Turning Toward Other-Power

POEM: Rumi Quotes (dedicated to Sufis killed in Egypt this week)

1.
“Be empty of worrying.
Think of who created thought!
Why do you stay in prison
When the door is so wide open?”

2.
“You are so weak. Give up to grace.
The ocean takes care of each wave till it gets to shore.
You need more help than you know.” 

3.
“Be melting snow.
Wash yourself of yourself.” 

4.
“Brother, Sister, stand the pain.
Escape the poison of your impulses.
The sky will bow to your beauty, if you do.
Learn to light the candle. Rise with the sun.
Turn away from the cave of your sleeping.
That way a thorn expands to a rose.” 


READING: Philippians 4: 4-9

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.


REFLECTION

The hymn we just sang talks about turning. To turn, turn, will be our delight, till by turning, turning we come round right. It is believed the turning talked about has a couple meanings in the hymn. It is a turning in a specific dance which the Shakers did, a dance centered on turning. I should mention here the Sufis who were the target of Fridays terrorist attack in Egypt. Sufism is the mystical tradition of Islam, and Muslim fundamentalists despise the tradition. Sufis too have a dance tradition focused on turning. The twirling dervishes, they are known as. So I think of all those lost as I give this. In fact, come to think of it, this is very much a sermon in line with that tradition. If only the terrorists could follow the Sufis and their focus on inner peace and connection to God.

Anyway, turning can be about dance, but turning can also point to the biblical concept of turning to God, a teaching found throughout the scriptures.

The turning to God found in the scriptures is really a returning. It is us going home.

We are talking about a return home, a home coming, God being our home. Sometimes, we travel so far away for so long, we forget where we come from, we forget what is home. It is akin to spiritual amnesia. We need prompting to turn and look at what is home so we can return.

Why is this important? Because turning homeward is where we find peace. Returning to the home-place, to the Bethel of God, is where we find ourselves and ourselves calm, comforted, and cared for. And isn't that what we all want in life - to feel calmness in our souls, to feel comforted amid the suffering of life, and to know we are cared for in the profoundest of ways?

What are we returning to? We are returning to who we were meant to be, who we are created to be . We were created as an essential part of God's good creation. We were created as carriers of God's likeness in our very being. We were created to be at peace and at one with God and the world. We were created to be the hands, feet, and heart of God in the world, tasked with the work of compassion and care-giving.

How far have we strayed as a people. How distant is the Garden of Eden from us. How great have we strayed from the original vision of God.

So how do we return? Here’s a hymn that gives an answer to consider.



The hymn is interesting. It conflates, joins together two movements. One movement is turning our eyes upon Jesus. The other is casting our care upon God. They are combined. The hymns presents turning our eyes upon Jesus and casting our cares upon him as two sides of the same coin.

This hymn presents what we might call the classical Christian vision of self-help. Want to be a better self? Want to know inner-peace, experience hope and courage in the fact of life’s trials? Well, the answer we find in the hymn. It gives us the classical Christian answer: Don’t go inward, cast outward, upward. Turn your eyes, your care, your strife upon Jesus, give all that holds you back to God.

Lest we think this is just a Western Christian notion, I will inform you it is not. There is a form of Buddhism built upon the idea of casting our cares outward to a Power that can better handle it. Pure Land Buddhism it is called and it may be called the most popular form of Buddhism in the world. Pure Land Buddhism’s main idea is first, that human life is so frail and fallible, the age we live in is so lost and hopeless, namely because self-power is doomed to failure. And because self-power is doomed to failure, we must call upon another power, on Other Power, on the Other Power of Buddha and the Buddha's Grace. Pure Land Buddhism parallels the classical Christian view of salvation, which we must make clear predates Pure Land Buddhism. That people instinctively feel the need for Grace everyone tells us something, I think.

I know I preach a lot about humility. Maybe too much for some. In a way, I understand. For the average, already-humbled person, all the talk about humility amounts to preaching to the choir, preaching humility to people drowning in humility, even humiliation.

But I would say this is a misunderstanding of humility. Humility as a practice is not meant to beat ourselves up when we are down, diminish ourselves as persons or saying we are unimportant. Humility is dynamic and looks differently depending where you are in life. For the powerful and the prideful, humility means to bring the mountains low. Mary’s words as she contemplates the arrival of her son Jesus comes to mind:

"Throughout all generations.
He hath shewed strength with his arm:
he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath brought down – humbled – the mighty from their seat."

For the meek and vulnerable, for the lost and alone, for those humbled by the circumstances around them, for those grieving and heartbroken, humility is something different. Humility in the already-humbled amounts to this: from our low estate, looking up. From our helpless state, going to God. From our sorrow with its sated tears, letting go of our sadness and grief and letting God have it.

So the already-humble give us a truer picture of humility. The powerful and prideful do not see the reality that we will all be brought low, we will all get sick and face the inevitability of mortality, and must depend on Other Power in some form. The powerful and the prideful are more protected from the reality of suffering and impermanence. The process of being humbled, of being brought down from our high horses so we can see God with all the people, is extra hard for the rich and famous and powerful. The weak and vulnerable know the reality of suffering and impermanence because it is all around them. And they show us the truth and what to do in the fact of the truth.

We are not in control – that is the truth.

And what to do? Give it to God.

Jesus himself pointed to this in a discussion with a rich man that wanted to follow him. Jesus famously quipped, it is harder for a camel to go through the eyes of a pin needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Why? Because a rich man with the instant power and pride that riches bring, has a harder time letting go and letting God. They have made a habit of relying on themselves, their power, their abilities, their resources to get by and thrive. To give that away and admit they are not in control is simply harder because they've never had to do it. The sad thing is they eventually must. Suffering, impermanence, mortality finds everyone. But it is hard, even harder to face. Generally speaking, those people who've had it relatively easy in life, take the inescapable reality of death just a little harder.

Who has it easiest when to comes to understanding and entering the kingdom of heaven according to Jesus? Children. Children were in fact the model of how to do it. Jesus said "whosoever does not receive the kingdom of heaven like a child shall not enter it." Children naturally let go and let God. They naturally say I need help, I cannot do it on my own, I give it to you God to take and handle. Children are the model of trusting in Other Power because self-power is simply insufficient.

Maybe that is why when my mother sang me this beautiful hymn, I understood it so and was comforted and felt safe.

Turning our eyes upon Jesus, turning our eyes upon Other Power as Pure Land Buddhism would say, is the perfect picture of the practice of humility. Letting Go and Letting God, that cliché pretty much describes what I am talking about when I preach humility. Humility is casting our care upon God because, well, we need all the help we can get.

I'd like to end by singing the second verse to our hymn 'Tis a gift to be simple." It is a verse I actually wrote. Let us sing it as a collective prayer that lifts up the true meaning of humility and urges us to internalize it.

But before we do, here's the question - what is the simple gift? It is that we can give our troubles to God... and it's exactly what God wants for Christmas.





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