|UNITY OF VANCOUVER
3814 FRANKLIN ST. VANCOUVER, WASHINGTON 98660 360-696-0996
It Came to Pass. Usual is Not Always
Reverend Bernadette Voorhees
October 24, 2021
All Rights Reserved
Begin to still your mind by relaxing the physical body. Do this by inhaling and tensing all over: feet, legs, back, arms, neck, and face---as much as you possible can; then throw the breath out and relax completely. Do this several times. Now begin to breathe normally and visualize that your mind is a pristine mountain lake. At the edge of the lake is a mountain ridge with its image reflected upon the lake’s surface. Imagine that your thoughts are winds that ripple the lake’s surface, preventing you from seeing the reflection clearly and once again observe the flow of your breath. Each time you inhale think “Still”. Each time you exhale, think “Ness.”
Keep repeating “Still….Ness” with each complete breath until your thoughts slow down and the breezes cease. . . until you see the image of the mountains perfectly. Until the lake of your mind is in a state of perfect, unruffled calm and silence and you can see image of the mountain ridge reflected clearly on the lake’s surface. If thoughts of the past or future disturb your mind, just calmly, patiently bring your attention back to what is before you, and to repeat “Still…..Ness” with your breathing.
Use this technique during to upcoming week. It will help you to feel a deep sense of calmness and enable you to become absorbed in natural settings for longer and longer periods of time. Close your prayer time by saying, “Let my mind become silent, and my thoughts come to rest. I want to see all that is before me. In self-forgetfulness, I become everything as I now go forward to live in unity and love. Amen.”
"IT CAME TO PASS. What is Usual is not What is Always"
Have you ever said, “I sure didn’t see that one coming?” That’s an example of “What is usual is not what is always” Proof that there is exception to the usual. As a Minister I have witnessed this many times at Unity of Vancouver. For example: Someone in this community takes up something they never expected they would. The one who is awkward around children volunteers in Youth Ministry or the one who is deeply shy volunteers for the Greeting Team or sings a solo while playing his guitar. This idea plays out in the life of this church repeatedly. As Unity Students we must resist listening to the voices that say, I can see where this is going, or I know how this is going to turn out. Jane Hirshfield is the author of a poem that inspired the title of my talk this morning.
What is usual is not what is always.
As sometimes, in old age, hearing comes back.
Footsteps resume their clipped edges,
birds quiet for decades migrate back to the ear.
Where were they? By what route did they return?
A woman mute for years
forms one perfect sentence just before she dies
The bitter young man tires;
the aged one sitting now in his body is tender,
his face carries no regret for his choices.
What is usual is not what is always, the day sings again.
It is all it can offer.
Not ungraspable hope, not the consolation of stories.
Only the reminder that there is exception.
It’s a spiritual challenge for us to go to work or do any of the ordinary everyday tasks we do without a prepared script for how you think things will unfold. Most of us are good at writing scripts for our lives in our day-planners. We can be so busy with our to do lists that we miss the surprises that life has for us. We can be like all the people a certain man invited to a banquet who refused to come because they were too busy. We can be so busy living ‘the expected’ we have no room in our lives for the ‘unexpected’. If we are blind to the unexpected, we won’t see it even when it’s right before our very eyes. We see only what we expect to see -the usual and we think that it has always been that way and always will be.
There are many dangers to a narrow viewpoint. We can become disheartened by the expected. Even when what we expect is good, what we expect can lead to boredom and just going through the motions of life. We forget that it’s possible for us to take authentic action and to be agents of change rather than always being acted upon. But if we’re able to see the unexpected and to welcome it into our lives, through the Law of Mind Action, we can help the exceptional to multiply in our lives. When our lives seem to take a turn for the worse, it is helpful to realize that it’s our own programmed expectations of life that weigh us down and cause us to lose hope. The truth is: we really don’t know what the end of our story is going to be.
In his book “The Hilltop Heart,” James Dillet Freeman tells a wonderful little story. “In the beginning God, having caused a Man and a Woman to be, saw after a while that Man and Woman were ready to go forth to work out their own destiny. So, God called the Man and the Woman to Him and held out two cups and said, “Before you go, my children, come and drink with me. Here are two cups. The one cup is called Bliss and the other cup is called Effort. Choose now which cup you will drink from, and I will drink from the cup you do not choose.” Then the Man and the Woman looked at God who had made them. They looked at the world, which God had also made. They saw that God had labored very hard and thought, “God is very, very, old and all alone and He has worked for eternity. We are young and strong and have each other. All eternity lies before us.” They felt moved, for God had made them in His image, which is to say, a Mirror to Love. So, the two took the cup that God had called Effort and drank from it as if they were one. Then God drank from the cup which He had called Bliss. But the last drops He placed on His fingers and sprinkled over the Man and the Woman and blessed them. They went forth hand in hand to find their destiny. After that God stood alone and smiled. For God knew that Man’s effort is his bliss and Man’s bliss is his effort.”
What is usual is not what is always could be the motto for the human race because the story of humankind has been and always will be a story of growth and adventure. In the book, “The Lord of the Flies?” some English schoolboys are marooned on an island and quickly degenerate into vicious brutes. “Aha!” cries the ever-ready cynic, “See how wicked human beings would be if they only had a chance!” “Well,” as Mr. Freeman says in his book, “they have had that chance.”
Thousands of years ago the human race found itself alone on an island called Planet Earth. Far from sinking from a civilized state to a savage one, we have lifted ourselves from a savage state into a civilized one. Four thousand years ago when the Hebrews conquered Canaan they killed every man, woman and child and salted the ground so nothing would grow there. Two thousand years ago, when Rome conquered Carthage, they tore down the city, executed all the men and sold all the women and children as slaves.
We are always hearing about how many people can’t read or write. Yes, there is a great deal of ignorance in the world today and there is no shortage of stupid people, but I have yet to hear anyone compare it with the ignorance that existed 2,000 or even 200 years ago. In the Golden Age of Greece and Rome, most people were illiterate. Compared to the population of the earth at that time, there were only a handful of people, not more than a few thousand who could read, write, study and exchange ideas like we’re doing right now. We need to get a grip on reality and stop running around like ‘Chicken Little’ saying, “The sky is falling.” Jesus said, “The poor will always be with you.” I would add that there will always be people who can’t read or write and people who commit crimes. As my mother often said, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink!”
We’ve been taught to think that true knowledge disappeared when Greece and Rome disappeared. The fact is that there were more centers of learning and education in the so-called Dark Ages than in the time of Pericles. In our own lifetime, there has been an explosion of learning, again proving my point, “What is usual is not what is always.”
Hitler’s still occasionally squirm their way into power—but for every Hitler there are a hundred heads of state trying to be decent, honest, and just. Instead of pointing to the occasional Hitler and saying, “Look, see how wicked human beings are!” Point to all of the heroism and self-sacrifice that goes on around us every day and that pulls the Hitler’s' down and say, “How good human beings are.” What would life be like if humanity started seeing the glass half full rather than half empty? What would life be like If humanity started seeing itself as stardust rather than a worm of the dust. Jesus said, “The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.” Looking at history, we see winters as well as springs. There is a Divine Order to the forward push of evolution.
We must stop allowing ourselves to be manipulated by those who are using an economy of fear to do just that. If the nightmare of Huxley’s “Brave New World” or Orwell’s 1984 should become a reality and we managed to turn earth into a concentration camp where we drug and brainwash one another into brutal automatons, even this would not last for long. The usual is not what is always and sooner or later the human spirit would assert itself and the human race would rise and shake the vermin from its back.
Why? Because it is not our nature to remain brutish. We are spiritual beings. We cannot violate our true nature forever. We have not settled for brutality and lack of freedom in the past and we never will. As sons and daughters of God we will never settle for less than the realization and manifestation of the highest and the best that is in all of us. Yet there are many people who go through their lives accepting the same limitations their fathers and mothers accepted and their fathers and mothers before them. I have worked with people who were fifth generation welfare recipients! They believe that “the usual whatever that is, good or bad is always.’ Evolution, especially conscious evolution as Jesus and Unity teach is hard. Growth takes effort. A cynic once said, “Man’s first instinct is to sit down.” Even if those were the truest words ever spoken and I don’t believe they are; we can’t sit down for long because evolution is life and life is growth. Nothing alive stands still. Of all the facts we see in the world, none is so obvious and universal as change. God is movement.
We are evolving. Some like Jesus, Buddha and other great spiritual lights are far ahead of the rest of us. Jesus was so far ahead of us in his use of spiritual ideas regarding what is true about God and life that he seems almost like a member of another much more advanced species. In those terms it is easy to think of him as a “God.” Jesus said, ‘Is it not written in your law that Ye are Gods?” He also said, “The works I do shall you do also and greater works than these shall you do.” And didn’t he say, “Ask and it will be given you.” And “According to your faith, be it done to you?”
We are made in the image of the Infinite. There are no limits to what we may grow to be. If ever there was a time when we needed to say, “the usual is not what is always” and to actively refuse to accept limits imposed on us from the outer and to commit ourselves to change, grow and come up higher, this is the time.
James Dillet Freeman said, “I breathe into the air. Outside my window is a tree, the tree takes my breath, mixes it with water and sunlight and makes green leaves. As it does this, the tree in its turn breathes into the air. I breathe out carbon dioxide, which the tree needs, but the tree breathes out oxygen, which I need.” The divine economy of the universe runs by a free interchange that takes place between its elements. I receive. I use. I give. What I give, another takes, uses, and gives in turn. Nothing that I receive, do I give back exactly as I received it. Because I use it, I am infused in it and the universe is more than it was. I enrich it with my gifts.
All of us must give but it is our choice whether we give willingly or reluctantly. We must give all we have for in the end, life will let us hold nothing back. One of my favorite things that Mr. Freeman said is, “God made us the perfect seed. He did not make us the perfect tree, but the perfect seed. He did not make us as we might have been, but as we might become. Part of the goodness of what He made is the fact that it is becoming—it is not finished. We are not there yet. God made us the good start—he did not make us already across the finish line. He made the good race beginning, not ended. How good a life would it have been had God made it already over? He made life good not finished. He made life perfect, not perfected. And there is a tremendous difference between the two. The perfect butterfly is for a time a perfect caterpillar. It is no less perfect when it is in its caterpillar stage than when it is in it butterfly stage. The perfect lily is a withered, brown bulb. The perfect maple is a green-winged seed. The perfect rose is a thorny stub in the ground.”
When we think of perfection, we can think of two kinds of worlds. One is static. We can only say of it, “It is.” It is complete. It is perfect. It is permanent. It is unchanging. It is whole. This is the kind of world we ordinarily think of when we think of heaven—we arrive in it with our life already lived, already finished and complete and there we are. When we try to think of what we are going to do there, we can only think of sitting on a cloud and playing a harp. There is nothing to do because everything is already done; everything has already been perfected. This heaven is a perfect world. But it is a perfection for the dead—and that of course is what we imagine it for. It is inert perfection, and it is for inert things.
There is another kind of perfect world. It is a world that is perfectly alive. In it there is no finished perfection or business as usual. There is only perfection begun. This world contains hopes, potentialities, and limitless possibilities. In this world nothing is done. Everything is to do. This is the kind of world God has made for us and it is here...now. Life is a journey, but the journey is not over—it has only just begun. It begins in each one of us whenever we realize that what is usual is not what is always and begin to take responsibility for where we are in the journey of our individual lives.
Imagine God saying to you, “I am going to give you a trip around the world.” You respond, “Thank you God.” And God says, “How did you like it?” And you say, “But I haven’t even begun.” And God said, “Oh yes, I gave you the trip complete and completed. Look back and you will see what a perfect trip it was and what a great time you had.” Would you feel cheated? Would feel that you never had a trip?
As you read this talk, you may feel tired because your journey has taken some unexpected turns. Perhaps you are struggling with some aspect of your life and wondering why. You’re struggling because you are alive and in the midst of life, which is a co-creative process with your Creator. Perhaps no one has ever told you about The Economy of the Universe before or explained to you how it works. It works if you work and only if you work with it. On the level of your humanity, you want it to get easier. You want it to be complete. But verily, verily I say unto you, “The joy is in the journey, not in the destination. The joy is being in the body and the journey is your life.”
At the end of his book, the Hilltop Heart, James Dillet Freeman says: “I pray that I have made you think. For thinking is, I suppose, the mark of a human being. I pray too, that I may have stirred and bothered you that I may have made you feel, as well as think. For thinking of itself has never gotten anyone into the temple. You will not get in by virtue of books, mine, or anyone else’s—or by authorities, facts, statistics, or technicalities of the law; none of these get you through the door.
Come from the libraries. Come from the computers. Come from the lecture halls. You must leave your cap and gown outside along with your shoes. For in the end, you must come naked and present yourself before the doorkeeper; and he shall look into your heart and weigh it against a feather—as the Egyptian god Osiris once weighed the hearts of the dead.
But this is the temple of life, and its keeper is the living God. Only he whose heart is very, very light shall be able to get through the door this god keeps. You will need winged thoughts. So, I have tried to turn your head and coax you into trying to fly with your wings of wax. Do not be afraid lest you rise too near the Truth.”
What is usual is not what is always. Thank God that this is so. Our faith teaches us that there is still more light to break forth into this world. May we develop the capacity to behold: Exception… in ourselves, in each other and in the gift of every moment. I’m going to close with a poem by James Dillet Freeman called “The Hilltop Heart”.
If only you have a hilltop heart,
Life’s compass points lie far apart.
What heights and depths life has, how far
The hilltops heart’s horizons are!
Hills have a way of stretching minds;
Lured-on imagination winds
Up over crests and down through hollows.
Hills tug at the heart, and the heart follows,
Dares the undared, tries the untried.
Hills always have another side;
If you make the climb up and decent,
You may find the valley of content.
Though a hilltop heart may never stand still,
Yet the heart was meant for the top of a hill.
God bless you as you dare to climb!
What do you think?
© Unity of Vancouver, 2004 All Rights Reserved.