Sermon for 5/4/14 What Was I Thinking!
I was looking for something to brighten my spirits in the midst of all the cold, rainy weather we've been having, so I made a date with my delightful six-year-old grandson Trygg. We went out shopping and had lunch before he had to go to his afternoon kindergarten. He's started playing baseball. Little League, I guess. I asked his mom if there was anything Trygg needed in the line of shoes or clothing. The only thing she could think of was a new pair of baseball cleats. For those of you who aren't baseball literate, those are shoes with knobs on the soles to help keep a player from slipping. So, anyway, we took off for the sports store to find some cleats.
A nice young man at the store helped us get the right size and Trygg quickly picked out the pair he liked. Then I asked if there was anything else he needed. Without hesitation Trygg explained that he couldn't find his good glove and was having to use an old one that didn't feel good on his hand.
Another clerk directed us to the baseball gloves in another part of the store. Trygg liked the gloves we were looking at. Especially their pink trim. In my naïveté I didn't understand why all the gloves seemed to be trimmed with pink.
The nice young fellow reappeared at my elbow and said quietly, "These are the girls' mitts. Come with me." He took us to another shelf in a different aisle where Trygg picked a glove that would catch the ball just as well, but might not catch as many funny looks from his teammates. As you might guess, it was trimmed in blue. Some things never change.
Babies change, though. They also have to be changed, but that's not what I mean. Trygg's little sister, Elsa, is just three months old. We think she is a redhead, which delights her grandpa. Her mom, Josie, told me that she has just recently "discovered" her daddy. Josie said Elsa had wanted nothing to do with Geoff until lately.
Suddenly that has changed and she seems to be very aware of Geoff and wanting to be held by him. She is broadening her horizons, becoming more aware of her surroundings. This is what happens with babies. We all went through it. It's the way our minds gradually develop.
When we are born we have no sense of the external world. Our eyes won't even focus on external objects. Babies sense their mother's presence, but most of their psyche is a blank slate. Gradually, their experience of the external world causes it to take shape in their growing minds, and in the process the external mind is developed and gradually becomes the center of our awareness.
At some point we begin to differentiate between self and other. Some people have a very distinct experience around the age of twelve which some psychologists have dubbed the existential moment. It is a moment of realization of one's separateness from everything else. We think of this as experiencing our self. The reality is that it isn't really an experience of self. It is more an experience of other, that which is outside of our true self. We experience other people and the objects and events of the world, but we don't really experience being. We do, however, differentiate our self from other things.
This is a strange phenomenon. We have the idea of being and take our being for granted. I am Gordon. I know me. I think I experience me all the time. But Gordon is not really me. Gordon is a fictitious person constructed out of the habits of consciousness that developed as my natural mind developed. I am stuck in habits of thought and behavior that I take to be me. Gordon is the way I habitually feel myself and experience my interaction with the world around me. Gordon consists of what I think and feel about myself and the world. But during all this experience of Gordon, I do not experience actually being.
David Loy is a professor and author and teacher of Zen Buddhism. He will be the featured speaker at this year's annual meeting of the Swedenborg Foundation. In a recent interview with the Swedenborg Foundation he summed up some of his thoughts on the similarities between Buddhism and Swedenborg's writings. Regarding our sense of self he said,
"A central idea in Buddhism is that our usual sense of a self—that we are separate from each other and from the world generally—is a delusion that causes suffering. Different Buddhist traditions explain this in different ways, but the way that Mahayana Buddhism talks about shunyata, the “emptiness” of everything, certainly resonates with Swedenborg’s notion of an “influx.”
A bit later he adds: " Perhaps Nisargadatta said it best: “When I look inside and see that I am nothing, that’s wisdom. When I look outside and see that I am everything, that’s love. Between these two my life turns.” . Just as my physical body is composed of the food I eat, so my character is basically composed of my habitualized intentions. So karma isn’t something the self has, it’s what the sense of self is. And both Swedenborg and Buddhist tradition emphasize how important that is—how much our habitual motivations determine what happens to us, here and perhaps hereafter.
What is important to recognize is that our habitual intentions are mostly unknown to our external mind. What Loy is saying is that we are what we intend. The problem is that we do not normally notice our true intention because our level of consciousness is so low in our being that we are unaware of our true self. We live in an illusory self we take to be "me."
The only way we can recognize that our habitual experience of being is an illusion is to actually experience being and realize the difference. It's like trying to explain a color to a blind person who has never seen it. No explanation can capture the reality.
Still we are born to be born again of water and the spirit. This involves a different focus from a higher level of our being. As Swedenborg has shown, we have levels in our minds.
To successfully be regenerated we need to become spiritual and this involves moving to a higher level, a spiritual level, in our self. To do this we must learn to think in a new way. Metanoia. We must learn to break the habits of natural thinking and begin to actually experience being by watching our feelings and thoughts and actions from a higher level in our self. But our habits of thought have us trapped in this lowest level of our being. As we are, we can do nothing. Without the Lord's help we cannot change.
We can see a parallel to what must happen in us in what happens to a baby when it is born into the natural world. This is a movement from one level to another higher level. When a baby is born, he or she moves from one level of being, in his or her mother's womb, into a far different environment, the outer world. The process of becoming conscious in that world is very gradual, taking several years before the child becomes fully conscious and several more before the thinking capability of the external mind has been fully developed. Some experts say the human mind is not fully adult until around 28 years of age. Those of us who have raised a few kids know how true this is.
If we take life seriously and realize that it is preparation for an eternal existence in a world superior to this one, then we can recognize that we need to change, to keep growing even after we reach adulthood. This requires recognizing what has gone wrong in our development, what intentions we have that are not good ones, what choices we habitually make that lead us to behaviors that distract us from life's true goal, union with God. If we take life seriously and realize we aren't perfect, and in fact, aren't nearly as good as we think we are, we begin to recognize the need for change, for repentance.
The Lord brings us to this repentance, but we must act on it. We must choose to change. This takes conscious effort on our part. We need to begin to actually do God's will. But what does that mean? How do we know what God's will is? Well, we don't. We all have hidden agendas, that is, agendas that are hidden from our selves.
To see our internal, hidden habits, we must wake up internally. We must step back in our minds, find that higher level for observing our self, and begin to take note of what we are thinking and feeling. This leads to repenting. This is thinking in a new way. This is getting a new feeling of oneself.
When we live in pros and cons, two sides to every issue, we live in the extremes. I don't mean left wing and right wing politics. I mean love and hate, courage and fear, hope and discouragement. When we live in these extremes we are constantly feeling we are owed something. Life is never fair. Something or someone is always wrong. We keep a mental record of what we are owed and set out to collect our debts.
Living on a spiritual level in our self eliminates these extremes. Mentally, we stand back or above these petty thoughts and feelings and refuse to judge or blame others. The effect is that there is no turmoil within. We live in peace. If we are not at peace within, if there is some conflict we are brooding over, some negative thought or feeling toward someone else, then we are not repenting, we are not thinking in a new way.
Thinking in a new way is always peaceful. This is doing God's will that we should love one another as he has loved us. It takes work on oneself and help from the Lord. He is there ready to help. We need only to ask him to help us and then sincerely try to live accordingly.
Gradually, we will be reborn if we look inside and try to feel our self in a new way, a way that allows us to actually experience being while we are doing it. Let us pray. Lord, help us to pay more attention to what is going on inside us. Amen.