April 11, 2021 Sunday Service Message: Strength to Love

Synthesis

Every person is Divinely gifted with Twelve Powers.  This is one of the fundamental teachings in Unity.  Each of these Powers provides us with a distinct set of innate abilities to draw upon to assist moving through life.  This week, guest speaker Rev. Karen Shepherd discusses two of these Powers – Strength and Love.

Unity co-founder Charles Fillmore conceived of Twelve Powers of Man as a practical explanation for our innate abilities.  Unity teaches that these “powers” are not like the powers of a comic book hero, but are inherent human qualities that everyone has immediate access to whenever they choose.  Rev. Karen reminds us that while each of these powers assists us with specific aspects of our lives, they work together in concert.

For millennia, great spiritual teachers have used metaphors to help illustrate their ideas.  In the Gospel of Matthew we read:

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.  Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.  Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues.  On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.  But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it.  At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.  Matthew 10:16-20

Through the use of metaphor, in the first two sentences Jesus provides an explanation of the environment into which his disciples will be preaching.  They understood exactly what characteristics were represented by sheep, wolf, snake and dove.  It prepared his followers for what was to come, and also gave them guidance on how to behave.

In a collection of sermons entitled A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. tells us that in this bible passage the serpent represents Strength and the dove represents Love.  Rev. Karen tells us that Strength is the power that gives us stability, courage, and mental, physical and spiritual tenacity.  Love, she tells us, is the quality that allows us to attract, desire, and unify the people and resources in our lives that support our good.

Jesus knew that the use of strength unchecked by love risks moving toward domination and oppression.  He also knew that love without strength risks becoming sentimentality.  He was well aware of the challenges and dangers that he and his followers faced in the socio-political environment of his time.  The resistance his teachings received from the Jewish religious establishment and the imperial Roman government of Palestine both posed clear and present dangers to what he was teaching.  He knew that the use of strength, in the sense of brute force, would not be sufficient in displacing either the Jewish or Roman authorities.  He also knew that love alone would have just as little effect.  It was the combining of these two faculties that the greatest change could be effected.  Yet, he did not deny the challenges they faced.  Persecution, prosecution, and execution were real possibilities.

While we may not be facing arrest, trial and execution – although throughout history, not just in Jesus time, people have and continue to face these possibilities – our own challenges are no less real and deserve as much of our attention for corrective action.  The bringing together of seemingly opposite and incompatible forces, such as Strength and Love, is not only possible, but necessary.  Again from A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart Martin Luther King, Jr. quotes an unnamed French philosopher –

There is no man as strong unless he bears within his character antithesis strongly marked.  The strong man holds in a living blend strongly marked opposites.  The idealists are usually not realistic, and the realists are usually not idealistic.  The militants are not usually known to be passive, nor the passivists militant.  Seldom are the humble self assertive or the self assertive humble.  But life at its best is a creative synthesis, a working together of opposites in fruitful harmony.

This is not a unique, or even a new idea.  The Taoist yin-yang dichotomy dates back more than twenty five centuries.  Day and night, male and female, up and down, summer and winter – these are not opposing forces, rather complimentary.  There are, however, things that are opposites that are not complimentary.  One such idea, Rev. Karen tells us, is what Martin Luther King, Jr. called tough mindedness and soft mindedness.  ‘Tough mindedness is demonstrated in incisive thinking, realistic appraisal and decisive judgment.  The tough mind is sharp and penetrating, breaking the myths and legends and separating the true from the false.’  Being tough minded requires that we actively consider and think about difficult or unpleasant problems.  Rev. Karen says that nothing pains some people more than having to think.  However, soft minded people, King said, ‘let others do their thinking for them or allow them to influence their thinking.’

For a very long time, advertisers have known that repeated messaging influences purchasing habits – sell the sizzle, not the steak.  Mass media and government take full advantage of this idea too.  Repeat something enough times, even if untrue, and people with believe it.  The knowingly misleading or outright false statements are headline news, but the correction or retraction, if they are even ever made, are buried on page 27 or are broadcast, not in primetime, but at 2:00 a.m.

The tough mindedness that King spoke of, and is exemplified in Jesus’s serpent and dove metaphor, is something that we must develop and continue to practice.  But King cautioned us that, ‘tough mindedness without tender heartedness is cold and detached.’  The ancient Greeks knew this.  They showed the dangers of moving too far away from a healthy balance by personifying these extremes in the dichotomy of Apollonian intellectualism and the Dionysian revelry.  One of the themes of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov is the interplay between the sensualist elder brother Dmitri and the intellectual younger brother Ivan.  And in more contemporary popular culture the emotionally cold Mr. Spock and hot blooded Dr. McCoy from Star Trek are foils for one another, with Capt. Kirk providing the synthesis between the two.

Understanding the true potential of the creative energies of the Twelve Powers and how to engage them leads to living a richly blessed life.  They are spiritual tools for creating a life that is, as the apostle Paul said, no longer storm-tossed by difficulties and challenges to your faith.1  We can effect positive lasting changes in ourselves and our world by effectively combining the motive power of Strength with the compassionate power of Love.

Now Go and Be the Light

Scripture

But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble.  Psalm 59:16

Spiritual Practice

In moments of upset, discord, or challenge this week, consider how you are showing up.  Pause, breathe and remember to center in the Divine Spirit within before speaking or taking action.  Know it is in being centered that you are powerful, acting from a place of both Strength and Love.

If you are fortunate enough not to have any moments of upset, discord or challenge this week, you can still pause and breathe at any time to center yourself with Divine Spirit from a place of joy and gratitude.  Doing so reinforces the practice of going within for guidance so that when you do meet with life’s challenges you have developed the ability to tap your innate ability to become centered and then act from a place of wisdom and true power.  (Adapted from Spiritual Practice from Sunday lesson on July 14, 2019).

Greg Skuderin

1The Unity 12 Powers: Spiritual Tools for an Abundant Life, www.unity.org.