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.
These are very lofty ideas- nice to read, and maybe even comforting on some levels, but often in stark contrast to our daily lives. If we don’t acknowledge that right from the start, most of us will run away. We want the truth and peace these words are pointing to, but the contrast between our ‘reality’ and our desire for awakening can be almost numbing, causing us to turn to what is easily seen rather than what is subtle.
Take a breath with me for a moment and go back and read the first paragraph again. Do this when you have the time to really sit down and think about what you’re reading, and watch your reactions as you go. Don’t try to force things but rather do it as a meditation, just following the paths of your thoughts. When you are done, continue on.
I will use some of my own experiences as an example to help us first hold on, and then let go- your experience may be similar, or totally different, and it isn’t a measuring stick or judgement of some kind of spiritual attainment.
My first temptation, when reading, and even writing, the first paragraph, is to reach out and grab its meaning with my intellect. I want to understand what is being conveyed in its relation to me, my life, my experience, my understanding. How do these ideas fit in with my understanding of myself and God? Is this consistent with my experience of life?
What is really going on here is that the intellect, the ego, my idea of the entirety of my existence and identity, is trying to hold on to something familiar. It does this by creating a strong concept of various parts and then fusing them together to create an understandable idea which we might call our life, our existence.
We do this with each other, and ourselves, all the time. We take a composite of the things we see, physical things, personality traits, many different things, and we believe that once we get a certain number of parts, we can then use them to make up our idea of someone, or ourselves. But this isn’t who we are. This is merely a synthetic version of us that allows the intellect to deal with something definable.
There isn’t anything inherently wrong with this, but if we stop here, we commit to buying in to a world which will string us along forever. It’s a maze of our own making, that has no end, unless we see that we are creating the turns as we go. It’s only a problem when we don’t see it for what it is- a total fabrication that has no lasting truth. If you need proof, simply look to death, the apparent ending of your creation.
Getting back to reading the paragraph, seeing that I am first drawn to create something that, conceptually, I can hold on to, that makes some kind of sense to me even if it isn’t the actual “Truth”, my intellect slowly starts to turn on itself. It does this because the paragraph itself is leading me to question my own perception of things. The very creation that I’ve built to try to understand these ideas begins to look back on itself. What happens when a creation looks back at the creator and realizes there isn’t any difference between the two? This is what many believe is the beginning of the spiritual journey, the first genuine step toward Truth.
So, I first, quite naturally, started to build a conceptual understanding of what I was reading. But as I read further, I realized that the very meaning of the paragraph itself was pointing out that whatever it is that i thought I was understanding, the real meaning of whatever I had built to believe I understood something, must now be dismantled. More simply put, my understanding was telling me that what I thought was understanding, actually wasn’t at all.
It’s a deep paradox that we can only ‘understand’ once we experience that we have no ability to understand- when one is ready, this will catapult us into a totally different realm of relationship with God. When I watched what I was trying to do as I read the paragraph, I was suddenly face to face with the helplessness, the futility, of relying on my own effort and understanding.
In some strange way, the powerlessness of my own understanding was the key to finding the power of something beyond myself- kind of sounds like ‘my power is perfected in weakness’, doesn’t it?
What I’m lead to from that moment of being completely turned inside out is...stillness, silence, being. For a moment, ALL anxiety, responsibility, opinion, grasping, need for understanding, all things relating to yourself as a single person looking for truth in a world, are dissolved into a pure moment of total communion with God. The realization that the ultimate understanding is realizing you are powerless to ‘have’ understanding is the saving Grace of Christ Himself. This is what being saved is all about.
Although I’m using my own reading of a seemingly simple paragraph here to illustrate a way to ‘wake up’, this takes innumerable forms for us in the world. Often, we are put through, or more aptly we put ourselves through, enormous trials in life before we begin to see just how silly it is for us to put our faith in our own creation, and then lament being stuck in what we created. One day, a person may look around and find that the things that previously gave them so much joy, simply don’t touch them anymore. Or maybe we have dealt with the loss of a loved one, changing our entire perspective on what life is, what brings us joy, who we are and what we are supposed to do in the world. These are moments when we are open to see who we really are, what our existence really is, beyond how we choose to define things. Who are we when we can no longer use anything in the world to define us?
So, when I talk about how we secretly harbor a belief in ourselves and the world, even as we profess our faith in Christ, our belief in God, our desire to know God, it is totally true for us- until is isn’t. It can be no other way. We will be lost, until we realize we never were lost at all. We will rely on our understanding, until that understanding turns around on itself and sees it has no real power to do anything but play in a world of its own making. When the world stops making sense, when the things we used to identify and understand life go away, be still and realize this is an opportunity to be closer to God, to see who we REALLY are. When we are ready, Christ will be waiting where he has always been, within.