Pandemic Awakenings Week 9
Sunday May 31 – Day 1
Pentecost – The light from Within
The first Pentecost was an amazing event that found its way into the secular history books of the time because it signified the beginning of the phenomenon we call Christianity. How could a small group of people with little or no education and even less influence, transform the then known world in the space of a few short years? When the flame of Christianity took hold it just spread like wildfire. Something extraordinary happened in that upper room where the disciples had gathered. It was a place where initially there was more fear than courage. They were petrified but suddenly something happened that transformed them into fearless witnesses full of courage and zeal. It was literally the birthday of the Church and the ongoing ripples of that event were to spread out and have such far reaching consequences that we are believers today because of it.
The Spirit that Jesus promised wasn’t poured out as a kick-start to get the infant church up and running. It was always part of the divine plan that every believer would be filled with that same Spirit. The Christian life is by definition a life lived in the power of the Spirit.
Some years ago Archbishop Desmond Tuto of South Africa was giving a sermon on the Holy Spirit. To illustrate what he was saying he brought along a very ordinary lightbulb. Each one of us he said is like the lightbulb, we are capable of being lit up and radiating light; we have all we need to be lit up in ourselves except the power source. Out task in life is to become connected to the source and to learn how to remain connected. The Holy Spirit of course is our source of power. It doesn’t come from above but from within. The more we learn to live from that deeper place within ourselves the more enlightened and empowered we become. This is precisely what happens when we pray or meditate, we are tapping into the infinite resources of Spirit within ourselves. We are living a deeper and more meaningful life where the storms of life don’t blow us away. It’s like what Jesus said that ‘In the world you will have trouble but in me you will find peace.’
The Lord is the Everlasting Rock
The particular night that Jesus offered his peace to his disciple was quite remarkable because his whole world was tumbling and everything was in turmoil around him. Judas was betraying him, Peter was denying him, and the other disciples were ready to take to their heels. He was about to be arrested and he knew all that awaited him in terms of the suffering that the next few days would bring. Yet he spoke of offering them his peace at that very time. The difference between an enlightened person and an ordinary person is that the enlightened one is at peace all the time while the ordinary one is just some of the time.
Many years ago there was a furious storm where a ship was wrecked. The only survivor was a boy who was swept by a wave onto a rock. There he sat all night long until the next morning he was spotted and rescued. Someone asked him later if he was terrified. He replied ‘I trembled and shook with fear and cold all night but the rock didn’t.’ Ultimately Christ is the everlasting Rock the Prince of Peace.
Close your eyes and use your imagination for a few moments and think of yourself as blowing up a big balloon. Be aware of whatever is the most pressing need of your life right now What it is that could so easily lead you down the cul-de-sac of worry. With your breath just blow all those intentions into the balloon. Now take a string and tie a knot and see the balloon float with all your worries inside. Next, and this is the crucial bit, release the string and allow the balloon to float upwards and say to yourself: That is no longer any of my business. Should the situation come back to mind, as it undoubtedly will, think only of a positive answer. It’s now part of the divine plan that unfolds only according to the laws of love. Let yourself become detached from the outcome as to how and when your prayer will be answered. That place of holy indifference is also the very best place for the Lord to surprise us with his answers.
Our legitimate fear of contracting or passing on Covid 19 has forced us all into safe places. We know a lot more about lock down this year than we did this time last. . . For days after the crucifixion the disciples gathered in a locked room. The recent violence made them security conscious. They had become runaways from a society that they feared as hostile, so they locked themselves away in what they hoped was a safe house. What were they doing as they whiled their time away? This we are not told, but it is safe to suppose that they were not engaged in idle chatter, but talked about recent happenings, how their hopes had been shattered and their dreams had become one long nightmare. The physical doors were tightly closed but the doors of the heart slowly began to open as they shared their feelings with each other. As those heart doors swung open the Risen Jesus entered with his gift of peace.
It’s a horrible place to be when we get locked in on ourselves, when we withdraw into isolation and cut ourselves off from others and that’s when our world becomes very small. There are few of us who will not have had the experience. Prior to this outbreak, as a society, we were moving more and more into unconscious isolation, whereas now it’s something we are very conscious of and generally don’t like all that much. It would be nice to think that when we come through this we will be much more conscious of the value of living in community and upholding community values which we were losing so fast.
Childhood Needs – Adult Expectations
Relationships can be like a minefield where at the most unexpected time an explosion can shatter the peace. As we journey through life we continuously run aground on the rocks of our past that lie just beneath the surface of consciousness. There is a physical seeing with the eyes but there is also an emotional seeing with the heart. When our hearts have been wounded, especially during childhood, it has the effect of distorting the way we see with our eyes. We can be so focused on death that we are unable to see life; we can be so trapped in our inner darkness that the light cannot penetrate.
It is precisely the world of relationships that bring us into those areas of our past that are challenging and cry out for healing. The unmet needs of our childhood we bring forward into our adult world of relating where we look towards significant others to meet those needs. Looking for a husband to be the father who died when I was a child, or to a wife to be the mother who never showed affection, can place an intolerable burden on any relationship. The unmet needs of our childhood can be described as ‘resentments under construction’. The one who carries them resents the other for not meeting them while the one expected to meet them resents the fact of being burdened by them. Unless we take responsibility for our own unmet childhood needs and look after them ourselves no one else can or will.
The Isolation Trap
Most of you will be familiar with the story of doubting Thomas, the one who had isolated himself and had the greatest difficulty in coming to believe in the Risen Jesus. This suggests quite strongly that community, rather than isolation, is the most fertile soil for faith to come alive and to grow.
When we are feeling good we are quite happy to allow others to come near to us, but when we are hurting or in pain we tend to cut ourselves off. We don’t want to have our sore spots touched. We want to be left alone to lick our wounds. While this is understandable it is also a mistake. How can healing happen if we will not allow our wounds to be seen and touched. The human heart can be healed in the presence of another human being who understands human pain. The story of Doubting Thomas contains some wonderful teaching on how to come to terms with the bigger issues of life. The real danger is that we simply don’t talk, that we close down and lock ourselves away in isolation. We talk about everything except what needs to be talked about. It’s the things we don’t talk about that create barriers to communication. In so many families and individual lives there is a huge legacy of unresolved issues. Communication is almost non-existent because somewhere along the line something big was swept under the carpet and not addressed. Isolation is the inevitable legacy of not addressing issues as they arise.
The Bigger Picture
The piece of sculpture depicted is of two circles that are so connected as to form an endless circle. Going with the flow in the smaller circle, even when it appears to be going backwards, always brings us back into the greater.
When we pray we are limited to the smaller picture of how we see things and how we think they should work out. There is always a bigger picture and this is where faith is called for.
In one of his films the actor and comedian Neil Tobin played the role of a parish priest. His curate gives a blessing to someone that is associated with healing and Neil, when he hears of it, takes him aside and says, ‘listen here my good man, this is the church of the 21st century and we are not into miracles’. It was a little bit of religious satire that carried a lot of truth. How did we ever get to the place where miracles or any form of religious experience was viewed with deep suspicion
For Faith to develop, it will of necessity be tested, sometimes like gold in a furnace. The response to our initial prayer of faith may well take a trajectory in the opposite direction to that which we think it should be going; in other words the situation gets worse rather than better. It is during that period that deeper levels of letting go are called for.
We may gain many valuable insights as to whether our hands are even open enough to receive the answer to our prayer.
Following on from yesterday’s reflection that whenever we pray we do so from our own limited perspective and it is from within that very limited viewpoint that we expect our prayers to be answered or, to put it another way, for our faith to materialise. Holding on to this rigid view leads to frustration especially when the answer seems delayed or when the situation is not unfolding as we believe it should. We then get annoyed with God. There is always a bigger picture when we pray, and faith needs to trust that within that bigger picture our smaller needs will also find their place. This is where faith and surrender always go hand in hand. Our faith has to be in God and not simply in our faith. A piece of Buddhist wisdom has a lot to teach us in relation to this. It says in effect: Pray firm in faith, hold onto hope but don’t become attached to the how.
One of the greatest enemies of faith is worry which is also related to our perspective. Worry projects us into a future that may never happen and it also cuts us off from the providence that is always available in the present. Its first cousin is fear and this acts as a magnifying glass that will allow us to see only the worst possible scenario. Worry never robs tomorrow of its trouble but it does rob today of its strength; it drains our energy and saps our spirit. Overcoming the tendency to be a worrier is a major step on the road to becoming faith-full. An elderly lady who lives on her own in a very isolated area says that anything could happen at her age and so there is plenty that she could worry about. The way she handles it is that when something arises she acknowledges that it is a cause for concern and promises that she will worry about it, but always tomorrow. Then when tomorrow comes she says the same thing and so she has no worries.