I Will Praise the Lord, Who Counsels Me
Unity Worldwide Ministries has set a spiritual theme for 2021 as “How to stay centered, no matter what.” Given all that is occurring in our world right now, this teaching has a special saliency. As part of that theme, each month one of humanity’s Spiritual Powers will be explored. In January, we look at the power of Faith. Rev. Joanne shares with us an affirmation: My Faith assures me that every event in my life has meaning and brings gifts.
In the second talk in a series based on Wendy Farley’s book Beguiled by Beauty: Cultivating a Life of Contemplation and Compassion1, we learn that the concept of being “the beloved of God” is a two way street. In most spiritual traditions, it is axiomatic that God is not just part of, but integral to all aspects of life. But unlike some more traditional spiritual philosophies that hold God and humans to be separate entities, Unity holds that God is not outside of us but inside us, the very nature of our being. Rev. Joanne explains that being made for the “beloved” is not only that God is the beloved, but that we too are the beloved of God. That we are the very love that God is.
Currently, the planet is in an unusual state of being. Covid-19, and the responses to it, have shaken the foundations of the world. As we continue to do the best we can to make our way through these challenges, it is important to maintain a sense of perspective. Rev. Joanne tells us of the wisdom of Julian of Norwich (1343-1416), an English anchorite2. Julian is best known today for her writings in Revelations in Divine Love – the first book written in the English language by a woman.
For all of human history, all peoples, everywhere, have had some sort of difficulty to live through and manage. The upheavals during Julian’s lifetime make much of what we are currently experiencing seem like little more than “inconveniences.” The mid-fourteenth century in England was going through the Black Death, the peasants’ revolt, and the suppression of a nascent protestant movement in opposition to The Church. In response to all of these calamities, most people viewed them as a punishment from God. Julian held a different view. Farley tells us:
A significant part of their suffering was the belief that God was angry and rejected them. She (Julian) likened humanity to someone who had fallen into a ditch and cannot see where they are. Their body is full of pain and distraction, they feel isolated because they cannot see that they are intimately connected to God and all beings.
Rev. Joanne reminds us that, in Unity, we do not believe in a punitive God. But it is natural, she says, that we may at times feel as though we must have done something wrong to be experiencing whatever it is that we’re going through. It is often true that unpleasant experiences are a result of things outside our control – ill intent of others, unintended and unexpected negative consequences of the good intentions of others, natural catastrophes, etc. However, it is also true that sometimes unpleasant experiences are a result of decisions we have made and actions we have taken (or failed to take). What is not true, in any circumstance, is that we are being punished by God.
One of the reasons that scriptures are actually scriptures and not just some other type of writing is the universal truth and wisdom they contain. While the particular outer manifestations of the human experience change from one time to another and from one place to another, the underlying thoughts, feelings, hopes, and fears are essentially the same. We read in Ecclesiastes 1:9 – “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” The common factor within all experiences is that God is there, if we will only allow ourselves to recognize Divine Presence.
The Psalms are a collection of poetic writings expressing the full range of human experience and emotions. Rev. Joanne tells us that in many of the Psalms, they begin by lamenting a current state of affairs – a “woe is me” statement. But then later in the verses comes the affirmation of hope. Even in times when it feels dark, when we feel alone, when we are upset, betrayed or angry, some of the Psalms (see below for today’s scripture from Psalm 16) remind us that even in those times God is our Beloved, counseling us, supporting us through our inner wisdom.
There is a timeless spiritual pamphlet in Unity entitled The Golden Key. Written by Emmett Fox (1886-1951) and published in 1931 it has one central idea: Stop thinking about the difficulty, whatever it is, and think about God instead. Rev. Joanne tells us that part of “thinking about God” is the words we use. When we speak with wisdom, love, compassion and understanding, then we will be rejoicing with these words. If we choose to focus on problems instead, we may experience our minds not “turning off” at night, upsetting our sleep and rest.
Now more than ever, the world is a fast changing place. Our high highs and our low lows have the potential to come and go on a daily basis. We may be elated by our favorite sports team winning a game, and later that same day be crestfallen by political events. But Rev. Joanne reminds us that regardless of what is happening in the external, we can always return again and again to the Divine.
Unity writer Rosemary Fillmore Rhea (b. 1926) tells us in Works and Wonders, that in times when we see things in the world that make us angry, it can be a signal that there is something for us to do to help improve conditions. She says that the world has been changed for the better by men and women who have been angry. We become angry about life’s conditions, prejudices, bigotries, the seeming inequities of life. Change comes when people have turned their anger into creative energies. In order to produce positive results, Rev. Joanne asks us to allow our anger to be felt, but not to remain stuck in the anger. This is good advice. While we may be motivated by anger to take action, if the anger itself is used to determine actions, we may not see as clearly as we otherwise might, and as a result our actions not as well considered as they could be.
At the times when we are motivated to act by our anger, we must also consider that just because we are angry does not mean we are correct. Take any issue, and you will see that there are likely to be people who fundamentally disagree and are equally angry. Both cannot be right, but it is possible that both are wrong. How do we know if we are “right?” By turning within, recognizing that we are the Beloved of God, and using the spiritual power of Faith to believe, intuit and perceive the oneness of all of humanity. Jesus told us, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” Luke 18:27.
Now Go and Be the Light.
I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,
because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
nor will you let your faithful one see decay.
You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand. Psalm 16:7-11
With each week’s message, we find a way to integrate contemplative practices into our daily lives as a way of opening the the Divine in deeper ways. This week, we take time to feel “warmed” by God’s love. You might go for a walk in the sun to feel the warmth. You might sit or lie wrapped in a warm blanket. You might take a long hot shower and feel the warmth of the water. Whatever you choose to do each day, allow your mind to slow, your heart to open, and your eyes to drink in your surroundings. Remind yourself “I am warmed by the presence of Divine Love,” and offer the warmth of that love to others. As you move about your day, consider you you can share the warmth of love with others and take action to do so.
1Farley, Wendy, Beguiled by Beauty: Cultivating a Life of Contemplation and Compassion, Westminster John Knox Press (December 15, 2020).
2An anchorite or anchoret (female: anchoress) is someone who, for religious reasons, withdraws from secular society so as to be able to lead an intensely prayer-oriented, ascetic, or Eucharist-focused life. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anchorite