Water

This is the second of a four-part sermon series on the spirituality of the Four Elements: Earth, Water, Air and Fire.

At the Embrace conference in Portland a few weeks ago we heard over and over again about the connection between spirituality and the earth, nature.

They talked about how the newly emerging form of Christianity, or what some think of as the new reformation, will not be supernatural, but natural and ordinary. It will be a more worldly spirituality, where God is in and through all things. There will be no hierarchy like there has been in traditional religion (God, angels, man, woman, child, earth), but all creation will be on an equal playing field. In addition, the Millennials and the “unaffiliated” (those who claim no religious or denominational affiliation) see ecology and sustainability as part of their spirituality. Closing speaker, Matthew Fox exhorted, “Religions fail us to the extent that they fail Mother Earth and so fail future generations.”

(For the full video version, click here.)

So, two weeks ago we began a series to recall the sacredness of all things. We began with our own sacredness and that of all other human beings. And now we’ve moved on to talk about the four elements: Earth, Water, Air and Fire. Recognizing their important place in our world and our lives, and remembering  that God is in all things will hopefully reconnect us to the Divine in natural, everyday ways, instead of just thinking about God in a supernatural way, as the church has emphasized throughout the ages.

Last week we talked about Earth, today we turn to Water.water

Because of who we are and where we live, I’d venture to say that, as a rule of thumb, we take water for granted. We turn on a faucet and it flows out generously, clean enough to drink. We don’t run out of water for showers or washing clothes or watering the garden. We’re privileged and don’t even think about it.

Here are a few interesting facts about water:

  • A person can live about a month without food, but only about a week without water.
  • And although there is about 332,500,000 cubic miles of it on earth – only one-hundredth of one percent of the world’s water is readily available for human use.
  • In a year, the average American residence uses over 100,000 gallons.
  • Since the average faucet releases 2 gallons of water per minute, you can save up to four gallons of water every morning by turning off the tap while you brush your teeth.
  • A running toilet can waste up to 200 gallons of water each day.
  • At one drip per second, a faucet can leak 3,000 gallons in a year.
  • A bath uses up to 70 gallons of water; a five-minute shower uses 10 to 25 gallons.
  • 748 million people in the world do not have access to an improved source of drinking water
  • Some 1.8 billion people worldwide drink water that is contaminated with feces.
  • On average, an American resident uses about 100 gallons of water per day.
  • On average, a European resident uses about 50 gallons of water per day.
  • On average, a resident of sub-Saharan Africa uses 2 to 5 gallons of water per day
  • It takes 2.6 gallons of water to make a sheet of paper.
  • It takes 6.3 gallons of water to make 17 ounces of plastic.
  • It takes 2,641 gallons of water to make a pair of jeans.
  • It takes 39,090 gallons of water to manufacture a new car.
  • In developing nations women and girls are primarily responsible for collecting water; on average, 25% of their day is spent on this task.
  • Collectively, South African women and children walk a daily distance equivalent to 16 trips to the moon and back to fetch water.

These facts alone should awaken us to the necessity of conserving water, being mindful of how we use it, and holding individuals, corporations, cities and countries accountable to keeping it clean. But even with this awareness we are still treating water as an object separate from us. Recovering the concept of water as sacred is what I’m trying to get to.

We defined sacred a few weeks ago as “connected with God, evoking reverence, used in religious ritual, very important and highly valued.”

Have you ever sat and stared into Lake Michigan or the Ocean? When I do, I find that it evokes a connection to Something More, a feeling of endlessness, oneness, power, releasing, life-giving, peace, calm, emotional awareness, awe and beauty. I believe that because humanity has experienced these same feelings forever, and because water is absolutely essential to our survival, water has been used as a sacred part of religious/spiritual ritual and tradition for thousands of years. Christians have used water for blessing and baptism, Muslims and Jews use water for cleansing and purification, Hindus bathe in the Ganges for purification. On the holiday of Obon, Buddhists believe that their ancestors are with them for the day, and then at the end of the day they light lanterns in memory of their ancestors and float them down the river as a return to the world of the dead.

In John, chapter 7, Jesus says, “Any who are thirsty, let them come to me and drink! Those who believe in me, as the scripture says, ‘From their innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’”

Obviously this is not to be taken literally, but Jesus appeals to the people’s knowledge of how important water is to their daily lives. I wonder if we can even grasp the potency of that metaphor when we have never had to walk with a bucket for water. Nor have we ever had to deal with a drought the likes (did you know that more than 40 states are anticipating freshwater shortages in the next decade? Wisconsin is expecting regional shortages before 2023). Water is life and life is water. And for Jesus, Living Water is God and God is Living Water.

As I consider the water and Living water, I find myself thinking about the one time I became dehydrated and needed IV fluids. I was sick, weak and light-headed. It was horrible. It is only a small leap to think about what it might be like to be “spiritually dehydrated.” We need the moisture of Spirit to live whole, balanced, healed lives, that is what Jesus was trying to say. And, if we become enlightened to this flow of the Spirit in the world, we’ll also realize that there are rivers (remember that rivers have been a symbol of the Spirit for a long, long time) of Living Water with each of us.

Those rivers of living water are strong currents in our lives, but often we fight them or ignore them. I struggled a great deal in seminary until my field education supervisor said to me, “Kaye, it’s like you’re standing still in the river, pushing against it. You need to lay down and float and let it take you where it will.”

This week, I invite you to bring your awareness to water – visit the lake and feel its pull and power, wash your hands and face with mindfulness, bless the water you drink, feel the flow of the spirit in you as you might feel the flow of water. Be connected once more with the Divine in real water and Living Water.

Love & Light!

Kaye

Earth

This is the first in a sermon series on the four elements: Earth, Water, Fire and Air.

Last week I told you about Matthew Fox’s prophetic dream in which a voice said to him, “There is only one thing wrong with humanity… they have forgotten a sense of the sacred.” And then we talked about being sacred beings ourselves and practicing seeing others as sacred. Now we’re going to expand our scope to talk about the sacredness of the four elements that, as Cait Johnson said, have grounded human spirituality: earth, water, fire, and air. In this post-modern era, most people have lost the intimate connection our ancestors had with creation. Perhaps an exploration of these elements will help us to recover a sense of how intertwined we are with all things, and with the Divine.

(For the full video version, click here.)

We begin with EARTH… soil, rocks, trees, animals, plants, and humans. earth

The Bible abounds with references to the earth, mountains, soil for growing, land for living and worshiping, fields for herds to graze, animals and plants. But there is one line that should never have been written about the earth, and that is Genesis 1:26: “Let us make humankind… and let them have dominion” over everything, basically. Our inclusive Bible changed the words to “be stewards of” –  their footnote says:

This passage, because of its traditional translation – “subdue the earth, and have dominion over… every living thing on it” – has been used to excuse human kind’s penchant for trampling the earth and subjugating its creatures. Unfortunately, the actual Hebrew is even more brutal, prompting traditional translations to soften the language somewhat. But this charge immediately follows the statement that we were created in God’s image – that is, to be like God – so surely the idea of stewardship and caretaking, not violation and destruction is inherent in that calling.

We have forgotten that earth is sacred. We have forgotten that we are interconnected. If we had not forgotten, perhaps we would have learned earlier not to over-farm our fields in what some are referring to as “suicidal agriculture.” The Dust Bowl of the depression years is returning in places like Oklahoma, but no one talks about it. We’re destroying entire mountains for coal in the Appalachians. Fracking is contaminating clean water and land. We’re killing the bee population with pesticides, poisoning our oceans with oil spills, and we’ve become a throw-away society ignoring the resulting problem of waste.  I could go on and on…

We’ve forgotten that we are sacred and earth is sacred. Fred Bahnson,  a United Methodist pastor and founder of a community garden in North Carolina calls the soil a sacrament. He says, “The earth itself holds the memory of the beginning of all things, the memory of God.” That’s a powerful statement. To think that all that has been, and all that will be, has returned to the earth; and that if they earth could speak, it would know everything that has ever happened. When we walk on the ground we tread on the generations, civilizations and history that has preceded us.

Journalist Kristin Ohlson said, “I was stunned by what I learned about life in the soil… that we stand on the surface of the earth, we’re atop a vast underground kingdom of microorganisms without which life as we know it wouldn’t exist.” We may not like bugs and worms, but we need them for our existence. They are part of the vast web that sustains life, and are also sacred.

Sallie McFague offers the metaphor of “body” to describe the relationship between God and the world, she reminds us of both scientific truth and a sacred mystery. “What if we saw the earth as part of the body of God, not as separate from God (who dwells elsewhere), but as the visible reality of the invisible?”

Awareness is the key to experiencing the Divine in the Earth. Not walking blindly through life, but with a recognition that the ground we walk on is full of life that sustains our lives and we must care for it. The paper we use comes from trees that were living, energetic things and we need to conserve and recycle. The animals are part of our spirit… can we imagine our hearts leaping with the deer, soaring with the sparrows, hopping with the rabbits, knowing they are our brothers and sisters? Can we be mindful of the food that we eat, the life that was given for our lives, the miracle of the plants grown from small seed and soil that sustain us and give us nutrients?

The ground we walk upon is holy. The trees and flowers we walk among are sacred. The animals are part of us. If we can take some time to re-ground ourselves (no pun intended) in the very basic elements of life around us, I believe we will also re-ground ourselves in God and the depths of the Spirit.

Love & Light!

Kaye

You Are Sacred

Theologian Matthew Fox was the last speaker at the Embrace conference we were just at in Portland. He said a number of things that struck me, but one of them was about a dream he had in which he heard a voice telling him that there is only one thing wrong with humanity – you have forgotten a sense of the sacred.

Given this definition, clearly all of life is sacred: nature, animals, creation, people, music, art, literature and so much more! And I think the voice in his dream must be correct. Humanity has forgotten a sense of the sacred. It is obvious in the way people treat one another and the environment.

(For the video version, click here.)

Or maybe we’re just like the disciples on the Emmaus road with Jesus after the crucifixion (Luke 24:13-35). They were so distracted by their own thoughts, the stories they were telling themselves about what happened, their own grief, confusion, fear and disappointment, that they completely missed the essence of the person who walked with them. They couldn’t see that Jesus was Jesus!

Aren’t we all like that? We get caught up in life, work, home, kids, parents, the news, and the stories we tell ourselves about all of those things, that we forget to recognize the sacredness of everything and everyone around us. Or sometimes I think we just plain don’t want to recognize it because clearly there are people around who can’t possibly be connected to God, they can’t possibly be sacred!

Sacredness is easier to acknowledge in the beauty, power and diversity of nature.

Sacredness is easier to see when life is good, we feel blessed and things around us feel more like a blessing than a curse.

It seems to me that it is hardest to see our very selves as sacred.  We are usually our own worst critic, and alight withinre harder on ourselves than on anyone else. Perhaps that is what it makes it nearly impossible to see any human being as sacred. We subconsciously think, “I’m not perfect, I can’t be sacred. And if I know that deep down I’m not perfect, then other people must be hiding lots of their own issues making them imperfect and not sacred as well!”

Maybe that is why Christianity had to make Jesus sinless… it was the only way they could make sense of his deep connection to the Divine. He was perfect, so he was sacred, so God loved him and he was one with God.

In his book The Wise Heart, Jack Kornfield says, “To see with sacred perception does not mean we ignore the need for development and change in an individual. Sacred perception is one half of a paradox. Zen master Shunryu Suzuki remarked to a disciple, “You are perfect just the way you are. And… there is still room for improvement!” But it starts with a most radical vision, one that transforms everyone it touches: a recognition of the innate nobility and the freedom of heart that are available wherever we are.”

Then Kornfield shares this story:

In a large temple north of Thailand’s ancient capital, Sukotai, there once stood an enormous and ancient clay Buddha. Though not the most handsome or refined work of Thai Buddhist art, it had been cared for over a period of five hundred years and become revered for its sheer longevity. Violent storms, changes of government, and invading armies had come and gone, but the Buddha endured.

At one point, however, the monks who tended the temple noticed that the statue had begun to crack and would soon be in need of repair and repainting. After a stretch of particularly hot, dry weather, one of the cracks became so wide that a curious monk took his flashlight and peered inside. What shone back at him was a flash of brilliant gold! Inside this plain old statue, the temple residents discovered one of the largest and most luminous gold images of Buddha ever created in Southeast Asia.  The monks believe that this shining work of art had been covered in plaster and clay to protect it during times of conflict and unrest.

It seems impossible that people could just forget that there was a gold Buddha under that protective coating of clay, but it is really no different from forgetting that the essence of each human being is sacred underneath the layer of protection we accumulate through the years.

Thomas Merton describes what it is like to see the essence, the sacredness of another, “Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in the eyes of the Divine. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed… I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.”

I encourage all of us to set an intention each morning to see the sacredness in ourselves and in others. Notice how it changes our interactions, how it changes our hearts, and how it changes how we work, live and behave in the world.

Love & Light!

Kaye

Opening to Joy

Joy seems like it would be an easy conversation, but I’ve found that some folks get awfully defensive about the topic of joy – “how can we be joyful all the time when such horrible things happen in our lives and in the world?” I think part of the issue is simple semantics. Joy is confused with happiness. So, let me begin by defining the two.

Happiness is external in the sense that it is dependent upon events, situations, people, places, things or thoughts. And, happiness is often future oriented as in: “I’ll be happy when I have someone to love me” or “I’ll be happy when I find the right job” or “I’ll be happy as long as Uncle Harry doesn’t get drunk and stupid at Christmas.”

Joy, on the other hand, is internal. It can’t be bought or sold. It is not contingent finding-joy-in-the-journeyupon other’s behaviors. Joy is a deep inner feeling laced with peace, contentment and gratitude. Joy is a spiritual way of engaging the world.

(For the full video version, click here.)

In John 15, Jesus talks a lot about oneness and interconnectedness… I am in God and God is in me… I am the vine and you are the branches… as the Divine has loved me, so I love you. He’s describing not only his relationship with the Divine, but his relationship with others. It was the depth of these relationships which allowed him to live from a place of spiritual joy. It wasn’t about external happiness… Jesus didn’t have things to make him happy, he faced persecution and was misunderstood, but his spiritual stability and knowing, his experience of the Divine, grounded him in joy. So, he says he is trying to convey what he knows about God so that “my joy may be yours, and your joy may be complete.”

I heard someone once say that instead of the song “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love” perhaps it should be “They’ll Know We are Christians by Our Joy” – that deep inner joy that rests in a knowledge of connectedness and love. We should live and move in the world with such joy that we show the world the spiritual life we live is beautiful, despite the tragedies and struggles. As Pope Francis says, “I understand the grief of people who have to endure great suffering, yet slowly but surely we all have to let the joy of faith slowly revive as a quiet yet firm trust, even amid the greatest distress.”

I know part of us is thinking, “Yea, well, if I were Jesus that would be easy.” It seems like that kind of deep, internal joy is mysterious and elusive. And yet I would venture to say that most of us know someone who has achieved it on a more or less consistent basis. Someone you think of when you think of “joy.”

When I think of joy I think of an elderly woman who came to church occasionally with her family. I can’t remember her name or who her family was, but I remember how she looked. She always glowed and smiled, even when she was being wheeled around in a wheelchair. She looked like she had a great secret. I always had the feeling that she had found something that I hadn’t quite found yet.

Sandra Brown, in an article from Psychology Today talks about how she learned joy from her mother:

My mother had a lot of joy and I learned from watching her joy. Her pathological man ran off with her life savings forcing her to work well past retirement. It forced her to live simply so moved to a one room beach shack and drove a motorcycle. For cheap entertainment, she walked the beach and painted nudes. She drank cheap grocery store wine that came in a box, bought her clothes from thrift shops, and made beach totes from crocheting plastic grocery bags together. She recycled long before it was hip to do it. But what she recycled most and best was pain….into joy.

Anyone who knew her spoke MOST of her radiant joy. She had the ‘IT’ factor long before it was even called ‘IT.’ Women flocked to her to ask ‘How did you do it? How did you shed the despair and bitterness of what he did and grow into this? THIS bright shining joyful person? What is your secret?’

Somewhere along that rocky path of broken relationships with pathological men, she learned that happiness is fleeting if it’s tied to a man’s shirt tails. She watched too many of the shirt tails walk out the door with her happiness tied to his butt. In order to find the peacefulness that resides inside, she had to learn what was happiness and what was joy.

The transitory things of life are happiness-based. She had a big house and lost a big house when she divorced my father. She had a big career and lost a big career when she got ‘too old’ according to our culture to have the kind of job she had. She had diamonds and lost diamonds.

So she entered into voluntary simplicity where the fire of purging away ‘stuff’ left a clearer picture and path to the internal life. When stuff, people, and the problems they bring fall away there is a stillness. Only in that stillness can we ever find the joy that resides inside of us, dependent on nothing external in order to exist.

Her joy came from deeply held spiritual beliefs but it also came from a place even beyond that. Joy comes when you make peace with who you are, where you are, why you are, and who you are not with. When you need nothing more than your truth and the love of a good God to bring peace, then you have settled into the abiding joy that is not rocked by relationships. It’s not rocked by anything.

It wasn’t rocked as she lay dying four years ago in the most peaceful arms of grace–a blissful state of quiet surrender and anticipation. Those who were witness to her death still tell me that her death brought new understanding to them about the issue of real joy. Joy in all things….death of a dream, death of relationship, death of a body. Joy from within, stripped down, naked and beautiful.

Brene’ Brown, in her book Daring Greatly, talks about how shocked she was when, while studying vulnerability, she discovered that joy was one of the emotions that her research participants named as leaving them feeling the most vulnerable. In fact, she said she’d argue that joy is probably the most difficult emotion to really feel.

Can you think of moments of deep joy that might leave you feeling vulnerable? These things were named in her book:

  • Standing over children while they are sleeping
  • Acknowledging how much we love someone
  • Spending time with parents
  • Watching parents with your children
  • Getting engaged
  • Going into remission
  • Falling in love
  • Having a baby

Her “research participants consistently described both joyfulness and gratitude as spiritual practices that were bound to a belief in human connectedness and a power greater than us… Participants described happiness as an emotion that’s connected to circumstances, and they described joy as a spiritual way of engaging with the world that’s connected to practicing gratitude.”

She said, those who were really willing to lean into the joy found themselves filled with gratitude for the person, beauty, connection or moment that put them in touch with that spiritual depth. Just to be clear, the moment did not cause the joy as much as reveal it.

But because feeling joy brings a feeling of vulnerability, many folks find a way to shield themselves from the vulnerability with what Brown calls “foreboding joy.” She points out that when we’re young our joy is pure delight bubbling out of us, but slowly, even without our awareness, this shifts and we become less exuberant, less enthusiastic about the little things and much less likely to show – or even feel – that pure, wonder-filled, awe-filled joy. It’s as if we become afraid of this feeling.

Have you ever had a week where everything was going right but you hesitated to enjoy that. Our less-than-rational thinking says, don’t get invested in this good feeling because certainly everything is going to fall apart at any second.

So we temper the joy, the lightness. We’re afraid to truly give in to the joy, to open ourselves to it, because then we’re vulnerable to being let down or being hurt. It seems we actually turn away from, or close off from the opportunity to feel joy.

Brown said that 80% of the parents she had interviewed had moments where they had stood over their children when they slept and thought, “I love you so much I can barely breathe,” and in that exact moment been flooded with images of something awful happening to the child.

What’s the answer? Brown says, “Gratitude.” It was gratitude that became the antidote to foreboding joy. When we are given the gift of a moment to touch the deep spiritual joy that resides within us, instead of succumbing to feelings of fear, we should open to gratitude. Be grateful for the moment, for the catalyst that helped us reach that place of spiritual abundance. Steep ourselves in thankfulness.

Jesus came to show us love, to help us understand our true relationship with the Divine and one another, SO THAT OUR JOY MIGHT BE COMPLETE. God doesn’t want us to respond to the beautiful moments in life with fear. Connection to the Divine Essence reveals to us that beneath our suffering, fear, and grief, joy is waiting. Joy that heals, comforts and strengthens us for another day.

Julia Cameron says, “I invite joy to bless my life… [I] follow the lead which joy sets.” Perhaps this should be our daily affirmation to ourselves: I invite joy to bless my life. I will follow the lead which joy sets.

Love & Light!

Kaye