“I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” John 15:11
Are we happy today? Feeling joyful and at peace? According to sacred scriptures, it is part of our “inheritance” as God’s children to feel and be happy and joyful. How is it possible for us to be happy and joyful in this world? Most polls show that over all, we are rated one of the happiest countries. You’d never know it by listening to most of the news. A recent U.N. poll shows the US right up near the top. Out of 187 countries studied, we were rated 4th.* I also discovered some of the coldest countries, such as the Scandinavian ones, are the happiest. Take that Florida, Texas, and Arizona and all you “sunbelt” states!
But if there is a God, Creator, I think He/She also wants us to be happy. In the stories from Jesus as a representative of our God idea, he is always blessing and helping people to find freedom and happiness. He declares to love us in God’s name and wants us to love others likewise. He wants us to abide in love so deeply that our joy will feel its completeness. How can that happen? How does this “commandment to love” really make us happy and give us everything we want? How does it give us a fruitful life, one full of abundance and the feeling that whatever we want, we have?
I think it begins with the realization that God and we are one. We are one in Spirit, the song goes, and Spirit is love. But people say, “I believe that but why can’t I just feel the happiness, at least very often?” I tend to answer that question saying, “Because we usually tend to confuse the levels of being.”
Most of us equate ourselves with our temporary bodies and thinking minds, what most spiritual teachers call our “egos.” But Jesus wasn’t talking about our oneness in this way as in bodies; Jesus taught about Spirit oneness among us.
Wayne Dyer in the present discussion book, “Wishes Fulfilled,” has an excellent description of these two selves. The body/mind is a temporary expression of the material universe. It appears and then disappears; it comes and it goes; it is born and it dies. Most of us, however, identify with this temporary form as being ourselves, who we are, even though we realize it is constantly changing. He also uses the ancient Eastern metaphor of the ocean. If we take a bucket of water out of the ocean, what is it? It is still the ocean but a rather small portion of it. Yet it is ocean. So we are as part of the Spirit ocean; we are a “bucket” yet always part, one with the full ocean.
When we are unhappy, without joy and peace, we are identifying with the body rather than the Spirit Self. At first this may seem crazy but in time as you practice reminding yourself of this miss-identity, it becomes easier. You can even go through sickness and approach death remembering you are not your body but Spirit, One with God the Spirit and Creator of us as Love.
Unhappy people are also lonely. They constantly have to keep doing something or going someplace to feel relief from boredom. When they stop doing, they often feel lonely and friendless. When a trusted friend or lover betrays or leaves them, it can be excruciating pain and heartbreak. Seeing and feeling God as our Friend helps alleviate this pain of deep loneliness.
One of the popular movies of several years ago was called, “Driving Miss Daisy.” It was a story of two people, one a Southern Jewish widow, Daisy Werthan, played by Jessica Tandy, and a discriminated against southern African American Chauffeur named Hoke Colburn, played by Morgan Freeman. They lived in two opposite worlds but shared much of the same discrimination and loneliness. But one day sitting together, Daisy takes Hoke’s hand and tells him, “You are my best friend!” Hoke is shocked and denies it but she still reaffirms he is her best friend. In the 1950’s it wasn’t very common for an older, wealthy white lady to call an African American man her best friend!
In our gospel today, it portrays Jesus saying, “I do not call you servants any longer, …. But I have called you my friends….” (v. 15) We may see ourselves as slaves or servants to God as Hoke did to Miss Daisy, but it’s just the opposite. We are God’s friends, God’s Son and Daughters as part of the Divine family.
For centuries the church has wrongly taught, I believe, that only Jesus was the Son of God. Over the past, revolutionary, post-Christian years, we are coming to understand we are all the Divine Sons and Daughters of God. In John 10:34 Jesus reminded his disciples that even the old Hebrew writers called us “Sons of God, Sons of the most High.” (Psalm 82:6) We read from St. Paul is Galatians 4:6, “You are called Sons….”
Yet, how can we know and experience this friendship as One with God? First by changing our thinking, imagining we are One in Spirit with God, we can begin to appreciate our unique friendship with our Creator as Spirit. By meditation and acts of kindness toward others we also experience it. So much loneliness and unhappiness exists in our lives and churches because we fail to live with the awareness of being God’s dearest Friends as part of our Oneness.
We can become happy by accepting forgiveness of all our misperceptions and sins of living in this temporal body state. To know we are forgiven alleviates the heavy guilt and burden of anger we carry. Guilt is just anger turned inward on ourselves. It is heavy and harsh, leaving us lonely, judgmental of others, and not very happy.
Joy is a sense of freedom, of peace with ourselves and others, but it starts with the understanding we are not our bodies but Spirit. If we identify with the body and material universe, it will always be imperfect, changing, vacillating between guesses and hunches at best. That’s why Spiritual Joy understands we are in the world but not of it. We live aware of duality, at least when we are awake. We see imperfections and constant fighting and angers in this world; it is the very nature of the world. Thus the Course in Miracles says we are not to seek to change this world but to change how we see it. How to see the world differently is to first see ourselves as Spirit and not matter.
Are you basically happy and joyful today? If so, you are free, guiltless, and feeling a friendship connection with Everything! You don’t see people as bodies but as temples of Spirit, with the potential to become awakened and happy, filled with joy and peace even in the midst of a very uncertain, worried, and tired world.
I thought Rod Watson wrote such an excellent editorial last Thursday in the Buffalo News on how weary and unfixable our world is, starting with our own area. He cynically portrayed people leaving churches in droves because prayer just doesn’t work anymore; harbor developments never get finished; the 25 year plan for a new Peace Bridge can’t be completed, and for all our prayers, the Sabres and Bills just can’t win a Stanley Cup or Super Bowl! People he says are just sick of praying and so they are giving up!
I don’t think this is why people are leaving churches; it’s much deeper than that. It’s because they realize something is wrong with its understanding of the world. Like the world, the church itself is a temporal form and structure which is an unfixable “mess.” At best it can be a medium of forgiveness and love; at worst it is just another entity that like a “poor player, struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing!” (Shakespeare in “Macbeth”)
Yes, joy and happiness is not confessing creeds and keeping forms intact but experiencing Spirit, in sharing It with others. Fr. Richard Rohr suggests that the future church will be patterned after 12 Step Program. We will gather in groups to share our wins and losses, fears and hopes, joys and successes. “Hi! My name if David and I’m an ‘Ego Addict!” And they we will share how we had victories but also where we failed miserably. We then can hear people who are our friends reaffirm us, laugh along with us at how frail and fickle our egos and bodies exist in this passing world.
Yes, the commandment recipe for joy is to love one another as God loves us. The model of Jesus is a good start but we seek to live it now in our times. And in loving, forgiving and receiving through others, we will have great joy, and God, Jesus, and ourselves will know we are one. It will be the most joyful sensation ever felt.
Summary of reflections shared at 1st Presbyterian Church of West Seneca, May 13, 2012.