June 28th, 2020 Sunday Service Message: Lessons from the Turtle – “The Gift of the Cloud”

Imagination Precedes Creation

In the fourth of her series of talks based on Steve Goodier’s Lessons from the Turtle1, Rev. Joanne continues the story of the spiritual unfoldment of Turtle by telling us The Gift of the Cloud.  Still in a vulnerable position on his back, Turtle continues questioning Owl about the unfortunate circumstances in which he finds himself.  As we learned last week, Turtle discovered from the Gift of the Tree that he has a unique and special place in the world.  Turtle has come to realize his place in the world is right side up on his feet, not prone on his back.

Truly wanting to return to the natural and healthy position of being upright, Turtle asks Owl, “How can I get back to being on my feet?”  Owl asks Turtle, “Have you ever noticed that our problems show us that we have more to learn?”  Unlike in The Lesson of the Tree where Turtle learned to see something familiar in an entirely new way, Turtle is seeing clouds for the first time (turtles can certainly see clouds when upright but this is a parable, after all) and asks, “What are those white fluffy puffs?”  “They are clouds,” replied Owl.  “Can you fly to the clouds?” asked Turtle.  “No, they are too high, but they are something to inspire me to fly higher,” Owl explained.

Through the continuing conversation between Turtle and Owl, Goodier tells us that clouds represent our ability to imagine.  Owl tells us that the Gift of the Cloud is the Lesson of Affirmation – use your imagination to create an image of what you wish to see in your life, repeat an affirmation until you believe it, repeat it because you believe it, then it comes to pass.

Rev. Joanne points out that in Owl telling Turtle to use his imagination to envision how he would like his world to be, he did not tell him that was the only thing he needed to do.  He made it clear to Turtle that his circumstances show that he has more to learn and only by opening his eyes to what is happening, not ignoring or denying in the sense of the ostrich approach, would he be able to formulate an action plan to make changes.

One of the spiritual tools used in Unity is that of Denials and Affirmations.  Used in this context, “deny” does not mean that we ignore reality or attempt to rationalize away things that are unpleasant.  Rev. Joanne reminds us that in Unity, to deny something means that we hold that outer circumstances have no power to move us away from our center – the innate Christ-self we all have in our oneness with the Divine.

During the present Covid-19 situation, many people feel as though they, like Turtle, are flat on their back, vulnerable, fearful, not knowing what to do, who to believe, or how to feel.  Owl said that the white fluffy clouds spark his imagination to soar higher in life.  But not all clouds are of the blue skies and rainbows variety.  Just as atmospheric weather changes, sometimes rapidly, dramatically and even catastrophically, so too can the weather of our imagination change and evolve.  Covid-19 can perhaps be seen as stormy weather.  When we look into the sky and see storm clouds it is prudent to take shelter.  And when we look at a public health challenge it is also prudent to take appropriate actions to protect ourselves.

It is important to make the distinction between experiencing fear, and acting from fear.  During the evolutionary process humans, like many animals, developed a sense of fear as a protective mechanism against danger - predators, severe weather, precarious high places, branches too thin to support our weight.  Reflexive responses to stimuli perceived as dangerous may result in reactions that may or may not be proportionate to the threat, but if we react erring to the side of caution, we will “live to fight another day.”  If we fail to react to an actual threat, it may have fatal consequences.  Humans are wired for caution.  This is not a bad thing.

As humans have evolved, we are no longer driven only by the autonomic responses from our limbic system – fight, flight, or freeze.  These instincts remain, but the development of our prefrontal cortex gives us the ability to process complex information and make abstract projections about alternative courses of action.

Although often imperfect in their ability to predict outcomes, such projections do give us the ability to assess cause and effect, and risk and reward.  If we say, for example, ‘I am afraid that I might die of exposure if I am outside in cold weather without a coat,’ there is an element of fear involved, but it is not acting from fear.  We choose to act based on our assessment of the situation.  But what exactly is cold?  Some may say 50 deg F is too cold and another may say it is not too cold until it is below 32 deg F.

The more complex the challenge, the more information to consider, the more gaps in our knowledge that exist, the greater the chances for errors both in the information itself and our processing of it.  Complexity does not directly correlate to whether or not we are acting from a place of fear.  Acting from a place of fear more closely correlates to our perception of, and attitude toward, the power external sources have over us to move us from our center of peace, based on a foundation of our omnipresent connection to the Divine.

Rev. Joanne shares with us her vision that humanity is whole and healed, revealing our “holiness.”  She asks, ‘What does that look like outpicturing in the world?’  More often than not that is unknown, and that is a challenge.  We must not be attached to what that looks like as it unfolds.  That is what causes us to suffer.

We all face challenges in life.  Some are individual, some shared.  When there are opportunities for cooperation in resolving shared challenges, inevitably there will be differences between people of good conscience on how to proceed.  Even strong disagreements can be effectively managed if they are met with an understanding that each is attempting to move forward in a way they believe to be correct.  This does not mean that all disagreements can, should, or must be solved through “meeting half way,” only that honest listening should be our first step.

Listening to Owl’s advice, I choose to view the clouds as an inspiration to fly higher.  When life brings strong weather and storms, I will view those clouds as an indication that there is something for me to learn from those situations.  In this time of Covid-19 and all the uncertainty surrounding the present and immediate future I will deny and affirm:

Denial:  I am not subject to the mass consciousness of fear and insecurity with every headline and news story.

Affirmation:  I move through the world, now and always, knowing that God is good and that Divine Order guides my actions.

I will imagine my world into being.  We are told in the Gospel of Mark:

All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.  Mark 4:28

In a modern translation we see:

Imagination is the beginning of creation.  You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine, and at last you create what you will.  Bertrand Russell

This is in complete accord with Unity’s Five Principles, which are always worth reviewing:

  1. God is all there is and present everywhere.  This is the force of love and wisdom that underlies all of existence.
  2. Human beings are divine at their core and therefore inherently good.
  3. Thoughts have creative power to determine events and attract experiences.
  4. Prayer and meditation keep us aligned with the one great power in the universe.
  5. It is not enough to understand spiritual teachings. We must live the Truth we know.

Let us go forth and be love in action, honoring the Divine within all.


Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  Philippians 4:8

Spiritual Practice:

This week, choose an area of your life that you would like to transform.  Write a denial in which you gently sweep out the power of error thought in your mind.  Write an affirmation that centers your consciousness of Truth.  Work with your denial and affirmation this week.

Greg Skuderin

1Goodier, Steve, Lessons of the Turtle, Living Right Side Up, Life Support System Pub Inc, 2002.