March 14, 2021 Sunday Service Message: Lenten Series – Different Pictures

God is Our Source

In this fourth week of Lent, Rev. Joanne continues her series of talks about healing.  In the previous three weeks we learned about Jesus healing a leper, the servant of a Roman centurion, and last week about the restoring of sight to two blind men.  This week we learn about two healings that Jesus performed – a woman who was healed by her faith, demonstrated by her merely touching Jesus’s garment, and raising from the dead the daughter of a synagogue leader.  From Matthew 9:18-26:

While he was saying this, a synagogue leader came and knelt before him and said, “My daughter has just died.  But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.”  Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples.

Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak.  She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.”

Jesus turned and saw her.  “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.”  And the woman was healed at that moment.

When Jesus entered the synagogue leader’s house and saw the noisy crowd and people playing pipes, he said, “Go away.  The girl is not dead but asleep.”  But they laughed at him.  After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up.  News of this spread through all that region.

Rev. Joanne explains that the pairing of these two healing stories are significant not only because of the healings themselves, but because of Jesus’s demonstrating that divine law is more important that religious laws made by humans.  Judaic laws at the time had very strict requirements for remaining “pure.”  According to those laws the bleeding woman even touching Jesus’s garment would have made him “unclean,” and therefore needing to perform a purifying ritual before entering the home of the synagogue leader.  Although the biblical account does not tell us whether or not Jesus performed such a ritual, nor does it state that he purposely rejected doing so, it is possible to infer from their close connection that Jesus felt that either the woman’s condition did not make her unclean or that the cleansing ritual was not necessary.

Using these physical healing stories as metaphor for intellectual healing, Rev. Joanne likens Jesus’s apparent lack of concern for adherence to purity laws as a release of being stuck in what is (that no longer serves us) instead of imagining and embracing what can be.  During that past one year of covid-19 concerns (yes, Earth has made one full circuit around the Sun since the first official shutdowns began in the United States), she observes that there has been a growing tendency for some people to believe in conspiracy theories.  Of course, conspiracy theories are nothing new.  Psychologically, such theories are one way of attempting to provide explanations and order in times of uncertainty and chaos.  The term conspiracy theory in most general use has come to describe unsubstantiated, and often irrational, explanations for what is occurring in the world.  While this is often the case, not all conspiracy theories are of lizard people living in the sewers or visitation from little green men from Mars.

Rev. Joanne tells us that intellectual health invites us into the place of mystery.  It is supported when we bring our minds to a question with openness and curiosity but also remain grounded in reality.  She also reminds us that, generally speaking, humans are not comfortable with mystery - hence the need for some to embrace conspiracy theories.  We would rather have some explanation, however tenuous, than no explanation at all.  This is true.  For the thousands of years prior to the development of the scientific method of inquiry, and to some extent even today, humans sought explanations for what they observed in the world.  Animistic religions were among the first philosophies to develop.  Gods were not just represented by natural processes but were those processes.  Creating gods and goddesses of rain, sun, moon and stars; of the hunt, trees, childbirth, and healing all provided explanations and structure to our lives.

While it is true that we still have much to learn about the natural world, science has released us from the need to create such mythologies as explanations for our experiences.  Rev. Joanne correctly says that current scientific knowledge is unable to account for 95% of the makeup of the universe.  Normal matter, that which is made from atoms, accounts for only 5% of what we see.  A phenomenon that is currently described as dark matter accounts for approximately 20% of the composition of the universe and dark energy accounts for the other 70%.  Dark matter is described as mass in the universe that is observed but unaccounted for by the total mass of all of the stars, planets and other physical things we can see in the universe.  Dark energy is the force that is driving the accelerating expansion of the universe.  These terms are merely placeholders for phenomena we do not yet understand.  Ongoing inquiry, that is intellectual curiosity, will perhaps one day lead us to an understanding of what they actually are and better descriptive terms will follow.

One of the enduring questions people have been asking for millennia is, What is consciousness?  Rev. Joanne tells us that, currently, science cannot explain what consciousness is or where it resides.  There are two aspects to describing consciousness.  One is the “easy problem” of consciousness and the other is the “hard problem.”  The easy problem, so called because it is within our understanding of how to describe it, addresses the question of where it resides.  Science does have a clear understanding of the mechanisms that perform the function for where experiences of the world reside – in the human brain.  The hard problem poses the challenge of describing how a collection of atoms that have formed in a certain configuration, that is the human brain, produce the experience of consciousness.

When we discuss consciousness creating our experience we must be clear that there are two different applications of the term.  The consciousness of the brain and our physical perceptions of the world is phenomenological.  This type of consciousness does not create our experience but describes it.  The other type of consciousness is the thought patterns, worldview, knowledge, and attitudes toward what we see that give us our subjective feelings about it.

It is tempting for us to see things in the world that we do not understand and project onto them an explanation that provides meaning.  It is also tempting for us to want certain things to be true that clearly are not.  Rev. Joanne gives an example of this fanciful thinking with a meme about sunflowers.  It is well known that sunflowers track the movement of the sun across the sky by slowly turning to face the light straight on.  There is a myth that on cloudy days, when the sun is obscured, that sunflowers seek the support they are unable to receive from the sun by facing one another.  This anthropomorphizing of flowers is a feel good metaphor, but as Rev. Joanne tells us, completely false.  She says some people want this, and other such stories, to be true because it supplies us with the emotion we need to be able to say, “see we can lift each other up.”  As warm and fuzzy as such thoughts may be, they are unnecessary because there are actually examples in nature of non-human, even non-animal, life forms supporting one another.  She tells us that scientists have described how trees of the same species support one another in their roots, and communicate chemically to warn of herbivorous pests and disease pathogens.  This type of real example isn’t quite as desirable as a “feel good” story, but for anyone who thinks about it clearly it should be far more inspiring because it is actually true.

It is no coincidence that humans created their first gods from natural phenomenon.  Rev. Joanne tells us that Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar, says that the first “bible” is nature and the second is the word.  He says that if you can open to the wonder and the mystery allowing yourself into a deeper experience of God, you will find that you cannot be lonely.  You discover that God is within it all.  I agree with Rohr that knowing that God is within each of us, always and immediately available is true.  With this knowledge we will not feel entirely forsaken.  However, even though God tells us that, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age,” humans still need other humans.  Without family, friends, and lovers life really is not so sweet.  We can, and should, take heart in an omnipresent God.  But from that also know that the Divine Mind within all of us can help us to reach out to others for love and support, and to allow ourselves to be available to and for others.

Intellectual health is about many things – curiosity, embracing mystery, remaining grounded in facts and Truth.  Rev. Joanne cites a passage from Unity writer Dana Gatlin (1884-1940) that provides a summary of how we have within us the power to decide how we move through life and act and react to it:

Your mind is your own.  It is your own place.  You have the absolute say-so as regards what shall enter and dwell there.  This fact should be a source of renewed strength and joy to you.  You are the absolute arbiter.  Of course it will require watchfulness, alertness, fidelity, and sincere desire on your part.  Yet it rests with you and is within your capacities.

You may think you have no power over the conditions that fill your life, the thoughts that fill your mind.  Nothing is falser than this belief, which in itself is a destructive weed.  You have the power, and you may exercise it in accordance with your desire, purpose, integrity, and perseverance.1

Maintaining a positive attitude is not the only thing that is necessary to improve the conditions of our life, but is a strong first step we can take in that direction.  A positive attitude and intellectual honesty, bolstered by the knowledge that “with God all things are possible,” not only promotes our intellectual health but provides the confidence for us to take the actions we need to improve our own lives and the lives of those around us.

Now Go and Be the Light.

Scripture

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.  Isaiah 26:3

Spiritual Practice

The words of Jesus we highlight this week from the healing story are, “the girl is not dead, she is sleeping.”  We touched today on our need to be rejuvenated in spirit, to awaken with new vigor for creativity and curiosity.  This is the intellectual healing that is spiritual healing.

This week, take time to contemplate the places in your life where you have been asleep to the truth of what you are.  Take time to engage with the Power of Imagination.  Imagine living into the Truth of what you are . . . a unique individualized expression of the Divine.  How can you live into this image each day?  Choose one small way you can show up in your divinity.

Greg Skuderin

1Gatlin, Dana Elizabeth, Where I am King, Unity School of Christianity, Lee’s Summit, MO.  For complete essay visit https://www.truthunity.net/tracts/dana-gatlin-where-i-am-king