UNITY OF VANCOUVER
3814 FRANKLIN ST. VANCOUVER, WASHINGTON 98660 360-696-0996
Resurrecting the Power of the Christ Mind
Reverend Bernadette Voorhees
February 21, 2021
All Rights Reserved
|This week’s talk, ‘Beauty We Did
Not Create’ was born from watching people use carelessly or
destroy things that they did not create, support, or protect
that belong to someone else or to everyone else. It seems to
me that this theme needs to be promoted to those who feel
entitled to destroy everything in their path like willful,
indulged children who seem to feel that is the only way to
make their point. It is especially meaningful to me because
during the riots of the 1960’s-70’s in Pittsburgh, Pa, and
the subsequent ‘gas wars’, people came from other
cities, states and countries and into our small town of
McDonald and attempted to burn down my Dad’s Amoco Gas
Station. It was saved by members of our community who formed
a barricade across the street (the only street) leading into
town and in front of our Gas Station and said, ‘The rioting
stops here. You cannot pass through us.’
After a heated standoff, the rioters moved on to easier targets. Our gas station was saved by the people who depended on it to get gas for their cars in order to get to work. Many of these people, my father had given thousands of dollars of credit to because they didn’t have enough money to feed their families and buy gas for their cars.
The majority of the people who helped defend the town just happened to appear to be Black or Native American or a mixture of the races of Black, Native American and the Belgians who had originally settled the area. In gratitude, my father ‘forgave’ their debts. This event really left a positive mark on my psyche. It shows the power of people to stand up for what is right, and who refuse to be labeled one thing or another. Just regular people who are willing to defend their neighbors rights as they would defend their own.
In a tiny town like I grew up in we didn’t think about distinct different races because other than a few families like mine who were really ‘just off the boat’, people had been there so long that even if you were blond, fair skinned and blue eyed like the girl my brother married, it was likely that your grandmother or other ancestor was Native American or African American and a family gathering looked like a rainbow and what your children would look like would be a surprise. What I remember is that these were beautiful people, inside and out. There is so much more to the American story than just a Johnny Appleseed crossing the country to plant trees. We are all a part of the story and share the responsibility of protecting ‘Beauty We Did Not Create.’ I hope this lesson inspires you to share your story and to do something with your life to create beauty for others to enjoy. Love, Bernadette
I invite you to move in consciousness to a quiet inner place where you can experience the presence of God. In that silent place of stillness and peace, quietly affirm: I am open and receptive to the experience of God. I am open and receptive to the experience of my own indwelling Christ presence.
As you move into Christ consciousness feel a sense of gratitude welling up in your soul for all the goodness in your life. Silently give thanks for the Christ presence that lives in you and for the awareness of that living, loving Presence radiating through you now. Take a moment to reflect on how the year 2021 is going so far and for all the things for which you are grateful. Yes, give thanks even for the challenges that have been lessons through which you have grown. Give thanks for the lessons of love and compassion; lessons that have taught you to be more understanding. Give thanks for the lessons that have taught you patience, forgiveness, and tolerance of yourself and others. Give thanks for the awareness that you grow through every lesson in your life.
Now bring to your mind’s eye the faces of the people in your world for which you are the most grateful. See the light of God shining in and through each one of them and expressing love to you and others.
Now move to another area of life for which you are grateful. Perhaps it’s your job, friends, or sense of inner peace. Take a moment now to say: “Thank you, God for the good that expresses naturally in my life. Thank you for the talents that I am expressing. Thank you, God for the abilities and the creativity that I am expressing in my life. Thank you, God for the beautiful body temple that facilitates my movement on this plane of life. And I especially thank you, God for my loving spiritual companions on the path who are sharing this meditation with me. As I enfold all of you in God’s light and love, feel my gratitude for the blessing that you are in my life. Feel my gratitude that we are sharing this time and space together in prayer.
In a consciousness of thanksgiving for our many blessings, I say thank you, God for the goodness that emerges naturally in our lives, and for the lessons through which we grow. Amen.
Beauty we did not create
Today’s lesson is called “Beauty We Did Not Create.” It was inspired by 10 things, which I’ll point out as I go along and have numbered accordingly.
1. My first inspiration was James Baldwin, a Harlem Renaissance author well aware of the pain, oppression and injustice that can manifest in the world. Baldwin said, “A central question of our existence should be, “What do we do with all this beauty?” I’ve slightly altered his question, to “What do we do with all this beauty we did not create?”
2. The second source of inspiration was a poem by Jane Hirschfield found in her book of poetry called ‘After’, called “A Man Walks Through His Life.”
A man walks through his life
As he did when he was a boy,
Taking a pear here, an apple there,
It is easy. They are there, by the roadside,
I want to say to him, ‘Stop!’
I want to say to him, “Where is the plum tree you planted?”
But how can I say this?
I suck on the pit of my question,
I, who also eat daily the labor of others.
The poem gives us the image of a man walking down a road and eating apples, pears and peaches that grow abundantly on trees on either side of the road. The poet’s voice interrupts and states her desire to confront the man and ask him, “Where is the plum tree you planted?” But the poet stops as if a peach pit has become stuck in her own throat as she realizes that she too consumes the labors of others and enjoys beauty she did not create! We all do!
3. My third inspiration were these words by Reverend Peter Raible. “We build on foundations we did not lay. We warm ourselves beside fires we did not light. We cool ourselves under the shade of trees we did not plant. We drink from wells we did not dig. We profit from persons we did not know. We are forever bound in community.”
I initially thought that I’d fill this lesson with readings, quotations and poems that illustrate the idea of Being Thankful for Beauty We Did Not Create in order to inspire us to become Creators and Protectors of Beauty ourselves.
4. But the thrust of the lesson took a turn when I read the story of Norbert Capek, a Czechoslovakian minister of extraordinary faith and ability. His congregation of 3200 in Prague was largely made up of former Catholics who desired religious services without the traditional rites and rituals. His essential message was "People can choose their own moods and direct their own feelings and above all, they should view everything with humor." His approach to life bears a strong resemblance to Viktor Frankl’s; Logo-therapy, which is “Man can survive anything if he can find meaning in it.”
Capek also taught, "Every person is an embodiment of God and in every one of us God struggles for higher expression." He said, "Religion, can never die because human beings cannot but be religious regardless of the form of their religion. Religion should, before all else, provide that inner harmony, which is the precondition of strong character, good health, joyful moods and victorious, creative life." His inspired thoughts and words sustained thousands during the darkness of Nazi occupation. The church's task, he felt, "Must be to place truth above any tradition, spirit above any scripture, freedom above authority, and progress above all reaction."
When Nazi Fascism took hold of Germany and Hitler’s army blitzkrieg-ed across Europe, Capek resisted. He refused to change his teachings and on the twenty-eighth of March 1941, he and his 29-year-old daughter, Zora, were arrested by the Gestapo, put in prison, and tried for high treason. Even though they were acquitted, the Gestapo sent Zora to a German Labor Camp and Capek to a concentration camp. His name appears on a list of prisoners sent on an invalid transport on October 12, 1942, to Dachau. While awaiting his eventual journey to the gas chamber, he wrote letters, meditations, prayers and hymns. One of his meditations, written while imprisoned in such a dark, terrible place went like this:
In the depths of my soul,
There where lies the source of strength
Where the divine and the human meet,
There, quiet your mind, quiet, quiet
Outside let lightning reign,
Horrible darkness frighten the world.
But, from the depths of your own soul
From that silence will rise again
Capek went to his death contemplating the triumph of the human spirit and divine beauty. His unshakable faith in God enabled him to endure his own martyrdom with equanimity and a heroism confirmed by survivors of Dachau who knew him there. As for an afterlife, he said, "If death were the end of everything, then life would be the stupidest of all comedies and would lack all meaning or purpose. How could Providence abandon and betray us when our lips have barely touched the rim of the cup of life?"
5. The point I want to stress is that: the perception and appreciation of Beauty We Did Not Create is not a trivial thing; not a trivial topic. In reflecting on Capek’s words, I had a deeper realization of Jesus’ overcoming of the cross. It is that there is always beauty, mystery and miracles to appreciate even in the darkest of times and doing so is an exercise in spiritual courage that can enlarge our hearts and grow our spirit.
6. With that ‘ah ha’ inspiration, this lesson now turns to the subject of Grace. What do you think of when you hear the word “Grace?” Grace is a word that has secular, religious and spiritual meanings.
In the physical world, we often speak of dancers, musicians, actors and athletes who seem to move more easily and effortlessly than the rest of us as graceful.
When used in a traditional religious sense, grace refers to “all the good that we receive, good that comes to us unbidden and often seemingly undeserved.” In other words, the good that comes to us as “Beauty we did not create.”
In a spiritual sense, ‘Grace’ has to do with the universe conspiring to bless us and to offer us the blessings of forgiveness, kindness, care and beauty despite our appearing own failure to earn these things. Grace refers to “All the things, which appear to come to us as gifts and blessings from a Source beyond ourselves.”
The secular, religious and spiritual meanings of the word ‘grace’ are related in a sense. Each seems to imply that the world is a place where our endeavors are fraught with difficulty and challenge but that somehow, we can still manage to transcend hardship through something that comes to us or through us so that we, “Do better than we very well ought to have done given the circumstances.”
As Unity Students, I have a feeling that we have only scratched the surface of this amazing word and of its meaning. The Bible mentions the word ‘grace,’ 170 times, mainly in the New Testament, including four mentions in the Gospel of John. This is Interesting, because at closer examination you can see that as far as we know, Jesus never used this word himself. It's only through a ‘vision’ that Paul claims to have had and that he wrote about in his letter entitled II Corinthians that he says that in a vision Jesus said to him, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
Grace is often interpreted as God's unconditional love for us, not because we deserve it or because we're so particularly lovable (although we may be), but because this is the nature of God, God is love. But this also means that God doesn't play by our rules. God plays by God's rules of Spiritual Law, which brings me to my next source of inspiration.
7. It is a line by Albert Camus that I have always thought of as deeply inspirational and that often comes to me in the dark, cold depths of winter or challenges. Camus writes, “In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible Summer.”
What does that quote mean to you in your life right now? In my life right now, after many months of separation from family, friends and the activities I thought were a normal part of my life, this quote reflects a willingness to appreciate and apprehend that there is still beauty to be seen and experienced even in the toughest of times.
‘Overcoming’ is a spiritual skill. We begin to learn it by giving thanks for the ‘beauty we did not create’ that is everywhere around us. We continue to learn it by giving thanks for the beauty of tough times, a beauty we often don’t initially understand. A beauty that reflects another type of grace, a type of grace that we don’t talk about very often, if at all and are usually not very thankful for - and that is ‘Fierce Grace.’ ‘Fierce Grace’ is what is going to get you and I through the tough times.
8. Contemporary mystic Ram Dass has said, “Trauma is a path to God. The heart is our best instrument of change.”
Ram Dass’s book, “Be Here Now” was one of the first inspirational books that I read during the beginning of my own spiritual quest over 45 years ago. Ram Dass was a compelling force of nature when I met him in the late 70’s at a Spiritual Retreat at Unity Village. A stroke in 1997, left the right side of his body limp and hindered his ability to speak. Yet, when I saw him lecture in Portland, Oregon a short while after that, he appeared strong, like a king sitting on a throne rather than a stroke victim confined to a wheelchair. He was still a jester, with his sharp, penetrating blue eyes gleefully sparkling as though sharing a piece of rich gossip. His lectures about relaxing into aging were spiritually fulfilling, joy-filled and infused with love. He passed into his next phase of life in Maui, Hawaii, December 22, 2019.
In the years after his stoke, Ram Dass talked a lot about something he called ‘Fierce Grace.’ When asked about his stroke he said, “There I was, driving my MG, a stick shift, playing golf and the Cello and whoosh, in one fell swoop I now needed help to go to the bathroom! Sure, I was depressed, for about two weeks. I was in pain and confused. I’m still in pain but the stroke opened up a new vista for me. A lot of who I thought I was is gone now and without those illusions, I am closer to my soul. I am closer to God. And, I have so much more compassion for myself and others that I am grateful that I’ve been stroked!” he said laughing heartily. “I thank God every day for her Fierce Grace.”
We’ve all experienced strokes of ‘fierce grace’ in our lives: Loved ones committed suicide, the untimely death of children, sisters, brothers and other loved ones, vicious divorces, diseases that rob us of loved ones and our own health, sexual abuse, painful discrimination, persecution and of course this pandemic with the lockdowns, job losses, economic turmoil, and the loss of contact with family and friends. We all have places of deep pain and confusion within us. But what makes the difference between a Hitler and a Capek or a Pontius Pilot and a Jesus is that one is an ungrateful, hate filled taker and the other thankful loving giver.
When Ram Das was asked the question, “How, do we transform rage into compassion for the events of 9/11,” he shook his head and said, “I don’t know but we all know how we deal with change, now don’t we? After all there are only two simple rules in spiritual life: Keep your heart open and tell the truth.” Jesus and Unity would add, “And give thanks for everything.”
9. I want to tell you a little story about this.
“Once upon a time a little oyster named Sam lived down at the bottom of the ocean. Nothing ever bothered Sam because he never opened up to anyone or anything. He just stayed shut up inside his shell because inside his shell there was a thin pink membrane that was so soft and delicate that he was afraid it would be damaged by anything touching or irritating it. He was afraid he’d get hurt so he just stayed closed to life. And his shell was so hard that you could jump up and down on it or even drop the Titanic on it and he would still be safe and sound inside his shell. Well, one beautiful morning Sam decided to take a chance and open up his shell a tiny little bit to greet the day. And to his dismay, just as he feared, a single grain of sand slipped inside.
When this happened Sam immediately realized he had a choice to make and many times we’ll find that we have exactly the same kind of a choice to make.
Well, Sam realized that he could choose to go crazy inside his shell with regrets and say, “I knew better to open up even a little bit. Now something has gotten under my skin and this small bit of negativity is irritating me so much it will probably kill me.” Or he could choose to see that grain of sand as his friend. He could bless it and say, “We’re going to live together, and I will do something constructive with this.” Since Sam was a very wise little oyster, he began to bless that grain of sand every day. Sam’s blessings mixed with the natural God properties of grace that were inside of him and coated that grain of sand until it no longer hurt him and until it turned into a beautiful pearl.
Every day, regardless of what is happening, let us remember to count our many blessings and Graces. On some days perhaps we will find that we need to take out our spiritual sword as Jesus suggested and apply a sharp cut of ‘Fierce Grace’ to our own illusions and the sense of entitlement we often feel for ‘Beauty We Did Not Create.’
10. I’m Closing with a prayer by James Dillet Freeman: “Lord, I would be thankful when it is easy to be thankful. I would also be thankful when it's hard. All of us can give thanks when dreams come true, but I would also give thanks for my dreams. Thank you, Lord, that I am part of a world that has you at its heart.”
© Unity of Vancouver, 2004 All Rights Reserved.