How often do we live in a reactive mode, seeing things we don't like and railing against them? How often do we proceed from a song, a dream or a vision that arises in us, and causes us to stroll joyously down a path toward fulfillment. Can we learn to act more often from our faith than from our fear?
There was a nice 96 years old Christian lady, who every morning stepped onto her front porch, raised her arms to the sky, and shouted: 'PRAISE THE LORD!'
One day a young man who was an atheist moved into the house next door. He became irritated at the little old lady. He thought she was stupid, and besides what was she a rooster? He wanted to tell her to "shut up already." Finally he couldn't take it anymore. After she would yell her praises each morning, he would step onto his front porch and yell: 'THERE IS NO LORD!"
Time passed with the two of them carrying on this way every day. One morning, in the middle of winter, the little old lady stepped onto her front porch and shouted: "Praise the Lord! But then she began to pray: "Please Lord, I have no food today and I am hungry, provide for me, oh Lord, help me Lord!"
Later that day she stepped out onto her porch and there were two full bags of groceries sitting there.
"Praise the Lord!" she cried out. 'He has provided groceries for me!' The atheist neighbor jumped out of the hedges and shouted: 'There is no Lord, I bought those groceries at Krogers!!' The little old lady threw her arms into the air and shouted: 'Praise the Lord! He has provided me with groceries and made the devil pay for them!"
How often do we live in reactive mode? seeing things we don't like and railing against them. I ask you, was the Christian lady or the atheist man in reactive mode? Were either of them inspired?
Some of you may notice the similarity in theme of this sermon to my last. I am again suggesting that we find a way to discover and allow more inspiration, to bring more ease into our lives, and move in harmony with the life force inside and around us.
I had an idea that was to be the basis of the sermon I gave for father's day. But when I sat down to write that sermon, a different message found its way to print. I didn't want to shut of the excitement that was in me, and I just couldn't force myself to stick to my intended message about living from inspiration rather than force or self-coercion.
Some of you who heard my last sermon might be wondering if it was truly inspired or if I simply had trouble keeping my focus. I ended up talking about the way fathers have been expected to be in charge, and the paradigm shift that is underway from power over to power with. It was a specific foray into the topic of inspiration vs. force. It just wasn't what I originally intended. As I began writing this sermon, I had to laugh at myself as I wondered if this time I would stick with the intended prescription for how to act more often from inspiration than from willfulness.
Fortunately, I am happy to continue with a theme of ease and inspiration. I am intent on bringing these into my life increasingly. I am very serious about spiritual growth, and that is part of my problem. Seriousness can dry out the passion and joy needed for transformation. To grow along spiritual lines, we need to learn to appreciate life. Much of my spiritual path is concerned with finding ways to live peacefully and joyfully.
Inspiration is not just another sermon idea. It is the desired result for all our services. Inspiration is related to the notion of faith. Faith is what I hope to share, what I hope to support through each and every one of our services. Somewhere between the time I graduated seminary and the time I began parish ministry, I decided to become a person of faith. I realized that faith had saved me. Faith continues to give my life purpose and meaning.
Hmm, I'm wondering if my shifting from the word inspiration to the word faith stimulates a little uneasiness in some of you. Probably, at least a few are curious if not anxious as to what I might mean by the word faith. Hopefully, some of you feel excited by my promise to emphasize faith in our services. Others may be wondering as to how long I will continue with this introduction. Will I get to the point already?
The point is that in any given moment, there are two ways we can attempt to move toward the fulfillment of our goals. The first is from fear. The second is from love. The first is from willfulness. The other is from willingness. One is from perspiration: the other from inspiration. The first way stems from urgency: the second from confidence. The first moves from desperation: the second from faith.
The word inspiration means to breath life into something. The 7th verse of the 2nd chapter of the book of Genesis says "the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being."
I choose this passage to demonstrate how silly it is for us to sit around and argue if God exists or if the passage is true. We claim to be religiously liberal, not literalistic. We listen to the poetry of religion and try to move toward that transcendent truth it points toward.
We also tend to give credence to science and evolution. We have information that the people who first wrote the words that became scripture did not have. We now know that planet Earth was formed 4.5 billion years ago. Until very recently it was believed that life emerged 3.8 billion years ago, but more recent evidence suggests that microbes may have existed 4.4 billion years ago, about the time that the oceans first formed.
Does that make what I read wrong? Uh.. no! Does anyone else hear in this passage a poetic description of evolution? It says that God took the clay and breathed life into it. Where does it say that God is a person, or a deity, or some being that must be understood as being separate from nature? There was clay, earth, and the source of life breathed itself into the clay, and human beings were created. Life emerged from Earth, clay.
Some say that inspiration is when God breaths life into us. We could say that inspiration is receiving the breath of the source of life. We could say that breath itself is the source of life; that breath is holy. Without breath, we become clay again. We become Earth again.
Inspiration means allowing ourselves to be animated. Inspiration occurs when we connect with the source of life, the energy that is life, that moves in and through us and causes us to breath in and breath out.
In circles I travel, I have often heard people say "remember to breath.." Some times people just give the direction "breath." As if we need to be reminded to breath. Has anyone ever died from forgetting to breath? Kids hold their breath, and parents don't freak out. They know the child's need for air will win out. Even if the child were to pass out, his body would begin to breath involuntarily. So why do we need to be reminded to breath? Why do sing a song with a drone "breath in breath out?"
Well, the person that says "breathe!" might really be saying "take it easy, relax, don't be so uptight." The might be saying "please stop micromanaging, stop trying to control everything!"
Oddly there does seem to be value in reminders for breathing. We are like angry little kids holding our breaths. No we don't stop breathing completely, we just stop ourselves from allowing full breaths from occurring. I do not have statistics for you regarding shallow breathing, but I suspect it is epidemic.
Oxygen deprivation associated with shallow breathing has been linked with cancer, stroke, heart disease, mental deterioration and premature aging.. We breath shallowly and disallow ourselves to receive the oxygen we need for several reasons. In the modern era, many of us lack proper exercise, we live indoors, we hurry a lot, and worry a lot. We breath shallowly throughout the day and are rarely aware we are doing it.
Simply stated, relatively few people exist in a relaxed state. We habituate patterns of holding in our face and bodies . Our muscles are in a constant state of firing that limits our oxygen intake, and sends a signal to our whole system that we a state of emergency exists. Mental and emotional distress increase the likelihood of improper breathing. However, improper breathing also leads to increased frequency of mental and emotional disturbance.
It is not a coincidence that religious cultures throughout history and the globe have had rituals that encourage proper breathing. Meditation, chanting and other spiritual practices go a long way to bring about mental and emotional states that are conducive to proper breathing or inspiration.
So that's it, that's the profound spiritual message of the day? Breathe? Well lets say it's a good place to start. If we want to move from inspiration and faith, rather than urgency and desperation, we can remember to breathe. Breathe in, breathe out. This path to awakening into faith begins when we can admit that we are habitually restricting the flow of life from coming into us. We become aware that we have developed the habit of not allowing the healing life-giving force of oxidation to enter us.
And we don't have to fully understand why we are restricting it. We only need to surrender and allow the wisdom of the body to breath for us. We can become aware that there is a power, an intelligence that is bigger than us that is always right there willing to help us. It may help to realize that we have been practicing a fearful distrusting of life. It may be difficult to see this truth about us. It may be terrifically humbling to realize that our willfulness is routinely blocking us from the flow of life. Fortunately the correction is easy. We switch back from voluntary to involuntary breathing.
I was greatly amused when writing this to imagine, that some people might find this all too mundane and lacking in spiritual power, and that others might find this far too reminiscent of religious talk of their youth. A power greater than ourselves, ... all we have to do is surrender to it.. I may couch it in physical terms but it still sounds like "let go and let God" stuff.
I wish to balance this talk of surrendering by stating that we weren't given the ability to consciously control our breath for no reason. We were born with a mind and a consciousness in order to use it. The goal isn't to be come a reed in the marsh that is blown about by the wind. Which direction it leans depends entirely on which way the wind blows.
No, we have the ability to choose our own way. The Texas board of education could vote to teach creationism in school, and we can faithfully continue to speak out for the value of having standards of science and reason. The forces of narrow mindedness might gain political sway and for a while, they may keep it legal to discriminate against lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender people, and we can choose to stand on the side of love. We could choose to stand on the side of love only when its convenient for us. We could choose as Rev. James Reeb did, to enter the fray of social unrest, and stand on the side of love knowing that his choice might make him a target of racial violence. The global market culture could intoxicate the population into a trance inducing refrain of "more, more, more" promising salvation through personal consumption. We could intoxicate and distract ourselves from the pain of living in a thousand ways. Or we could to allow our hearts to be broken again and again rather than live as bitter, sheltered people.
How do we live from inspiration and love? How do we develop faith and not fear. As Unitarian Universalists, we believe that there is more than one right answer to this question. I am certainly not advocating that we become what Marshal Rosenberg calls "nice dead people" meaning people so addicted to pleasing others, so addicted to approval, that they would never want to rock the boat. That is not inspiration, that is a self induced form of lobotomy.
We can continue to celebrate and claim our ability to think for ourselves, and choose for ourselves. Passion is not evil. It is the juice of life.. We are born to live; to feel the pleasure of resting, and eating and exercising, of touching and being touched, of caring, and striving, and sometimes valuing living in a way that shortens our life or diminishes our own health or survival.
We all do this. All of us become attached to some outcome and pursue it with passion. It may be our job, it may be our children. It may be an addiction to a chemically induced state of relief. I suggest we ask ourselves "what is it that I am giving my life to? What is it that is most important to me? What am I choosing right now?
Am I marching off to war to the cadence of a patriotic song? Am I pulsing to the beat of a rhythm formed by disgust and discontent? Am I focusing all of my attention on what I don't want; on the injustice, the insanity, the corruption?
Do I sing so that my heart flutters, and my soul soars. Am I breathing deeply? Am I allowing myself to experience my connection with something so much larger than me that I can't measure it? Am I believing that the world is out to get me? Do I know that I am blessed in all creation, that the source of life is ever present, ever ready to lift me up, and fill me with awareness of glory?
Breath in. Breathe out. Life is. May we find reasons for faith, and love and living.
So be it.