Is this overkill? Must we go on and on examining our conscience? When do we get to the fun stuff? Often religion has been, or at least is seen as too heavily guilt -based or shame –based. But when Jesus tells us that the kingdom of God is at hand, and furthermore, the kingdom of God is within us… that’s an invitation, a promise, not a guilt trip.
Jesus was once asked when the kingdom of God would come. The kingdom of God, Jesus replied, is not something people will be able to see and point to. Then came these striking words: “Neither shall they say, Look here! or, look there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21) With these words, Jesus gave voice to a teaching that is universal and timeless. Look into every great religious, spiritual, and wisdom tradition, and we find the same precept — that life’s ultimate truth, its ultimate treasure, lies within us.
With the cacophony of voices and values all around us, that truth can be hard to hear. A big gift of my time at Sorrento Centre last June and again in November, was to take part in a process developed in the Quaker tradition called The Clearness Committee – a way to resolve our own issues with the wisdom of community. If the term `Clearness Committee’ sounds like it comes from the 60’s it does – the 1660’s.
The process is that a focus person chooses an issue or life choice they are facing and takes about 15-20 minutes to share that. Then for the next two hours they ask for honest questions. But they must be honest questions – not advice, comparison, fixing, judging, etc. disguised as a question – e.g. “Have you thought of seeing a psychiatrist?” is NOT an honest question! ‘What is the colour or shape of your sorrow’, is an honest question. It’s one the question-giver can’t possible know the answer to.
Behind the Clearness committee is a simple but crucial conviction: each of us has an inner teacher, a voice of truth, that offers the guidance and power we need to deal with our problems. But that inner voice is often garbled by various kinds of inward and outward interference. The function of the Clearness Committee is not to give advice or `fix’ people from the outside in but rather to help people remove the interference so that they can discover their own wisdom from the inside out.”
There is a poem by Denise Levertov that says it beautifully:
Just when you seem to yourself
nothing but a flimsy web
of questions, you are given
the questions of others to hold
in the emptiness of your hands,
songbird eggs that can still hatch
if you keep them warm,
butterflies opening and closing themselves,
in your cupped palms, trusting you not to injure
their scintillant fur, their dust.
You are given the questions of others
as if they were answers
to all you ask. Yes, perhaps
this gift is your answer.
This way of listening to God and to your own soul, fits beautifully with step 10, which does not emphasize a moral inventory (that was in step 4), as that can become too self-absorbed and self-critical, but it speaks of a “personal inventory.” In other words, just watch yourself objectively, calmly, and compassionately.
Rohr says that when you are able to do this from the perspective of a grounded child of God, from this most positive and dignified position you can let go of, and even easily “admit your wrongs.” You are being held so strongly and so deeply that you can stop holding onto, or defending, yourself. God forever sees and loves the Christ spirit in you; it is only we who doubt our divine identity as children of God. Don’t judge – just look – and now with the very eyes of God. Just think, if we looked at ourselves that way, and if we looked at others that way, with just a bit of honesty and courage, we could do wonders. p.90
He continues, …”whenever we do anything stupid, cruel, evil or destructive to ourselves or others, we are at that moment unconscious, and unconscious of our identity. If we were fully conscious, we would never do it. Loving people are always highly conscious people.” p91
So do conscious people love their enemies, as Jesus commanded his disciples? Why wouldn’t Jesus just say – `love all beings.’ Ultimately I think that is what he is saying, but if we don’t admit that at some level, that there are those who have caused harm and grief by their actions or inactions, or that there are parts of ourselves that we would rather live without, then there is simply an uneasy co-habitation – a taking up of space and energy, an unacknowledged war mentally or spiritually, if not physically.
Rohr says, `When we can on some level even love our sins and imperfections, which are our “enemies”, we are fully conscious and fully liberated. God, who is Universal Consciousness itself, knows all things, absorbs all things, and forgives all things…’ p92
There is a lovely quote from the book of Wisdom, which unfortunately didn’t make it into the Protestant Bible. It says:
“Yes, you love all that exists, you hold nothing of what you have made in abhorrence, or had you hated anything, you would not have formed it.
And how, had you not willed it, would a thing persist in being?
How could it be conserved if not called forth by You?
You spare all things, because all things are yours,
Lord, lover of life, you whose imperishable sprit is in all.” Wisdom 11:25-12:1
Each week for the 12 steps series we have been saying the serenity prayer together – and I know there are many variations but I read this one on Thursday, and I thought, how perfect for today – it’s at the end of the bulletin if you want to take it home.
God grant me the serenity to stop beating myself up
for not doing things perfectly,
the courage to forgive myself
because I’m working on doing better,
and the wisdom to know
that you already love me just the way I am. Amen.