UNITY OF VANCOUVER
3814 FRANKLIN ST. VANCOUVER, WASHINGTON 98660 360-696-0996
Searching for Joy
Reverend Bernadette Voorhees
January 24, 2021
All Rights Reserved
Let us begin by taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly. Allow your breath to take you to a deeper level, a deeper place within you that we in Unity call the Silence. The Silence is the place where you come face-to-face, heart-to-heart and soul-to-soul with the living, loving Presence of God. Release any worries you’ve been holding for the future. Just acknowledge this moment and the loving Presence of God that lives and moves within you. Silently affirm: “There is only one presence and power in my life, God the good, omnipotent.”
As you acknowledge the Presence and Power of God, in whose image you are made, you discover that you are never alone, never unloved and never broken. God loves you unconditionally and is with you through all the events of your life waiting and willing to help you and to shower you with blessings.
To awaken to God’s presence is to know and to accept that you live, move and have your being in that one loving Presence of God. Awakening to the one allows you to feel worthy and to say, “Yes to the joy of life!” Silently affirm: “I am a child of God made in the image and after the likeness of my Creator. God loves me just as I am.”
As you allow the love of God to express in and through you, you are able to see that love in all humankind and know that everyone, in their own individual, wonderful, beautiful way, is a child of God. You realize that when you look into the eyes of another person, you are looking at the face of God; and then, you can have the courage to say to this wonderful, beautiful soul: “You are a beautiful expression of God!”
We are not separate beings; we, in truth, are one. And out of this oneness, we can experience the promise: “I came that you might have life and have it abundantly. It is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. All that the Father has is yours.”
It is God’s good pleasure to express happiness, joy, peace, wholeness, prosperity and creativity in and through your life. You can have all the love, harmony, joy, peace, happiness, prosperity and serenity that your consciousness has the capacity to hold. Rest in the Silence now and fill your cup to overflowing with all that God is.
For this truth and for our awakening to a usable awareness that there is only one presence and one power, God the good omnipotent, we are grateful. We say, Thank You, God. Amen.
“SEARCHING FOR JOY”
This morning I’m talking about joy and the search for joy. Joy is something that most people agree is a worthy goal in life and something we never seem to get enough of. Many people will spend their entire lives searching for it and never find it. The sad irony of the search for joy is that it often leads us into some of the most joyless places we’ve ever known.
The kind of places where your yearning never ceases and where all the people you meet feel a little empty. I’m talking about the kind of places that some of us had to struggle to climb out of in order to find Unity or a support group like AA or NA, etc. Can you remember ever being in such a place? If so, you aren’t alone. Many people have told me that they found Unity only after a long and hard search for a place that would meet their spiritual needs; a place where they hoped they would find something elusive that their soul had been seeking. . . Joy.
When we set out to find a church many of us, did so believing that churches – at least the GOOD churches – are filled completely with joyful people who have it all figured out and who have found their bliss. In fact, so much so that bliss is just oozing out of them. And the really GOOD churches, as we all know, must hire extra janitors to mop up all the extra bliss. But after visiting a few churches myself, I like many people, realized that churches aren’t ever-flowing fountains of joy and bliss filled with people who are perfectly happy. As someone once said, “Churches, aren’t waiting rooms for saints. They are ICU’s for sinners.” Churches don’t exist to showcase perfection. They exist to show the imperfect a better way.
Theologian Earnest Kurtz talks about our drive to seek out places that offer human spiritual development. He says, “The core paradox that underlies the spiritual quest is the need to recognize and reconcile the haunting sense of incompleteness, of being somehow unfinished, that comes from the reality of being part of a creation that is still unfolding. For to be human is to be incomplete and yet yearn for completion; it is to be uncertain, yet long for certainty; to be imperfect, yet long for perfection; to be broken and yet crave wholeness. All these yearnings remain necessarily unsatisfied, for perfection, completion, certainty and wholeness are impossible precisely because we are imperfectly human – or better yet, because we are perfectly human, which is to say humanly imperfect.”
This makes sense to me. There is a function to our disfunctions! Everyone who searches for a spiritual community or a church is in search of God. But God isn’t something you can touch or taste or hold in your hand. Since God isn’t something that comes with a seal of authenticity one helpful question to ask ourselves is: “What is it that I’m really looking for? What is God to me?” A lot of churches ignore this question or assume that God is something so obvious that people will walk in the door and immediately and automatically get ‘saved.’ But meeting our spiritual needs isn’t as simple as going to the right church.
People seek out churches and prayer or spiritual support and growth groups because they have a need, feel an inner emptiness or are questioning the events of life. When they are handed the off-the-shelf, generic out-of-the-box type of angry, judgmental, Old Testament God they often feel disillusioned and either go on in search for a better church or give up the search entirely saying, “There is no such thing as God.” But that hardly ever means that the yearning stops – even if they think their faith in God does. No matter what we turn to, when we can’t fill that inner yearning with a suitable God, we are left to contend with a yearning feeling that just won’t go away and a God-sized hole in our lives that can’t be filled by anything less than a personal experience and relationship with God.
There’s a book by Andrew Newburg called “Why God Won’t Go Away” that talks about this. Newburg is a neuroscientist who has used brain scan technology to map neural activity in Tibetan Monks in meditation and Franciscan Nuns in prayer. The monks described their experiences in meditation as “a transcending the limits of self.” The nuns described it as more of a “meeting with God.” But in both subjects, it translated as a “physiological decrease of activity in the parietal lobes of the brain”. This is the “neural center that allows us to form distinctions of separateness between self and others.”
In psychological terms it is the “reduction or elimination of ego”. In religious terms it is “a joining in and becoming part of all that is.” Newburg’s study showed that these are both sensations that practitioners of meditation and prayer associate with enlightenment or finding God. It demonstrated that everyone of us is hardwired to pursue, or at least contend with, an “unmet inner need – an unfilled space – and that it is natural to feel this way and just part of what it means to be human.” The problem Newburg goes on to say is that “most people never take up a spiritual discipline intense enough to experience the physiological sensations to satisfy this hard-wired yearning and to feel free from all the doubts, insecurities and fears that go along with it so that you do feel complete and joyful.”
Archetypal psychologist James Hillman posed the basic question, “What does our soul want?” He suggested that our soul seeks the kind of wholeness I just described. And in the absence of this soul satisfaction, we are left seeking cheap substitutes in the material world that promise to be satisfying but never are – at least for long. He says, “The process of searching and never finding only serves to aggravate our discontent.” He goes on to say, “One thing that some people are almost certain to find on this kind of search is a ‘Jones.’” Some of you may not be familiar with the term, ‘Jones’. But ask any addict and they’ll tell you; a ‘Jones’ is another way to say, ‘an addiction.’
Mr. Jones is in the business of offering substitutes. Some of his specialties are familiar to us: sex, food, alcohol, drugs gambling, cigarettes and speed. These things tempt us because they hold out the promise of fulfillment of that empty space. Mr. Jones says, “Well have you ever tried it?” and you say, “Well, no. But I don’t need to try.” And Mr. Jones says, “How do you know? Why don’t you just take a sip, a sample and see if you like it?” And at first it may seem pretty satisfying but then we realize that we need more and more, more and more often to remain satisfied. And soon that craving for more becomes as bad as or worse the original emptiness.
Bill Wilson, founder of AA described it this way: “By the time I was 21, fear governed my life. By the time I was 30, I had found that alcohol dissolved that fear – for a little while. In the end, I had two problems instead of one – fear and alcohol.” That’s a Jones. Sometimes it’s helpful to talk about ‘a Jones’ in terms of the new guy who moves in next door at a time when you really needed a friend. At first, he really seemed to understand your problems and he was always there for you – unlike all the other so-called friends who had let you down.
And when your problems seem unmanageable, he volunteers to move in with you just to help you get by. He’s the one who whispers in your ear, “You’re in control.” The other people in your life don’t hear his voice or if they do, they don’t believe what it’s saying. Little problems go unaddressed. And then someone points out that Mr. Jones sold his house. He didn’t need it because he’s living with you now. You seem to vaguely remember your family and friends protesting at the time, but you defended him and yourself. In fact, you’ve gotten good at defending your actions and at coming up with excuses, insisting “I’m in control. Don’t worry about me. I’m good.”
But you’re not in control and you are not good because you are not free, precisely because you can’t summon the courage and strength to ask Mr. Jones to leave. Even though by now, even you have discovered that he is living with you at the expense of all the things you once said that you were living for. All the things that once “really mattered’ now go to your Jones: your money, time, attention, health, everything, as well as your love.
But sooner or later reality catches up and all the other voices that got pushed to the background, the ones you thought you could outsmart, begin to speak up. Hopefully before you hit rock bottom but usually not.
When a loved one or a friend is in the midst of an addiction, we may think, “Thank God that I don’t have those kinds of problems or Thank God that I haven’t ever settled for substitutes to give me satisfaction and joy.” Thank God, that, in this church, there is no one who has ever let anything derail them from what really matters; that no one here spends their time, attention and money on things that dull the pain of emptiness. Thank God we’re smarter than that. Thank God we’re in control. Thank God we’re more perfect than other people. And Thank God we don’t believe any of what I just said.
Most of us probably don’t suffer from major addictions in our lives. But we do live in a society that encourages a lot of minor ones. Things like being a workaholic or a shopaholic. Some people are addicted to coffee, TV, Cell phones, email, computers or computer games. Some are addicted to power, fame, money and control, especially ‘control over’ other people and their life choices. Some people are even addicted to the need to be right to such an extent that they don’t even hear or acknowledge the viewpoints of others.
Advertising agencies market products to answer our fundamental spiritual and religious needs. For example: For a mere 300-500 dollars, Kodak promises to capture time, preserve meaning and hold it eternally in pixels. They can deliver immortality at the click of a button.
State Farm projects the archetypal Good Samaritan. You’re safe in their everlasting hands.
Or, should you suffer anxiety and have a few spare dollars, you may find comfort in owning a Piece of the Rock. No more sleepless nights worrying if your house is built on sand. Let the wind blow and the flood beat. With a piece of the rock you can have the geology of the cosmos on your side.
But Schlitz holds the all-time record for selling us an answer to existential angst. Back in 1973 they had a commercial that asked the basic question: “How can I be saved?” They then proceeded to show that the road to nirvana is traversed via a 75 ft. schooner with an ice-box full of Schlitz. But don’t run out, because there is no salvation outside of Schlitz.
Advertising promotes the idea that salvation is not found by grace but by grabbing – not by praying but by purchasing.
Which leads us all to the inescapable conclusion that if you’re ever anxious, lonely, depressed, insecure or feeling mortal and unsaved there is only one thing you can do: “Take out your wallet, buy a Kodak camera, pay a premium on Gibraltar and get a six pack of Schlitz.” No more fear and trembling. No more dark nights of the soul. Do these things for that sense of perfect peace and spend a couple bucks on a pack of Rolaids.
The Bible says, “All things when used in moderation are ok.” Any of these things, within limits, are ok and can be life enhancing. But when we form a dependency on them to fill the empty places within us, when they supersede relationships with the people, we say we love - when they become substitutes for what really matters – when we try to make Gods of them – that’s when we get into trouble. The question we need to keep asking ourselves is: What in my life am I worshipping? What am I trying to make Godly?
Now it may be a relief to know that most of us only struggle with the more minor – more socially acceptable – addictions. But the bad news is that with the minor ones we are less apt to hit bottom. We are more apt to try to stay in control. But as with any addiction sooner or later we will meet something or someone that has the power to stop us. That power to stop us can be one of two things. It can be our ultimate tragedy, or it can be our ultimate blessing.
If we never get to the understanding that we live for people, for relationships, for love and for liberty and freedom for all– then it is a tragedy. But, when that power to stop us is a community like Unity or AA that is willing to stand up and take a risk to see past our defenses and remind us that we are loved and that we are welcome and that we are not only acceptable but accepted, that will be our blessing because very often that is the only thing that can call us from the grip of addiction. A blessing community that helps us surrender control.
A lot of people end up believing that the only way to fight addiction is to control it. But anyone who has gotten through addiction knows that the problems from addiction are all about a need to control: a need to control our insecurities, to control our fears, our inability to get what we want or face the world without. Addiction is all about trying to control our pain. And so, the only way to find recovery is to surrender. Not surrender to the substitutes but to surrender the fear, the emptiness and the struggle up into God and to let God fill that God-sized hole inside you through prayer and meditation.
There is a spiritual theory taught by some churches that says we must try hard to be perfect so that we will merit God’s love and deserve joy in our lives because we’ve earned it.
The result of this error teaching is that we feel that if God – or others – were to really know that we are broken, incomplete or cracked – they wouldn’t have anything to do with us. Jewish theologian Martin Buber said, “If God exists anywhere, it is in the brokenness, the fractured, fragmented places that we are brave enough to leave open to the world.”
It is in those cracks – that brokenness, that incompleteness, that emptiness – that God is intended to fit. When we cover them up or try to fill them with substitutes, we mask the one place – that allows us to understand God and to personally experience God’s love and forgiveness and perhaps the only place that allows us to understand one another.
There are 5 things that you can do that will help you to let go of substitutes and find the love and acceptance of God you search for that will bring you true joy.
1. Any time you want to make a change in your life the first step is always t pray and ask God for direction. Ask God to give you the strength and courage to succeed.
Let’s close this lesson with a moment of prayer.
Thank You God, for the Truth that we were not created to be limited. We were not created to experience sickness, poverty, bad habits or addictions that hold us back. We are free to see the God give good in ourselves and to see and experience the God given good in others in our world. We are free to be optimistic about ourselves and about our lives.
As this day continues and as our lives unfold, our commitment to God and to ourselves is to rise to that higher level of understanding, action and interaction, whereby this freedom that we all are will become an everyday experience.
Thank You God. Amen.
© Unity of Vancouver, 2004 All Rights Reserved.