Sunday Worship Service, March 2009

Seeing Our Lives As Narrative and Not Accounts

LIGHTING OF THE FOUR CANDLES

Besides lighting the altar candles,

(which represent the heat and light of the Lord)

  1. We light this first candle to honor the GOOD and TRUTH to be found in all spiritual traditions, including our own which is an enlightened Christianity in the Swedenborgian perspective..
  1. We light this second candle to honor the Earth and all of life as the creation of the Divine—the One Lord and God of us all.
  1. We light this third candle to HONOR and SUPPORT the variety of individual paths which, together, make our one spiritual community.
  1. And finally we light this fourth candle to honor and provide an open and safe place for all who seek greater understanding and a life of deepening spirituality.

CALL TO WORSHIP

As a call to worship I want to hold up EXCELLENCE.  Real quality. Doesn’t real excellence really get your attention?

Now I’m not talking about perfectionism, which is a repetitive, driven state born of scarcity and a soul that is squeezed in fear.

Excellence, on the other hand, is born of abundance sailing right into the heart of its artistic demands.  Excellence comes from happiness and victory,,,,,,,of practiced things working completely well, and somehow the grace and heart of heaven tip their hat and twinkle around their edges.  And we all know then that something very special has crossed our life.

Perhaps you’ve seen excellence in certain moments of sports——that shot that could not be more perfect; or to see the human body………how excellent it is in all its complexity; or in the arts, someone singing or playing their instrument effortlessly, and with a purity and beauty that brings you more palatably in touch with your own soul.

These are gifts………even if we pay to see them.  These are moments that transcend the routine of ordinary life, times that give us chills of excitement, or exhilaration that is more deep and sensual

Born of discipline that births images of effortlessness made easy, excellence seems at times to touch origins of spiritual cause.   Is that where it all comes from?

Is not God excellent———indeed, the most excellent of all?  And when, through excellence, we bump or back into God, is it any wonder life is suddenly more worthwhile of our living it?

Thank you Lord for the inclination and inspiration to excellence.  Thank you for being its author.
Today is the Sabbath. And the Lord has told us that the Sabbath is a day of  not just physical rest, but of greater spiritual focus.   It’s a time to pull back that curtain of less real things and enter into a quiet and sacred place together——-a place where the Lord can speak to us—–a place where we can catch up to ourselves……..to feel more deeply who we truly are——in quiet and in peace…….in reflection and dedication.

God is a Spirit.  And He is here now.

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OPENING PRAYER

I’d like to begin this prayer with a rather amazing quote from Swedenborg.  This is from his book called Heavenly Secrets—-AC 1382.

“In the NOW of the angels, they have together things past and future,,,,,hence they have no concern about things to come, nor have they ever any idea of death, but only an idea of life: thus in all their NOW, there is the Eternity and Infinity of the Lord.”

Oh my God Dear Lord……..how can You be sooooooo wonderful,,,,,,,,sooooooo profoundly PEACEFUL, so utterly GOOD and loving——-and, then, the Divine Truth as well———-OH MY GOD.

Oh My God.

I am speechless before You.
Prayers and concerns for others and self

SCRIPTURE READING Numbers 13:25-33.  And Numbers 14: 1-10

MESSAGE

Seeing Our Lives As Narrative and Not Accounts

Do you ever get tired of all the endless details of your life that just seem to keep coming with monotonous regularity?  It can sometimes seem like one-darn-thing-after-another that never ends———-an eternal stream of just a lot of various events “signifying nothing,” as Shakespeare put it.

I’ve heard this sentiment especially at time from weary mothers.

These words stay with me because they are soooo very human.

Any one of us could say that at times, especially when we’re going through a string of problems, heartaches, or stresses.

Clearly the Children of Israel knew one-darn-thing-after-another in their long and arduous journey to the holy land.  Can you imagine that long trek in the dessert?

  • Month after month……
  • year after year.
  • The worry.
  • The despair at times.
  • The hope and then cycles of hopelessness pushing against hope over and over again!!

But herein lies an interesting problem.  One of our mistakes is if we think of our lives as a collection of unconnected “one darn things”——-a pile of tinker toys all disassembled and just laying all around in disarray and chaos.

To think this way about my life is to think of my life as an account, almost like a series of numbers, rather than a story of whole and connected meaning. Reducing ourselves this way is a devastating disservice to who we truly are.

A narrative or story of my life, on the other hand, has a plot and meaning.  One event interacts with another event and has effects.  A story focuses more on the because of things, as in “the wife died, and then the husband died of grief.”  A story tells of felt meaning; of purpose and desires.

In Denver a few years ago, Dr. Susan Baille spoke of Moments That Matter in church growth.  She relayed an example from her own life.  Her father had polio, which on the surface seems awfullllllllll…..and in one sense it was. BUT because he had to struggle soooooooooooo very hard with almost everything he did, it made him a very strong and determined man.  This is meaning; this is story.

In 1978 I had to write an extensive autobiography of my life before beginning Primal Therapy.  What a difference that was from just simply writing an account of my life. The instructions were simple: write the story of your life.  Not only tell us WHAT happened, but tell us how you FEEL about what happened.  In minutes I was taken to much greater depths of meaning and feeling than I had ever known before.

It is important to tell, at least from time to time, the story of who we truly and fully are——-even if we tell it only to ourselves——–because otherwise we run the risk of thinking we are just a pile of unconnected experiences, a pile of information on a computer card, which means we are then losing track of who we truly are!!

Indeed, in telling my own story for example,,,,,,,I found out just how incredibly sweet I am at the deeper levels of my being, and how deeply I need to love and be loved———–my life, I found out, depends on it in fact.

Without telling our story, we can come to accept the edited version as the real me—–you know the version we put out for everyone else to think is the real thing.

Without knowing our own story we allow our lives to be fuzzy, just a collection of unrelated items, not knowing what good things might be bad, and what bad things might actually be good.

In the story of the Children of Israel and the first encounter with the promised land,,,,,,,they were horrified…….and full of despair,,,,,,yet when we look at the deeper, spiritual meaning of this story, it’s really about what happens to people when they have a spiritual awakening……..they begin, for the very first time, to see HUGE problems inside themselves———–and the despair and dismay that can go along with that.  At first this seems like a terrible thing, but it is actually a VERY good thing in the long run of their spiritual journey.
Another danger is that, without grasping our true story, we can block out the past and therefore end up not see the present or where we are going. Without knowing our own story, we may not realize there’s something new being born in us every day.

When my children were quite young, they could never remember our street address. But, when I’d read stories to them, I would occasionally vary the story a bit just for the fun of it. They would IMMEDIATELY react VERY strongly and promptly correct me.  When we speak of ourselves by telling our story we become more sensitive to how we have, and are, changing.  In addition, this reduces our chance of seeing that we have the opportunity to be the midwives of our own lives——to have a hand in fashioning who we truly want to be and become.

Becoming aware of the story of my life means knowing the truth about myself – recalling and owning things about me that I would just as soon wish to forget, as well as owning the valued aspects of myself that my modesty may keep hidden.

This is all about humanizing ourselves, about seeing ourselves as DEEPLY human, and the most important point here is that anything that is known as deeply human will also be intrinsically spiritual. You cannot be spiritual if you cannot be human first. Or, as Swedenborg puts it: “the way to the Divine is THRU the human.”

This is the great insight that Swedenborg brings when he talks about the Divine Human……..that God is essentially human in His outer nature, actually the yardstick of our humanness, but Divine in his interior nature.  God is more human than we are!!!

Soooooo, to be human, especially to be seen and known as deeply human by telling our STORY, is precisely where we need to go.  By knowing our stories, writes John Shea, “we understand our pain as true narrative which helps us bear it; we turn our ecstacy into narrative so we can prolong it; and we tell our stories to live more deeply.”

A wonderful confirmation of all this, is that it is no accident that the Lord Himself used story after story, called parables, to convey the deeper, more spiritual side of life.  And when we really understand and value ourselves profoundly deeply, as human beings born of God,

born of that Divine Love and Wisdom,

then, more and more,  we will WANT to see our lives as one long, incredible, beautiful journey of one soul finding its way back AUTHENTICALLY to the arms of its creator————beautiful in our inner nature and being…..and beautiful in the ways the Lord has led us back to that center within ourselves.

It is equally true that our inner story can also sustain us when suffering comes our way.  We then see our pains and problems as part of a much bigger story with far-reaching purpose and meaning inherent in all we experience. This meaning makes our suffering much easier to bear.  Indeed, acknowledging our story can be an act of healing itself.

Sue Monk Kidd writes, “To come to an inner story of our pain carries us into the heart of it……it puts us in an inner room with our suffering and can allow us to dialogue with it in God’s presence.”  Me, my painful experiences, and God – from such a triage much healing is possible.

Coming to know our own story doesn’t necessarily mean we write it down (though this can be immensely helpful), nor does it mean we tell it to others (though this is extremely therapeutic).  It does mean above all that we know it and write it on the walls of our hearts. The best scenario, however, is when we can tell our story to another and know that they can truly hear it.

Have you ever had someone listen to you DEEPLY……….listen to your FEELINGS, as well as your thoughts————–listen to the story of your life?
Our personal stories are the precious and unique movements of our souls. Respect for ourselves means we must necessarily be discreet in selecting to whom we entrust such treasure.  It calls for the truest of friends or the most competent of counselors.  These are rare people to find today.

I believe that it is by entering that deep place inside us where our story is kept that we come the closest to the One who began the story of our lives.  It is the One who travels with us all the way to its fulfilling end, no matter what.
Are you aware that God has always been intimately connected to the true story of your life-——–inspiring it; weaving it full of innocence, meaning, goodness, and truth; knowing absolutely every last detail of meaning, dreams and sorrows, and guiding it along the lines of your deepest, most breathtaking aspirations.

What are some of your deepest dreams? Do you have the courage to visit them——–to let yourself feel and know what they are?

As part of the story of your own life, can you take a moment now and let yourself know a part of your own dreams?

What do you most deeply desire and dream of?  To know that you see, is to know the dream maker and yourself even better.

We are NOT merely statistics or data on a computer card.  We are IMMENSE bundles of profound meaning that is precious and it lies DEEP within us. We are persons of heart and FEELING and MEANING that is sacred and EXTREMEMLY essential and significant.

We are creatures of God looking for the cradle of our soul’s eternal home where we will rest in masses and full measures of meaning………..and the story of our lives is the doorway to that whole world.

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