Discovering Spiritual Awareness (series)
“Shadow and Substance”
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
Mountain View United Church, Aurora, CO 6/28/2015
Based on Genesis 1:27-28 and Psalm 139:1, 13-20, 23-24
Have you ever felt like the odd-person out in your family? I was the religious freak in my extended family and when inviting family members to attend church with me, the battle cry in refusing my invitations was, “I don’t need church to be spiritual”, and they were correct. You do not need church to recognize God and the reality that there is a higher being that seems to have woven the universe and life together. Today I hear the same from non-church going folks, “I’m spiritual but not religious.”
So what does being Spiritual really mean? How do I recognize a spiritual journey? How do I measure the relevance of spirituality within my life? Or, in a world of Donald Trump’s what value is there to being “spiritual?” These are questions that the modern church (religion) has not been very effective in answering, sometimes not even asking the questions. Over the next few weeks I would like to focus on concepts around discovering spiritual awareness. As we think about our relationship with God, how does that affect my relationship with Jesus, with a faith community, with other people, and how does my relationship with God affect my relationship with myself? I believe it is in the recognition and the understanding of one’s spirituality that lays the foundations in which we build and live our daily lives. For spirituality is the most foundational piece of our humanity.
This past Friday there were two major events taking place, one at the national scene, the other in Denver’s Park Hill neighborhood. On Friday morning, the Supreme Court once again upheld the constitutional understanding that “all people are created equal”, and based on the protection of the 14th Amendment that: all citizens of these United States shall not be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. In the battle of recognition of equality for all Americans to marry who they chose, the court cited the Plaintiffs request saying, “They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law; the Constitution grants them that right.” The new law of the land now states: marriage is between two people.
The other event took place Friday evening as over two hundred people, Black, White, and Latino, took to the streets of the Park Hill district in Denver, on a prayer walk asking God to help bring peace back to that neighborhood and all of the Metro area. As we walked, we would speak to neighbors about the request to God for peace against gang violence, drive by shooting, and other crimes against those living in that neighborhood. I cannot tell you the feelings of connection when we would stop at locations where someone had been killed by gun violence and pray for forgiveness and restoration for those who died and their families.
So what does the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage and the walk for peace in Park Hill have in common and more importantly to do with spirituality? More than what we might think. A part of our spirituality is becoming aware of who we are, of how we perceive ourselves and how we relate to other human beings. Are we solely single individuals or are we a part of something that is larger than ourselves.
Some of the ministers who were leading in this prayer walk are former gang members. These men who were once “gang” members were always “spiritual”, but somewhere in their lives, their awareness of being created in the image of God changed the whole direction of their lives. In the very first book of the Hebrew Scriptures, we read: So God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. As a human we exist as the image of God. I can look around the room and quickly see that I do not look like anyone else, so I must also conclude that the image of God doesn’t mean the color of one’s skin, the sex of one’s body, or any other physical attribute that one exhibits. The image of God must be something more intrinsic. I propose it is what we call a soul. That piece of us that we cannot physically identify, but yet is revealed in all aspects of our lives.
Our soul is at the heart of our “Image.” Hear the words from the hymn, Shadow and Substance: We are your image, formed in community; sisters and brothers of Adam and Eve. You gave us color, custom and history; teach us to honor what others receive. For those who live in a society that demonizes homosexuality, there is a constant struggle to maintain a healthy and positive self-image; For those who live in a society that demeans people of color, there is a constant struggle to maintain a healthy and positive self-image; People who immigrate to this country, documented and non-documented alike, struggle with healthy self-image because of societal prejudices.
Low self-image is most often a result of receiving negative reinforcement by outside sources. As an example, many young girls are inadvertently given information that the ideal woman should look like "Barbie". Young boys are taught that men do not behave in certain ways, such as showing emotion that would be conceived as weak, such as crying. Society tells each and every one of us, what is appropriate and what is desirable. We call them norms. Norms are what helps a society function with some order and hopefully providing less anxiety for individuals. But what happens when these "norms" do not ring true with the individual? What if society says "blue eyes" are better and you happen to have "brown eyes?" Studies have shown that those who possess what the general norm is, tend to be less tolerant toward those who do not fit the accepted norm. This intolerance provides the basis for negative reinforcement, which leads to lower self-image for those who are not meeting the expectations of those they live around.
Psalms 139, speaks about negative reinforcement as speaking against God. The Psalmist says, "They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name." So how does one commit evil against God - by misuse God's name. How does this happen? How does someone misuse God's name? It has been my observation that many well meaning Christians and ministers often misuse God's name. Pulpits all across this country Sunday after Sunday speak evil of God by misusing God's name and do not even recognize it.
We misuse God’s name whenever we speak against the “image” of God. The Psalmist reminds us of our relationship to God: For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written i your book before one of them came to be. From the creation stories we learn that what God created, God pronounced "good." The Psalmist see's that each of us is made by God, to God's specification, when we diminish a human being as "less than", we are in truth telling God that God has done wrong. When we see ourselves as less that who we truly are, we are tell God that his work is not worthy. This is not a good thing to do according to the Psalmist. For who are we, as Job was reminded, to question the works and wisdom of God? When well meaning Christians start to beat people up in the name of God, whether physically, socially, or verbally, then they are acting in evil against God.
We have much to learn in the Church about how we abuse God. When we stand on traditions that have been handed down to us from generation to generation, without examining how these traditions affect humanity and the world in which we receive our daily bread, we might very well be acting as evil agents against God. When our actions and words are used to deniger another human being and we use those words and actions in God's name, we are acting in evil toward humanity and toward God. It is through these negative actions and words that we create and cultivate within any brother or sister low self-image.
For God created each and every one of us, we are His children; we are brother and sister to one another. Like the Psalmist we need to be in constant prayer asking, "Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." Does our need to demean another come from our own anxieties about who we are deep inside? Is our self-image consistent with the image of God? By allowing the “image of God” into our heart and mind, we will recognize the full beauty of each person that God has placed in our lives. We will recognize the spirit of unity, who guides us to mystical union. Amen