“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Psalm 23:1
Anxiety, unhappiness, anger and fear are everywhere! Can you see it, feel it, hear it? A large percentage of news is such negativity and sadness. I can have a great sleep, awaken fully rested and alert, have a nice prayer time, get the paper, open to the front page and find myself focusing on the horrors of the past few hours!
Even taking vacation from such things has its share of anxiety and fear. It starts with packing (What do I take?), and then hoping to get through security lines in time as we partially undress, throwing carry-ons into numerous gray boxes, having a machine scan our bodies with an electronic pat down. As we rush down the run way, approaching 200 mph I have a flash of crashing onto Genesee Street.
Finally we arrive in Ft. Myers, get our luggage and find the rental car desk, hoping to get a model like we own. We’re talked into getting another one. It’s a “keyless” model. I don’t even know how to start it. After several tries, nearly ready to return to the desk, I see a tiny electronic picture on the dash showing a foot on the brake. It works and we are on our way. The GPS I brought along, however, thinks we are in Buffalo. It can’t pick up where we are. We pull off the freeway and begin to fiddle with it. Finally after several minutes I shut it down to restart. Bingo! It discovers where we are. After setting it to 3345 West Gulf Road, we have about 25 miles of several lanes to float back and forth across until we finally miss one and end up at a MacDonald’s. We stop and get a drink before pushing on to the causeway into Sanibel Island where vehicles soon come to a stop merging onto a two lane road. Soon we are follow our working GPS, arriving at the West Wind Inn, and settle into our room. The next morning I open the newspaper left at our door and read some of the front page. A story told of the thousands of homeless people living within few miles from our room!
Actually, it was a wonderful vacation. We would rate it near the top in relaxation and enjoyment. But stress and anxiety are part of such experiences, right? Sometime I will tell you about our trip to Finland with signs we couldn’t read and huge policemen testing me for drunk driving. Or navigating around India for a few weeks!
In Marin County, California, one of the wealthiest counties in the world with “perfect weather”, there are more psychotherapists per resident than in any other county. Makes Buffalo look like a pretty normal place. Such I was told in 1984.
The world, this body in which we are housed, is a place of conflict. It must have conflict to exist. It’s the very nature of transitory existence. If we didn’t have conflict our egos would be bored and upset. They would have to make it. Conflict and stress is how we thrive and survive. Churches and religious groups are certainly not exempt. Karen Armstrong, the English religious scholar, formerly a Roman Catholic Nun, writes how organized religions often lead the world in distrust, hatred and conflict. Each one teaches the golden rule but then drastically fails to live it.
Anxiety and unhappiness are everywhere. In marriages, sports, and as we all know, politics. Oh yes, have you read the “Hunger Games” trilogy or seen the movie? Such a dark and sad “Block Buster!” The ego/body must have it. It was created to have it and without it, it can’t survive. And if we identify with it, as we mostly do, our lives will be endless conflicts interspersed with short periods of questionable rest.
Yet, God, our Creator, wants us to live and exist in peace. “The Lord is my shepherd,” the ancient psalm goes, “I shall not want.” We all believe this to one degree or another, at least those of us who believe a Creator exists. I believe we were created in and by the God of peace and love. Our essence is the same as God. “God is love” the Bible says, and so are we. He hovers over us like a faithful shepherd, leading, inviting, waiting, wanting to bring us back to safe and peaceful pastures.
Jesus is portrayed as the Good Shepherd, who cares for us and lays down his life for us, searching for us in our most lost moments. How does this happen? How does God comfort us with His Shepherding powers? What are we missing? What am I missing?
It goes back to Easter. Resurrection means what? “Awakening!” Or as the minister Patricia Reiter said at the Unity Church in Venice a couple weeks ago, “Consciousness, Awareness.” Awakening or consciousness to what? That we are in our essence Spirit and not our bodies. Bodies come and go but the Spirit abides. Some argue we come and go in many different bodies. But we are always One with Spirit. We are part of the Holy Trinity as Sons and Daughters.
Such awareness is hard to remember. We become easily stuck in our bodies and their conflicts, diseases, responsibilities and comforts. We go to sleep to the whole idea of another world, a spiritual one. Like the bee, we came flying into the apparent honey world of life, but got stuck!
Meditation can help. Meditation means “healing thoughts”. But what does that mean? Your ego self doesn’t like healing thoughts. It loves, enjoys conflicts, fights, all the wins and losses. Meditate for peace by repeating a short phrase or mantra to help anchor and hold the mind’s racing; “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” I knew a man who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I would visit him and in time he exuded a fairly clear aura of peace. He told me he lay in bed for hours repeating the 23rd Psalm. It works.
Meditation in the east means “silence.” People sit and breathe in and out remaining conscious to the breath. They practice staying “awake” to it. It helps to be in awareness at other times. Breathe in and breathe out. When your mind wanders, bring it back like a good shepherd herding back the straying sheep.
The point is to remain conscious to our True Christ Self. Remember, however, these are just words and symbols. God, Christ, Shepherd, Jesus are only symbols of that which is unknown or beyond words or thoughts. This is what the anonymous writer of the 14th century meant when he wrote the book titled, “The Cloud of Unknowing.”
Calling on the name of Jesus is like a little child calling for Mother or Father, or a frightened adult calling for the police or an ambulance. Only in the Spirit world they remain symbols. Yes, it’s easy to mix them up and create confusion, but that’s why we work to stay awake and conscious.
If you want to lose weight, Deepak Chopra says the surest way is to be conscious of what you eat. Simple but try it. We stuff things into our mouth by how they taste to the palate and can be eaten quickly. Chopra suggests when we eat, don’t allow conversation and other distractions remove the consciousness from chewing and swallowing. If eating fat or sugar, eat being aware and conscious of the sugar attacking the pancreas, trying to wear it out causing diabetes or changing into fat. We become conscious of fat cells gathering in blood vessels, building up little deposits to one day shut off our circulation!
Yes, we were created as Spirit by the Great Spirit to be free, loving, kind, joyful and sharing. When we lose consciousness we fall asleep. We live in a nightmare and dream rather than staying awake. Be aware: if you are not happy and joyful, you have fallen asleep!
We have a little dog which sleeps often and at times dreams. I hear her often having one of her awful dreams. Asleep, she barks, groans, cries, frightened of whatever she sees in her dream. One night I reached under the bed and patted her, waking her up and assuring her I was there. Soon she reclosed her eyes and went back to sleep.
When we cry and swear and rage in our dreams, remember the Shepherd’s staff and hand are trying to awaken us and assure us, making us lie down in green pastures. If we practice daily and long enough, our lives become like a house with a thermostat. When the anger rises it’s like a house growing hot or cold and the thermostat suddenly kicks on the heat or the air conditioner.
Soon we learn better how to live in this world and yet not be of it. It’s like flying in an airplane, whizzing through the ski over 500 miles per hour yet remaining still in our seats. Flying to and from Florida, we were served drinks. I could set mine on the tray in front of me. Once I noticed we were traveling at 550 miles per hour. A raging wind storm screamed inches from our faces but there we were, as calm as the drink, sitting still in our seats.
You are Spirit! You are free! Say often to yourself, “I am not my body but I am free. I am just as God created me.” And so it is. Remember and be free, growing each day in awareness and remembrance.
Talk offered in extemporaneous expression at the 1st Presbyterian Church of West Seneca, 2085 Union Road, April 29, 2012 by Rev. David G Persons