Sermon given at Gloucester U.U. Church
I thank you for this time to speak to you. I would like to use it as an opportunity to share, primarily through personal anecdotes, some important insights I have gained over the years. This probably should be three sermons, but by the time get up here next I may already have three more written.
I see each step in my life as another up a mountain path from my Ego Self at the base to my Higher Self at the summit -- the first characterized by victimization and the second by acceptance. Each time I've made the conscious choice to leave behind another aspect of the victim role -- that is, "lay my burden down" [from opening hymn] -- the added lightness to my knapsack permits me to rise further up the slope.
We've all seen -- and perhaps even have been -- that child in kindergarten who is unusually preoccupied with the behavior of the other children: "Melissa's squishing me! . . . Jimmy said something mean to me!" Whether or not anyone is intentionally hurting the child, being a victim is the best way she or he can figure out to get attention. When we're outside of it, we can see it for the manipulative pattern that it is -- fulfilling itself by drawing hurtful behavior from the other children. But many of us adults continue to do some version of the same thing, the difference being that we have figured out how to do so while maintaining the appearance of being an adult. Ever noticed how long people can go on exchanging anecdotes about health problems and hospital visits? Membership in the victim club gives us something "in common". When we get out of victim mode we begin truly listening to each other.
We are a global society of victims. If everyone were to unilaterally give up the victim role, strife would end in many flash points of the world -- whether it be Northern Ireland, the Middle East, within families or within ourselves. It preys upon us like an addiction, keeping us oppressed and unhappy, from moving forward, fulfilling our potential, or from attaining what would be our natural state of joy and bliss -- like the two-year-old of the Opening Words.
To me, a story well-told is one in which I find myself able to identify with every character. Watching a video about domestic violence, I was moved by how much the batterers reminded me of myself. Many of their feelings seemed true for men across the board, not just a psychotic fringe. They perceived themselves as victims of the partners they had physically abused, in fact they were so deeply sunk into the victim identity, so desperate and so hopeless, as to completely lose it, to go berserk.
However much I would like to think of the victim state as having been thrust upon me, the fact is that I have chosen it. Why?... because it is familiar, it has usually gotten me attention of some sort, and it's mostly all I've seen modeled. In today's reading, Jesus draws attention to the fact that we choose to be victims when he tells the paralyzed man simply to take up his bed and walk.
What has helped me to leave behind the victim role has been a new understanding of how everything that happens to me is for my eventual highest good. I have opened to a Divine Presence, having it's own Divine Order -- which allows me to look back on my life and say, "I wouldn't change a thing!"
I acquired this spiritual perspective after working hard at healing my early hurts at an emotional level -- expressing anger or grief over past upsets -- mostly through Re-evaluation Counseling. This was an important process of separating people from their patterns and realizing I've always done the best I could in every given moment.
Along with the concept of Divine Order has come the concept of guardian angels. I think I've figured out how my angel operates. He's up there somewhere saying, "Are you going to see clear and do the right thing or am I going to have to do it for you?" He arranges for certain things to happen at prescribed times and prevents things from happening at other times. My angel speaks to me through intuitive, gut feelings. Many of us, men in particular, have difficulty even recognizing when we're having intuitive feelings, let alone rely on them for anything.
Whatever negative thoughts I harbor towards others tend to be thoughts I am also harboring towards myself. A victim-free perspective means not only forgiving, but perhaps even blessing "those who trespass against us". While we should not deny our anger, we should realize that self-righteous anger is to be worked through and left behind -- and that holding on to it is a decision to remain the victim. In fact, we only have two choices: running laps around the victim track or seeking the divine light shining through. We know we've passed the test when we can climb out of the smouldering wreckage and remark without urgency: "My, my, today didn't turn out at all the way I'd planned!" Likewise, however I am feeling about myself tends to get reflected back at me by the universe. Days I'm feeling impatient tend to be days someone cuts me off at a rotary. Bless yourself, on the other hand, and strangers join in -- such as one guy standing in front of a liquor store who greeted me with, "Say, aren't you the Music Man? Good luck to you!" Other people simply reflect either the love we have for or the love we withhold from ourselves.
Our angels come through in the least likely form: the person whose affair with your partner brings that relationship to its needed termination; the child who greets you with a hug; from the police officer that decides not to issue you a ticket to the one who does. They all are, unconsciously, carrying out Divine Orders.
Stepping out of the victim mentality means seeking the positive lesson in every occurrence. Everything becomes a gift: good weather, bad weather; close friends, no friends. Nothing is coincidental. "Thy will be done" means that we accept the presence of Divine Wisdom rather than fight it.
It is never God's will that we should suffer needlessly; the God that I know wants the best for every one of us and does not punish. It is not the jealous, wrathful God of the Old Testament -- could that one have perhaps been the best concept of the divine that the society of the time could come up with?
Getting us in the position to move forward often requires the dismantling of the very structures we thought our lives depended on. I once heard someone express it this way: "Yes, the truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off." God is trying to position us to be not only the most effective in healing ourselves, but in healing the world at large as well. Christ, the teacher and messenger, is in all of us.
Each of us has our own unique piece of the truth to share, something that no one else can bring through in quite the same way. I may have a particular ear for musical truth, but others will have developed different sensitivities. They may not get a word I say or a note I play but notice that my sweater's on backwards or that I avert my eyes when I speak to them -- the "truths" they may read.
Between all of us we have the complete picture, just like when three people together can remember all the words to a song that none of them individually could totally recall. Like the main character in "Mission Impossible", we all at one time listened to a recording that destroyed itself at the conclusion of playback. Although the voice in the TV show said "Your mission, should you choose to accept it . . ." I think we all indeed chose to accept it; it's just that most of us continue struggling to remember what it was we heard on that tape.
This connects to some thoughts I'd like to share with you about prayer. Prayer is something most of us have been told to do, at some point, but (like parenting or relationships) for which we received little instruction. Many see prayer as a time to ask for things: please heal me from this disease, please find me a mate, etc. But this strikes me as praying from within the victim role. In fact, prayer time may be better used to ask questions, such as: What am I meant to learn from this disease? How am I meant to use this freedom from a primary relationship I am presently enjoying? "Give us this day our daily bread" has as much to do with insight as it does with bodily sustenance -- as some scholars have rendered the Aramaic original of the Lord's Prayer.
God and the angels don't do requests. They do see to it, however, that I am periodically brought "to my knees" -- down to the level of vulnerability required to bring about significant change. Forced to feel the underlying pain that I have been pretending wasn't there, I have been subjected to many a "dark night of the soul". The more I've given up addictive behaviors that kept me from feeling it, the deeper down this tunnel I have been brought. This is the core, where we bump against all the old wounds, where we build a foundation, the essence of our being. From down there we had those tantrums that we thought we had since outgrown the need for. If we cannot fortify the core, whatever we build will eventually topple.
Concurrent with this movement from my Ego Self to Higher Self, has come a whole new sense of what "love" is. I mostly heard about love from the radio. "I'll love you forever"... "I'll always be true"... no matter when you grew up, the lyrics all have something in common. It has been a great disappointment to discover that the fantasies described in popular love songs did not depict what happens between actual people. Almost all of them promote emotional over-dependence and addictive love. To quote these lines from Lionel Richie:
Are you somewhere feeling lonely, or is someone loving you?
Tell me how to win your heart, 'cause I haven't got a clue.
But let me start by saying... I love you.
If someone isn't "loving you" then you must be "somewhere feeling lonely", right? Music flows into the right, intuitive, side of the brain, with the lyrics floating on top -- lyrics penned by someone who admits he hasn't "got a clue". How can one grow up immune to indoctrination delivered by means such as these?
What has made me less cynical about all these songs is the realization that they are actually written, unconsciously, to God. Who else can be the giver or the object of such consuming love? Try recasting your favorite love song in this manner. It's not that such a love doesn't exist, it's simply not the kind that we mortals, however well-meaning, can handle. People are like reflections of God in the water -- water that is easily disturbed, light that is changeable. We would be much gentler to one another if we stopped expecting people to live up to expectations and fantasies that only God can fulfill.
There is a lovely song by Karla Bonoff about manifesting this. She starts off, in her typical fashion, lamenting the end of a romance; but she concludes it like few other songs that I know:
I'll think of you and wonder where you are
And when someday you see me on a crowded street
I think you'll see in my eyes
My life is complete
'Cause I learned from you as you were passing through
That Love would never find my heart a home
'Cause in the end we all walk alone
Walk alone or walk with God, however you'd like to think of it, it means giving up a long-held expectation.
For it may actually be that no profound moment can truly be shared. My joy is my own. No one else has ever been responsible for it and no one can ever be the source of it in the future. I need no one to complete me; nor is anyone capable of doing so. No experience I have enjoyed alone would have been improved or deepened by the presence of another. I deserve, and always have deserved, to thoroughly receive each moment -- having another to share it with was never a requirement. While I don't believe we can grow to our fullest without experiencing intimate relationships, we often can't grow to our fullest within them. Primary relationships can keep us in a perpetual childhood. Just as the child must grow up and eventually leave home -- and just as the parent should then step aside and bless their beloved children on their own journey -- we must free ourselves periodically from what no longer serves us. There has been much talk about our Inner Child; let us also be conscious of our Inner Parent who is not letting go of that child.
We cannot love anyone any better than we love ourselves, at least not without issuing false promises. Anyone who we feel withheld love from us was simply short on self-love. Let's not waste any more energy pining for the love we never got. Let's stop blaming our parents -- even if some of them were attempting to complete themselves through us -- and appreciate how well they did with what little they had. Stepping out of the victim role means abandoning the search for love from others -- whether from the past or the present -- for the simple reason that we are looking in the wrong place. Rev. Carlos Anderson, of Hope Church, had an actual ceremony in which he married himself -- which may be what it takes to get us to the Christ-like place of loving unconditionally.
When Orpheus was escorting his beloved Eurydice out of the underworld, his Higher Self knew he must not look back at her. But his Ego Self insisted on doing so. To not look feels like death, but to look is death. We all get presented with choices like this. Something, or someone, so beautiful that we seek ownership; a habit so familiar that we stay addicted. Telling that Ego Self "No" is painful; if it isn't we're probably not doing it for real. God doesn't cut us deals; "If you can assure my security, show me who will catch me, then I'll take this leap"... or "Bring me another partner (or job) and I'll leave this one." No; we have to be ready to go all the way -- no tether to the space capsule. Orpheus had almost made it out the mouth of the cave before he turned; it is the challenge presented to each one of us to make it to the light of day. Some days I feel those rays warming my face, and others I've got a bag over my head.
I chose a hymn and reading related to children because they have been some of the most honest, if not always the most articulate, teachers I have had on this topic. They've helped me resolve issues left from my own childhood. In addition to teaching in the classroom, I was a Big Brother volunteer and played a lot with with neighborhood children while in Western Mass. When I first began working with children in groups, it was important for me to be liked by them -- so much so that I was not a good ally to some of the so-called "behaviorally involved" children who needed someone to stand up against their patterns at the risk of not being liked. I had to feel more loved by the child within me, before I could respond effectively to problem situations with certain children I've worked with; in other words, I've had to give to myself more of what I'd been seeking from them.
Giving to myself means doing enjoyable things that have no particular neccessity. At the same time, it has meant opening to the idea that fulfilling my highest potential as a musician is quite possibly also what is best for the world. It means blessing myself whenever I make mistakes, bearing in mind that when I get home from giving a concert it will have made no difference to my cat how many notes I missed. It means taking myself on beautiful walks, intoning gently (reminiscent of Dorothy's "There's no place like home"): "There is no place I'd rather be, and no one I'd rather be with."
Join with me now in the spirit of prayer:
Please grant me the knowledge and the insight to become an open channel for Your eternal wisdom.
Let me see the ways I have held myself back by dwelling on images of myself as a victim.
Let my love be as pure as the flowers opening around me.
Let my growth be as certain as the most magnificent of trees.
Let me have abundance, whether it be in relationships or material things, in accordance with Your will and with what is best for our universe.
Thank you for the gift of my life in this time of great possibility. Amen.
[Thanks to Harvey Jackins, Carolyn Myss and Marriane Williamson for some of the insights paraphrased above].