That of God in ME? by Lois Kieffaber

The thoughts I am sharing this morning are based on ideas from the Pacific Northwest Quaker Women’s Theology Conference.  That word “theology” sounds a bit scary, but the type of theology referred to is narrative theology, that is, theology based on story-telling.  Sort of like when we tell each other about our “faith journey” or when we try to interpret why particular events in our life are so memorable (which is very appropriate for Quakerism, which claims to be an experiential religion). The theme of the Conference was “Answering that of God in every one.”

The Dalai Lama has said “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.”  We have all heard the idea that when Jesus said we must love others as ourselves, the assumption is that to do this, we must love ourselves.

In fact it has been said that the quality of love with which you love yourself is the quality of love you can give to others.  In a similar way, to answer “that of God” in another person, we must find “that of God” in ourselves.

As I started thinking about this, I realized that I assumed that we all are agreed on what the phrase means  “that of God in everyone” and that we all believe that it is a true statement – that there really is “that of God in everyone.”   Maybe we don’t all agree, so I will say what I think it means.

The Greeks had a notion of final purpose:  that all life strives to become what it was meant to be.  Aristotle said that the true nature of any being is what it can become.  The acorn is meant to become an oak tree, and it will continue to grow toward that final purpose.  So, too, with human beings – within each of us, there is a potential to become more than we are – and for most of us, there is also a drive to fulfill that potential, and to become more fully ourselves.  I truly believe that Jonas wants to become the best Jonas possible, Pam wants to became the Pam that God wants her to be – totally unique and very different from the fully realized Lorna or Linda or Bob or Wade.   Jesus said, “Be ye perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.”  The word translated as “perfect” actually means ”complete”.  Christ, we believe, is the complete expression of what a human being with the spiritual potential fully developed looks like.  When the full nature of human possibility is revealed in a completely fulfilled life, we see the life and love and character of God.  One of the earliest witnesses of his life declared that “God is Love” and that Love originates from God.   If we saw him (p.68)

As humans we have some abilities that other species do not seem to have. We have the ability to organize our experiences according to space and time, that is to say, location and succession.  This event happened at that place, and it happened before that other event that happened at the same place or at a different place.  We also have the ability to imagine a situation different than the one we are in, we can think of ways it could be better.  There is something within us that wants to go deeper, to move toward an ideal, and to improve our lives and our societies.  And we have a sense of right and wrong, what we call a conscience – we have a moral sense that the choices we make can lead us closer to good things, true things, beautiful things, that we can move toward our ideals.

Scientists has told us that we cannot have a hunger for something that we have never tasted.  Say that you travel to another country and see a fruit you have never seen before.  You cannot feel hungry for it.  When we hunger for a particular food, that food exists and we know that because we have tasted it.  Or even more basically, when we are hungry, there is that which will satisfy that hunger.  When we want sex, or in its highest form, love, there is another person, usually (but not always) of a different gender than ourselves, who can satisfy that need.  In the same way, people of all ages have longed for something beyond themselves, something more, something greater, something Beyond, something Other, something Eternal.  And in all ages, people have felt this beyond within themselves, some correspondence with eternal reality.  For this hunger also, there is a relationship with God that will satisfy this longing.

Phillips Brooks was a great American preacher and the author of O Little Town of Bethlehem.  One of his favorite texts was The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord  (Proverbs 20:27), a beautiful verse buried in the book of Proverbs It means that there is something in a person’s inmost being that can be kindled and struck into flame by God, and as we feed the flame within our lives, we can become revealing places for God, a flame of God’s life, not something added on to fix up a poor excuse for a human being or to redeem something worthless.  It is a capacity which belongs to our beings as human.  The process of salvation is thus not away from normality, it is, rather the attainment of complete normal spiritual health.  As Phillips Brooks used to declare, it IS health.   The cool, calm vigor of the normal human life; the making of a person to be herself; the calling up out of the depth of her being and the filling with vitality of that self which is truly her – THAT is salvation.”  Once he gave a vivid description of the birth of a waterspout at sea.  Far away in the distance the sailor sees a dark cloud hover over the sea.  Suddenly the cloud and sea join in one indivisible whirling movement and together sweep irresistibly onward.  It is impossible to separate cloud and sea or to say where cloud ends and sea begins.  It is so with divinity and humanity, the above and the below.  Or it is like the meeting-place of the river and the ocean.  The river runs far out into the ocean and again, the tides of the ocean flood back into the river and no fixed line of division can be drawn.

So, we as Quakers believe that we can experience this connection between God and ourselves   If this connection is built into us, is at the core of our humanity, then it is in fact true that there is that of God within every human being, they are equally God’s creation, God’s beloved children with whom he is trying to establish a relationship.  And it is true of ourselves as well.

If we grew up in a fairly normal family environment, it is not all that difficult to cultivate a sense of compassion for others – beginning with those we love, then gradually moving on to those we like, continuing to those we don’t know, and finally widening our compassionate circle (if we are working hard on it) to encompass those we actively dislike. It takes some practice, but it’s relatively easy to be compassionate to others.

But it is harder to be compassionate to ourselves.  How do we learn to love ourselves?  Why is it hard?  Perhaps because everybody has something about themselves that they don’t like; something that causes them to feel shame, to feel insecure, or not “good enough.” It is the human condition to be imperfect, and feelings of failure and inadequacy are part of the experience of living a human life.  You each have a half sheet of paper in your bulletin, and I hope you have something to write with – we tried to check that when you came in.  I’d like you to take out that paper and write down what situations blind you to seeing the Light in yourself?  What imperfections make you feel inadequate – everyone has at least a few things they don’t like about themselves or makes them feel “not good enough.”  Now this is entirely private, no one is going to see this but you.  So just jot down things you feel insecure about – could be physical appearance, work issues, relationship issues, how you spend your time .. just take a couple minutes to do that.

(Give a couple minutes)

Notice how you feel when you think about these things.  Examine the emotions that come up, and let yourself experience them. We are so often desperate to avoid feeling anything negative, but negative feelings are an inherent part of life.  Just sit with them for a minute.  Just feel the emotions that thinking about your imperfections dredges up.

(a minute more)

Now I’d like you to write down what would a kind friend say or do to support you if they knew how you were feeling right now?  This is a friend who knows you very well and is kind.  How would that kind friend try to comfort you?  What would that friend say your good points are?  List them on the other side of the page.  These are the qualities that God sees in you, that God is encouraging you to develop and integrate into your view of yourself.  Just as a good parent sees what her child could grow up to be, so God sees our potential and is trying to help us grow into our true selves.

 

And maybe we can look at others in this way also, especially those whose candle is not shining very brightly and whose light seems obscured.  We can wonder what God sees as their good points.  If we cannot see that flame within them, we might ask What do they love?  What are they trying to do?  What is the unmet need that is causing the behavior which upsets me so much?  What does God see in this person that I cannot see?

 

And when we as Quakers sit in silence and try to center down, we bring our whole selves into the light of God’s spirit, warts and all, we acknowledge our failures, but we do not stop there.  We wait for God to say, “Yes, I know those things.  But now we can set them aside.  Now we can turn our attention to helping you become the person that I created you to be, a complete healthy person that I can rejoice in and whose life will abound in such actions and joyfulness that others will see you and be drawn to me.”

 

f a person to be hers

Now I’d like you to write down what would a kind friend say or do to support you if they knew how you were feeling right now?  This is a friend who knows you very well and is kind.  How would that kind friend try to comfort you?  What would that friend say your good points are?  List them on the other side of the page.  These are the qualities that God sees in you, that God is encouraging you to develop and integrate into your view of yourself.  Just as a good parent sees what her child could grow up to be, so God sees our potential and is trying to help us grow into our true selves.

And maybe we can look at others in this way also, especially those whose candle is not shining very brightly and whose light seems obscured.  We can wonder what God sees as their good points.  If we cannot see that flame within them, we might ask What do they love?  What are they trying to do?  What is the unmet need that is causing the behavior which upsets me so much?  What does God see in this person that I cannot see?

And when we as Quakers sit in silence and try to center down, we bring our whole selves into the light of God’s spirit, warts and all, we acknowledge our failures, but we do not stop there.  We wait for God to say, “Yes, I know those things.  But now we can set them aside.  Now we can turn our attention to helping you become the person that I created you to be, a complete healthy person that I can rejoice in and whose life will abound in such actions and joyfulness that others will see you and be drawn to me.”

 

 

 

 

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