What does it look like to partner with God in relation to the others whom we meet and who accompany us on the holy adventure that is our life? How can we act as God does — in ways that are often unseen and unappreciated, but that prompt the world toward greater connection, compassion, and wholeness?
Companions in the Holy Adventure
The Rev. J. Carl Gregg
27 March 2011
Broadview Church; Chesapeake Beach, Maryland
14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to God” (Matthew 5).
This Sunday is week three of our seven-week study of Bruce Epperly’s book Holy Adventure, so we find ourselves almost halfway through our Lenten journey. You may recall from two weeks ago that a major focus of Bruce’s book is to offer a progressive alternative to evangelical mega-church pastor Rick Warren’s bestselling book The Purpose Driven Life:
Warren charts a road map in which God chooses the most important events and encounters of our lives before we are born and without our input. Our personal calling, according to Warren’s vision, is to discover and live out God’s eternal purposes in our daily lives. We can find our true purpose only when we follow the directions and color inside the lines that God has already planned for us. (21)
In contrast, Epperly says,
I believe God’s holy adventure calls us to be creative and innovative right now as we listen for divine inspiration, and then to respond by coloring outside the lines and giving God something new as a result of our own personal artistry….. God calls us to become creative companions in God’s new and surprising creation.
Instead of fear-based, anxiety-inducing theology, Epperly invites us to embrace our free will with creativity and imagination. Rather than conforming to a narrow, pre-ordained path, Epperly’s perspective calls us to a holy adventure in partnership with God.
For this past week, the theme of the book has been “Companions in the Holy Adventure.” In turn, each day’s readings have invited us to consider the ways we can partner with God in relation to the others whom we meet and who accompany us on the holy adventure that is our life. For example, Bruce suggests the following as a concrete practice for experimenting with this abstract idea of partnering with God:
Look for the hidden light in everyone you meet. While you can never fully experience the inner gifts of others, take a moment in each situation to see yourself as a partner with God in bringing forth God’s light in those you meet. In every encounter, seek to be God’s partner in enlightening the world, subtly and gently, as a way of bringing wholeness and joy to those you meet. In every encounter, pause for a moment and take notice of God’s presence in another, and then act as if you are in the presence of holiness. Remember that the world is transformed one moment and one encounter at a time. Your light sharing and light finding in the most unlikely places may be a tipping point in others’ holy adventures as well as your own. (67-68)
One of my friends speaks of such holy subversion as being a “Secret Agent of Grace” — acting, as God does: in ways that are often unseen and unappreciated, but that prompt the world toward greater connection, compassion, and wholeness. The bestselling writer Robert Fulghum famously commissions his readers in a similar vein to “Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty.”
In this spirit of looking for the hidden light in everyone you meet and seeking to be a tipping point in others’ holy adventure as well as your own,
I invite you to listen again with new ears to this morning’s Gospel Lesson:
You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to God.
Relatedly in a contemporary quote we last considered when we explored the twenty-first century meaning of the Transfiguration,
Marianne Williamson writes in her book A Return to Love that:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
From another angle, there is a beautiful tradition in many strands of yoga in which, at the end of each yoga session, you place your hands together in a prayer position and bow gently in the direction of your instructor while saying the word, “Namaste.” Yoga is a form of body prayer, and the term “Yoga” derives from a Sankrit word that can be loosely translated to “union” or “uniting.” And after thirty, sixty, or ninety minutes of yoga — just as with similar kind of prayer practice for any of those lengths of time — your sensibilities are transformed. In the experience of myself and others, contemplative prayer practices such as Yoga, Centering Prayer, Labyrinth Walking, Lectio Divina and others frequently result in the practitioner feeling more centered inside her or himself, more connected with those nearby, and more grounded on the earth; hence, the appropriateness of the word yoga meaning “union” or “uniting.”
Similarly, the word “Namaste, loosely means “The God in me recognizes the God in you.” Translated in the Gospel of Matthew’s terms, “Namaste” would mean, “The light of God in me helps call out the hidden light of God in you.” And if God indeed is within, with, and beyond everything — or in a definition that we considered previously that, God is like an “intelligible sphere, whose center is everywhere and [whose] circumference nowhere” — then it only logically follows that the light of God is in all things. And our call is to recognize and manifest God’s light both in ourself, in everyone we meet, and in all parts of Creation.
Next, however, I want to switch gears slightly because it is much easier to recommend the importance of affirming the light of God in all people and in all things in theory than to consistently recognize the light of God in each person we meet in practice. For all of us, there are people, places, and things in our life that are for any number of reasons particularly difficult places for us to see the light of God. Indeed, we often experience certain people in particular as the opposite of what we often think of God light; we experience them as desolating, disconnecting, alienating, or enervating.
Counter-intuitively, Carl Jung — one of the most influential psychiatrists of the twentieth-century, especially at the intersection of psychology and religion — used the term “shadow” to refer to the ways that those things that seem most apart from God’s light can be precisely the things that have the most potential power to catalyze our spiritual growth.
According to Jung, people, places, and things that unduly and unexpectedly disturb us on a deep level often resonate with what he called our “shadow” — those aspects of ourselves that we’ve split off, rejected, denied, hidden from ourselves, projected onto others, or otherwise disowned. In the language of Jungian psychotherapy, the shadow is referred to as the “repressed unconscious” – repressed because we’ve pushed or “pressed” it out of our awareness, and unconscious because we’re not aware of it! Two common signals of recognizing your shadow are when someone or something makes you respond in a way that is either negatively hypersensitive (that is, someone or something makes you easily triggered, reactive, irritated, angry, hurt, upset) or positively hypersensitive, (someone or something makes easily infatuated, possessive, overly attracted — as in the root cause of some addictions).
Just as our author Bruce Epperly suggests the important practice of “Looking for the hidden light in everyone you meet,” there are other groups who suggest the equally important practice of “shadow work” — that is, a spiritual practice for helping you deal with, especially those people, in whom it is hardest for you to see God’s light; the people’s to whom it’s hardest to say, “Namaste” and mean it; the people who trigger you and push your button; the people to whom you are unduly, unexpectedly, and irrationally hypersensitive.
This morning I want to invite you to experience a brief example of shadow work that is called “3-2-1 Shadow” from an excellent book about religious practices in the twenty-first century called Integral Life Practice. There are three relatively-brief steps, as the name “3-2-1 Shadow” implies. To experience this practice, I invite you first, if you are comfortable, to close your eyes. Sitting up straight in your chair — relaxed, but alert — with your feet flat on the floor, take a deep breath and release it when you are ready. After each of the three steps, I will pause for approximately a minute for you to reflect silently on your response. And as with any guided meditation, you are in control; only proceed as far as you feel comfortable.
First, I invite you to think back over the last week or so. Who is the first “difficult person” that comes to mind? This may be an acquaintance, co-worker, boss, parent, or even someone you only met briefly. I will pause briefly to allow for a person to emerge in your mind.
Once a person you experience as difficult come to mind, imagine the person and situation in vivid detail using 3rd-person pronouns (he, him, she, her, they, their, it, its). Silently describe to your what bothers you about the situation. Don’t minimize the disturbance. Make the most of this opportunity. I will pause to allow you time to describe the experience to yourself as fully and in as much detail as possible.
I now invite you into the second of the three steps. Having fully described the person to yourself, imagine a simulated dialogue with this disturbing person using 2nd person pronouns (you and yours). Imagine yourself talking directly to the person. You may start by asking questions such as “What do you need to tell me? or What gift are you bringing me?” Once you ask a question of the disturbance, take some time to listen to how the disturbance responds back to you. Allow yourself to be surprised by what emerges in the dialogue.
For the final step, I invite you to speak in the 1st person (using the pronouns I, me, and mine). Imagine yourself as the person, situation, image, or sensation that you have been exploring. See the world — including yourself — entirely from the perspective of that disturbance and allow yourself to take the risk of discovering any similarities.
I invite you to return your attention to group, and share, as you feel led.
1 In evaluating Rick Warren’s work, Epperly is employing a perspective known as Process Theology. For those who are interested in going deeper into this theological point of view, Epperly has a book that is scheduled to be published on May 25 of this year titled Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed, which is already available for pre-order through amazon.
2 Expanding on the notion of there being a “hidden light” in everyone, Thomas Merton beautifully wrote that, “There is in all visible things an invisible fecundity, a dimmed light, a meek namelessness, a hidden wholeness. This mysterious Unity and Integrity is Wisdom, the Mother of all, Natura naturans [“nature naturing” or "nature doing what nature does”]. There is in all things an inexhaustible sweetness and purity, a silence that is a fount of action and joy.
It rises up in wordless gentleness and flows out to me from the unseen roots of all created being, welcoming me tenderly, saluting me with indescribable humility. This is at once my own being, my own nature, and the Gift of my Creator’s Thought and Art within me, speaking as Hagia Sophia [holy wisdom], speaking as my sister, Wisdom” (“Hagia Sophia,” The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton, 363).
3 On the power of tipping points, see The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell.
4 For my previous use of the Williamson quote, see “Practicing Transfiguration,” a sermon on Mark 9. Available in our sermon archive at http://broadviewchurch.net/2010/10/sermon-practicing-transfiguration-mark-9/.
5 For more on contemplative practices, see Creating a Life with God: The Call of Ancient Prayer Practices by Daniel Wolpert. For more on the sense of union or experiencing the “nondual” aspect of reality, see The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See by Richard Rohr.
6 Alan of Lille (c. 1128–1202) Regulae Theologicae, Rule 7: “God is the intelligible sphere, whose centre is everywhere and [whose] circumference nowhere” in G. R. Evans, Alan of Lille: The Frontiers of Theology in the Later Twelfth Century. New York: Cambridge University Press (1983: 73).
7 In this section discussing shadow work, I am adapting freely from Ken Wilber, Terry Patten, Adam Leonard, and Marco Morelli, “The Shadow Module,” in Integral Life Practice: A 21st-Century Blueprint for Physical Health, Emotional Balance, Mental Clarity, and Spiritual Awakening (Boston, Massachusetts: Integral Books, 2008), 41-66. If you are interested in exploring shadow work further, the “3-2-1 Shadow” practice is explained in extensive detail in the book. Furthermore, the process is often easier to do if you journal each of the steps instead of only mentally imagining them. Another common form of shadow work is dream work. For an accessible entry point, see Dreams and Spiritual Growth: A Judeo-Christian Way of Dreamwork by Louis M. Savary, Patricia H. Berne and Strephon Kaplan Williams. Also good is Jeremy Taylor’s The Wisdom of Your Dreams: Using Dreams to Tap into Your Unconscious and Transform Your Life. Regarding shadow work, many people have found helpful Eckhart Tolle’s discussion of Shadow Work in Chapter Five, “The Pain-Body” in his bestselling book A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose. Finally, I once heard retreat leader Marc Ganfi, who is familiar with the Integral “3-2-1 Shadow” process answer the question “Why should I want to integrate my shadow?” with something like the following reply, “Your shadow is your light: you unique gift/calling that is currently in darkness — that’s what triggers you and calls you. Your light wants to be lived and will come out with unconscious/perverted shadow qualities if not made conscious and integrated.”
8 For more on the spiritual insights in regard to being “positively hypersensitives,” see the excellent book by the late spiritual director and psychiatrist Gerald May, Addiction and Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions.