Sermon for August 19, 2018
“Sometimes life will make us feel like a train on railroad tracks. Other times life will make us feel like an eagle with the whole sky to itself. Concern yourself with the “who” that feels, not with what is felt.”
If we knew the time of our death, and the way it would happen, how would that affect the course of our lives? How would this knowledge affect not only our choices, but our enjoyment of our lives? Now expand this idea and assume that we had knowledge of many of the biggest ‘forks in the road’ that would come, and what we would do. Again, how would this change the ways we enjoy life as we currently know it? As much as one might have feared many things that have come, or fear things yet to come, does the mystery of it all contribute to the enjoyment of life?
Now think about times in our lives when we are suffering versus times when we feel happy and free. When we are suffering, we just want to know how to make it stop. We want answers, ways to remedy whatever the situation we find ourselves caught up in. When we are happy, we enjoy the mystery and spontaneity of life. The unknown is actually part of the fun.
Remember a time when you were really unhappy- stuck in a job you didn’t like, admitted to a hospital, bed ridden at home with an illness, or just diagnosed with a disease. Did you embrace the ‘newness’ of it all and just accept whatever might come? Or, did you try to learn everything you could about the situation you were in, plan for what may come, get as much information as you could so that you could be prepared and control whatever you could?
Now think about times in your life that you were feeling happy, fulfilled, free to explore life. Let’s say you decided, in this great time in your life, to take a vacation. Did you decide to go on vacation because you would know everything that would happen, because it would add to your control? I suspect that the unknown, the mystery of new experiences, embracing a certain lack of control, was what made the idea of a vacation so enticing. It is a natural extension of the freedom one feels when life just feels good.
We will naturally vacillate between these two states, and many grey areas in between, as our lives progress. We can feel great anxiety as we transition between these states, never really knowing what may come. One experience forces us to ultimately give up the illusion of control in facing a painful reality while the other sets up an illusion that we get to choose to give up control. While different in method, the basic realization is the same- your idea of control is only an idea. You never really lost control in the bad times and you never really chose to give up control in the good times either.
This is all a game to modulate the vast unknown of life into something that is not overwhelming to our ego(our limited sense of self). Too much control and life is boring, too little control and we’re totally overwhelmed. In reality, your perception is simply manufactured.
Now go back to the idea we started with, the contrast between the mystery of our lives versus having prior knowledge of all these good and bad times, how they would start and be resolved, and even our ultimate death. We now begin, hopefully, to see a glimpse into the state of tension under which we live-
WE ARE CONSTANTLY CRAVING KNOWLEDGE IN THE MIDST OF THE MYSTERY OF LIFE AND CONTROL IN THE MIDST OF SUFFERING. AT THE SAME TIME, WE DESPERATELY WANT THE JOY THAT THE MYSTERY OF LIFE ALLOWS, AND TO GIVE UP CONTROL IN THE ENJOYMENT OF OUR MOST HAPPY TIMES.
If we don’t see this game we play for what it is, it will be a constant source of suffering. We can easily fool ourselves into believing we really want knowledge and control, or we really want the fun of the mystery and letting go. Think about a physicist who spends their entire life investigating the mysteries of the universe. Although they may proclaim they want to find out the answers, if they suddenly were given answers to all they asked, I doubt a single one could bear the weight of the end of the search.
What we are really addicted to is the game of managing fun versus terror, love versus fear, mystery versus knowledge, control versus letting go etc. Even more than the game, we are addicted to the identity, that we’ve created, that experiences this game. When the game begins to lose its luster, the identity begins to crack. Through this crack, we begin to glimpse our true identity.
When we truly realize the condition we find ourselves in, not just intellectually, but experientially, a different kind of being will dawn from within. Rather than focusing on whether the river is rushing or trickling, we begin to wonder who is watching. The tension between the mystery and knowledge of our lives, the control and letting go of our experience, begins to yield to the question of who it is that can now identify this tension and see the game.
It is this turn within that opens us to the Grace of God. It is less an “act” that we accomplish through effort and more of an allowing that we become open to. We are not gaining anything extra rather we are losing the entanglement in the game of the world that formerly monopolized our attention. From this, a stillness, a silence, a mundane kind of peace with everyday things, becomes available. Beyond this, words are of no use.
I want to take a moment to thank everyone who has commented, emailed, quietly read, or otherwise been involved with Quiet Grace Mission. I’m considering posting audio versions of the sermons so if this is something you would be interested in, please email and let me know so I can gauge interest in that kind of content. As we grow, I hope to expand our charity work so please share us with friends and family as we don’t do any paid advertising. Have a great week!