual ideas of where the original seed for the tree came from, how or if it was caused to be etc. Leave the maze of details alone and just consider the tree.
The tree starts out as itself. Natural, perfect in its own way. If you had walked by it in a forest of other trees, you may have not even noticed it beyond the beauty of the whole forest, the entirety. But now, ornaments begin to collect on the tree. Slowly, the ornaments and lights begin to cover the tree. It’s not that the ornaments themselves are inherently bad, nor do they do any particular damage to the tree in and of themselves. However, they do change the tree. Even the person who brought the tree home, given enough time to see the tree with lights and ornaments, will begin to forget what the tree looked like in its natural state. A person who didn’t ever see the tree in its natural state would not even recognize a picture of the tree in the forest. We become conditioned to the tree that is covered with ornaments and lights.
Even the beauty of a Christmas tree, however, will eventually lose its unique attraction. If everyone left up their decorated trees all year round, forever, without the slightest break, the trees would simply become another thing. With each generation, Christmas trees would just be viewed as common, everyday. A person who knew what Christmas used to be could barely even communicate the specialness of putting up the tree, decorating it, and taking it down. The ‘new’ generation would have no real idea of what the original nature and beauty of the tree was that made its ornamented state so incredibly special.
Now think of your own life. Your basic nature is like that perfectly natural tree. Call it the Christ within, God, the name cannot enhance, nor dull, the Spirit. It is what it is. No earthly, relative, impermanent thing can stain that nature. It is the perfection before the serpent gets to Adam and Eve in the garden.
As you live, you collect ‘ornaments’. Call them whatever you like, they take many forms. Some ornaments are due to knowledge we gain, personality traits we form, influences and perceptions others impose upon us that we internalize, experiences we hold onto, our vision of ourselves, our fears, pains joys, family...this list is as numerous as the things we encounter as we live. All these things become ornaments which cover our true nature.
The more ornaments we collect, and the longer we allow them to stay without ever seeing the real tree, the more we begin to forget what we are. Just as the generation who never experienced anything but a Christmas tree, never having seen them taken down, sees the ornamented tree as natural, normal, with no contrast to the truly natural tree in its naked state, we also begin to take our ornamented self as the ‘real’ self. This does not imply that the ornaments are wholly unreal, or even not beautiful on one level, but that they are not to be taken as the tree. If they are, they too will lose their beauty. Eventually, someone will come along, who is used to the Christmas tree being decorated, and they will want to decorate the decorations.
There will come a point, however, for every tree, when the decorations can no longer be supported. Even someone who has seen nothing other than the decorated version of the tree begins to see there is something underlying the decorations, something that is beyond what they’ve seen. Every tree will have its own breaking point when it can no longer hold the decorations. It must return to its original state.
What is this original state? You will be frustrated to know that words cannot describe it. Some people will rebel against the idea that words cannot describe what we truly are and they will demand the information. This is no different than trying to explain what a natural tree looks like to someone who has only ever seen a decorated Christmas tree. They may have a sense of what is underneath, even understand bits and pieces of what the tree underneath is like, but to really understand, they must go to the forest. Your forest is within.
Part of the reason I directed you to imagine that moment of shock, in the beginning of the sermon, is because that is like shaking the Christmas tree with a big jolt. Ornaments drop off in the sudden shock, and more parts of the natural tree are revealed. The ornaments of anxiety, self consciousness, fear about the future, so many things that cover our natural state in God, can be shaken off in such ways. Prayer, meditation, silence, grace- there are so many things that help us to see beyond the ornaments.
Of course, these words are also all ornaments, concepts that are meant to spark something more. They are not meant to be the truth but just a kind of jolt to get you to see beyond some of the ornaments that seem to be your life, but are not the underlying reality of it. We can see, in this comparison, that no matter how many ornaments are there, whether we even become aware of the tree itself or not, the natural state of the tree remains, no matter what. The ornaments could not even fool you into believing they were a real part of the tree without the tree itself providing a platform for the show.
As you start your week, be aware of what decorates your true nature. Don’t try to add more concepts to what you think about who you really are, just shake the tree. Shake it with awareness, prayer, stillness, silence. See the grace that is already, and always, yours. Understand that no matter what your life looks like, what your ideas about your life are, you are the natural tree, perfect, with nothing else to be done.