Spirit Guides Us
That human beings are complex beings is so axiomatic, it hardly bears mentioning. We are all individuals, each of whom have our own unique circumstances, strengths, and challenges. Although we are all individually different, we have more in common that separates us.
In the sixth talk in her series based on Wendy Farley’s book Beguiled by Beauty: Cultivating a Life of Contemplation and Compassion1, Rev. Joanne reminds us of the obvious – sometimes life can be just plain difficult. She tells us, however, that this series is meant to remind us that even in the midst of all the normal challenges of life, or within the most unusual global challenges we have all experienced the past eleven months, that there is still beauty to be found. That beauty is God within us all. She is careful to explain that finding beauty in the midst of upset, turmoil, or even catastrophic loss does not mean that the events or challenges themselves are beautiful. Job loss, addiction, depression, or the death of a loved one are tragic and deserve our compassion.
It is not the idea that we need to consider everything in our lives as simply beautiful, she tells us. It is not about just being a little more positive about things. It is recognizing that in the midst of everything we are going through, we can find beauty because God is there.
In her book, Farley describes how interrelated compassion and beauty are. Sometimes we can get so caught up in all that needs to be done that we become quickly overwhelmed by it and end up doing nothing. She tells us that the purpose of beauty is to wake us up again and again to the wonder of the world, the sacredness of life, to the sanctity and holiness of each person.
Jesus reminds us that we are the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13). To help illustrate how we all have within us the resources to see beauty in the midst of challenges, Rev. Joanne gives us visual metaphor of the process. Displaying a container of water, she explains that the water is the “stuff” of life that sometimes gets us down, such as relationship problems, health challenges, or financial setbacks. An egg represents us. Placing the egg in the water, it sinks to the bottom. This represents how we are when we do not employ the Divine gifts with us that help us successfully move through life. She then begins to pour salt into the container a little at a time. She explains that the salt represents our spiritual resources. These may be prayer, meditation, and using the Twelve Powers innate to us all.
Farley reminds us, that even when finding beauty in the ugliness that life sometimes is, that much of that ugliness is directly in our power to eliminate. She says that ugliness can occur when we generalize one another. Rev. Joanne gives examples of generalizations that create separation and alienation such as stereotypes of race, political affiliation, religion or gender. When we generalize we lose sight of the individual express of divinity we all are. While we should always work toward a better tomorrow, and acknowledging that there is still work to be done, it should also be acknowledged just how far we have come as a society. Jim Crow and back of the bus racism, thankfully, are a thing of the past. When we stop categorizing everyone by their group affiliation and instead listen to the individual, we can come to a place of deep understanding of their experience, instead of automatically assuming we will know what they will think, say, or do.
When we use spiritual tools such as prayer and meditation to come to recognize our own unique gifts, it is very much easier to then see the Divine Light within another even if it is not expressing itself in any particularly moment. As attractive as it may seem to us to think that prayer and meditation will be a antidote for life’s challenges, Rev. Joanne reminds us that after his forty days in the wilderness, Jesus eventually had to come back to society and do the actual work. So, we too must eventually do the work.
During her talk today, Rev. Joanne was periodically pouring more and more salt into the container of water. Little by little, the salt created enough buoyancy in the water that the egg began to float. By adding enough spiritual resources (salt) to the water contained in our life (life’s challenges) we will be rise to the top (the egg floating is us). Over the course of the twenty minutes or so of her talk, Rev. Joanne could have stopped adding salt to the water, prematurely coming to the conclusion that the egg will not float. The lesson in this metaphor for me is that if we are directing our spiritual resources to a problem and do not immediately see the results we are looking for, we must persevere and not give up too soon. With persistent practice we will see Divine Order manifest in our lives.
This series of talks, in part, has been about using contemplative practices to help us see beauty in the midst of challenges. Rev. Joanne reminds us that contemplative practices are not about being filled with Spirit on Sundays, but interweaving our practices into every aspect of our daily lives. One of the things that contemplative practices can do is to open a space for us to recognize what negativity we may be holding in our unconscious, then release it.
Unity teaches that we are not limited by any idea we are holding in mind because we have the ability to release it. Rev. Joanne mentioned again this week her consciously holding in mind a comment from her husband about dirty dishes and how she was eventually able to release that negativity. Following her talk last week, she and I briefly talked about releasing conscious and unconscious thoughts. I said that it is more difficult to release false ideas that we believe to be true, than ideas we know we are holding but would like to release. It is in our contemplative work that we can come to recognize what such thoughts might be, thus making it easier (not necessarily easy) to release that which no longer serves us.
Seeing beauty in the midst of troubles is not being Pollyanna. It is actually an empowering mindset that once embraced gives us courage to persevere. When we persevere we have the opportunity to make our lives, and the world, a better place for everyone.
Now Go and Be the Light.
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 1 Peter 3:8
Throughout our time contemplating the theology of beauty and Divine Goodness, we have been making the connections between the well-being of the whole earth and all beings. During this next week, consider again your commitment to practicing compassion. Continue to develop the contemplative practice of becoming mindful, by paying attention to what is happening in the moment. As you become aware, ask if there is anything within this moment calling for you to open your heart to seeing with wonder. Is there any suffering, yours or another’s, that you can meet with compassion? How can you be an instrument of God here, and reveal the beauty of the Divine in each moment?
1Farley, Wendy, Beguiled by Beauty: Cultivating a Life of Contemplation and Compassion, Westminster John Knox Press (December 15, 2020).