UNITY OF VANCOUVER
3814 FRANKLIN ST. VANCOUVER, WASHINGTON 98660 360-696-0996
Looking for God
Reverend Bernadette Voorhees
January 31, 2021
All Rights Reserved
In today’s lesson you’ll find a number of questions to use for discussions about finding God. I hope you enjoy it.
A healthy ego, a healthy self-concept exists when we accept who we are, exactly the way we are and feel that we’re important in life. This is difficult because our society is afflicted with the illness of ‘not enough’ and we’re suffering the consequences of it. This type of lack thinking undermines the growth of a healthy self-esteem and sets up a pattern of dissatisfaction with self because the underlying message of convention wisdom is “I am not enough.” We are enough and it’s our job to learn to accept ourselves exactly as we are then we can use our spiritual energies to concentrate on individuation skills and talents instead of longing to be someone else, somewhere else.
Close your eyes and focus your attention on your breath. As you breathe in and out gently through your nose, allow yourself to become more and more relaxed. As you gently breathe in and out, your feet become relaxed, your legs become relaxed and your arms and hands become relaxed.
As you continue to breathe in and out, gently and quietly, your head becomes relaxed and your mind floats free. You find yourself floating away from the place where you are meditating to a place you consider a personal sanctuary and where you feel really good. It may be a place in nature, a place you have visited on vacation, anywhere where you feel good about yourself. When you get there, just enjoy being there.
Enjoy the warmth of the sun and breathe it into yourself. Feel the warmth of the sun and feel filled with love. Now see yourself as perfect exactly the way you are. See yourself as a friend, with your family and with yourself. See yourself at ease with something that you enjoy doing, whether it is walking, playing piano, drawing, singing, conversing with friends or being alone. Just experience the joy of being you. Continue to feel the warmth of the sun and to breathe in a feeling of peace and well-being. Now as you return from your meditative journey, bring this feeling of well-being with you and carry it with you throughout the rest of the day and week.
Looking For God
Have you ever had a time in your life when something you needed turned up missing? Something you counted on as always being there for you?
I’m not talking about little things like socks or keys or phone numbers written on scrap paper, things that routinely fall between the cushions on the sofa and get sucked into the netherworld between galaxies or those things you chalk up to something the dog chewed up and carried away. Those things you can forget and attach with a little sticky note to the refrigerator asking other people in the family if they’ve seen it. I’m talking about bigger things, things we can spend months or even years looking for like our sanity, our identity or our purpose in life, the kind of things that don’t fit on sticky notes or refrigerators.
In Woody Allen’s short play, “Mr. Big,” a detective named Kaiser Lupowitz is hired by a Vassar philosophy major to find something that turned up missing, a missing person to be exact. Kaiser questions her and discovers, early on, that the person she wants to find is God. When Kaiser asks her what God looks like, she admits she has never seen him. “Oh great!” he responds. “Then you don’t know what he looks like. Or where to begin looking?” “No. Not really,” she replies. “Although I suspect he’s everywhere. In the air, in every flower, in you and I and in this leather sectional sofa.”
“Uh-huh,” Kaiser thinks. “So, she’s a pantheist.” Following the twists and turns of the parody investigation, Kaiser later talks to the police. He is asked if he’s still looking for God, the “Great Oneness, the connection between all things, Creator of the Universe, Mr. Big?” When the detective nods the police tell him that somebody answering to that description has just showed up at the morgue. After reviewing the facts, Kaiser and the policeman conclude that the divine murder wasn’t a professional job. “Couldn’t have been,” they say. “Probably done by an existentialist,” they surmise. When Kaiser asks how they could know, the sergeant answers, “Haphazard way it was done. Doesn’t seem to be any system followed.”
I know of families where, if God turned up missing, it wouldn’t be much of a problem. Families where it would be a problem if someone left a sticky note on the refrigerator asking if they’d seen God or if they wouldn’t mind helping to look for God. Families where it would be a problem if their teenage son came home from school and said that he’d found God. In many households, seeing God’s picture on a milk carton wouldn’t raise many eyebrows.
For some, God just turned up missing one day and they never bothered to file a report. There are also people who were so turned off by a long history of personal experiences with Hell and brimstone pastors preaching sin and shame and misguided people in their lives who told them so many times that “God was going to punish them for this or that;” that they finally summoned the courage and good common sense to get rid of such a hurtful and destructive God themselves. Many people in Unity share a history like that and say that even though they finally understood that the role of God was never meant to be a harmful or negative thing in our lives and that their family or friends still believe otherwise and while they held on to God, their family and friends went missing.
Woody Allen wasn’t the first to write about the killing of God. Many people before and since have reflected on the idea of ‘theocide,’ if not carried it out themselves. The point I’m making here is that since the purpose of worshiping God is to inspire you to become more God-like, when you realize that the God you’ve been taught to believe in is a vengeful, condemning and punishing God, isn’t it better to kill off such a God than to become more like Him? But then, what do you do when all that’s left is the chalk outline of where God used to be in your life? What do you do to fill that place? What do you turn to? What do you believe in? What do you worship if all you are left with is a God-sized hole? Nothing? Anything? Does this matter?
Carl Jung, one of the fathers of modern psychology, wrote a book called “Modern Man in Search of a Soul.” In it he said, “About a third of my cases are suffering from no clinically definable neurosis; but instead from the senselessness and emptiness of their lives. This can be described as the general neurosis of our time.” According to Jung, the general neurosis of our times is “meaninglessness, emptiness, and the feeling that something is missing.” And the questions that cry to us out of our emptiness are simple: “What should I be doing with my life? What can I do so that I can someday look back and feel like my life was significant? When I die will my own disappearance leave the world richer, poorer, sadder or just less crowded?” Unlike some other religions, the question we in Unity wrestle with isn’t whether there is life after death, but whether there is life after birth and life before death. These are questions that we usually turn to God with for help. But when we’re worshiping a God that demands blind allegiance, or for whom we can find no allegiance, we must contend with the emptiness on our own and rather than living with emptiness, we often learn to fill it by turning to something or someone.
In his essay on the Oversoul, Ralph Waldo Emerson talked about this saying: “A person will worship something – have no doubt about that. We may think our tribute is paid in secret, in the dark recesses of our hearts but it will get out. That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives and character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshiping, we are becoming.” This is so true. Yet how many of us are always aware of exactly what we are worshiping? If you ask someone “What is more important: having the latest computer, boat, car or thing off Madison avenue or devotion to family? Their answer will likely be family. But if you watch how they live their lives and what they spend their time, energy and money on you are likely to see otherwise.
Emerson is referring to the idolatry we commit when we confuse or simply replace the worship of something meaningful with something that’s merely alluring. The voices that call us to “keep up with the Jones” or look as good as the people around us are just a few of the voices that often live in the available emptiness of our soul. They can, as Emerson notes, “dominate our imaginations and determine our character.” But possessions, success and vanity are only a few of the tempting false gods that will try to roost in an empty nest. The physical world is not unfamiliar with the gods of power, fame and influence. Jesus warned against their seduction saying such things don’t bring peace. The drive for power and fame, like wealth, leads people to see their lives in terms of competition and attempts at domination rather than cooperation and relationship with the highest and the best for all concerned as the end result. The exercise of power can make human relationships very difficult not to mention unbalanced.
Rabbi Harold Kushner said, “There is a tricky link between the quest for love and the quest for power. If you love someone because they always try to please you, because they always do what you want them to, that isn’t love, that is just a round a bout way of loving yourself. Power, like water, flows downhill from someone in a higher position to someone lower down. Love can be generated only between people who see themselves as equals, between people who can be mutually fulfilling to each other. Where one commands and one obeys, there can be loyalty and gratitude, but not love.”
If we need an example of those who would try to convince us that love will come through approval, obedience and submission, we only need look at how a cultured, educated people like the Germans could have let a man like Hitler come to power to know this is true. Likewise, words of such gods of approval are also found in the journal of a medieval Spanish monk when he wrote, “I am confident that, after my death, I will go to Heaven because I have never made a decision on my own. I have always followed the orders of superiors and if I ever erred, the sin is theirs, not mine.” Such a Heaven could only be filled with souls who spent their lives as sycophants and know only conformity and obedience. For myself, I couldn’t imagine a greater Hell.
The Roman poet Ovid told a story of two characters who were dominated by false gods and the fate they encountered. It is about a young pair named Echo and Narcissus.
“Echo was a maiden so named by the God Juno whom she served as a handmaiden. Juno wouldn’t stand for brazenness and when she heard Echos’ tongue speak for itself, she cast spell over the maiden that reduced her ability for speech to the shallow mimicry of other people’s words. No independent, original thought of her own could escape her lips. This would become a tragedy for Echo later on when she met a young boy named Narcissus. Narcissus was endowed with beauty so great no one could resist him. It was prophesied at his birth that he would live to an old age, unless he somehow caught sight of himself. Echo seeing his beauty, tried to draw Narcissus to her but she had no words of her own to attract him. When he rejected her, she hid behind some trees where she pined and pined until her body wasted away leaving only her voice to echo others around her. Narcissus escaped Echo by running to a still and clear stream, where he bent down to get a drink. As he did, he saw his reflection on the surface of the water. Thinking it was the most beautiful person he’d ever seen looking up at him, he bent down to kiss the surface. This he did over and over, never able to coax the reflection out of the water and thus pining away there for his inability to take his eyes off himself. In his last few breaths he lamented his unrequited love, saying “Alas,” and from the trees nearby came Echo’s haunting voice, “Alas, alas, alas.”
The Kingdom of God is found by people learning how to come together with all of their beauty, creativity and independence, a kingdom built on recognition of mutual strengths. Echo and Narcissus were not able to achieve this kind of relationship and for good reason, they had chosen to follow, or were directed by what Ovid calls “smaller Gods.” Any God worth following wouldn’t prompt or expect us to become blindly obedient, only able to echo other people’s words or ways. Parroting scripture is a way to be religious, but without some authentic insight and voice of our own, there is nothing significant within us that will allow more than a shallow connection with others. This is what Jesus called second hand light and the blind repetition that results in the sins of the Father being visited on the son.
When we seek to fill that God-sized hole with the material world’s gods of power, wealth, fame or vanity we become narcissistic. We are Ego and earthly centered rather than Essence, Christ and God centered. We are trying to captivate or control others and draw them and bind them to us. This way of being never allows us to see beyond our own image, which we have to do in order to truly appreciate who they really are, what they really think, what they have to offer and what they actually do as individualized expressions of God. Now more than ever, it feels that gods who demand obedience or who rule through the power of shame are turning up more and more as missing or in the morgue. And “We the people” seem to be taking on more and more responsibility to fill the emptiness in our own souls and in our own country and in the world with something godly of our own. A new vision for transparency and accountability that seems to elude the old Gods of power.
Robert Steyn followed three primary principles in his efforts to rid South Africa of Apartheid that can help guide use through the challenging times we are experiencing.
1. Find compassion for those other than me.
These three ideas are as holy and as helpful and inspiring as any I have read in the Bible.
In the end it doesn’t matter whether the acts of our conscience come from the Bible, the words of those acting in godly ways or Jiminy Cricket. What is important is that we begin to ask ourselves some hard questions and begin to consider what we worship because what we worship determines what we are becoming physically and spiritually as an individual, as a member of a particular human family and collectively as a church and as a country.
We are created in the image and likeness of God and therefore co-creators with God. What we think and do matters. We are always in the act of becoming and giving expression (form) to God. So, we must begin to take ourselves seriously. If we don’t know one else will.
I invite you to spend some time today answering these questions.
I’ll close with these thoughts from Buddha.
The thought manifests as the word.
The word manifests as the deed.
The deed develops into a habit,
And habit hardens into character.
So, watch the thought and its ways with care,
And let it spring from love,
Out of respect for all beings.
Here is an affirmation to empower your choices.
Affirm: Who I am good enough because who I am is God enough!
© Unity of Vancouver, 2004 All Rights Reserved.