Inner Rootedness – A Symphony in 4 Movements and a Coda
(Sermon given by Lucia Eitzen on October 30th, 2016)
This talk is part of the series called “we are the church together”, where we look at the church’s role in people’s emotional, psychological, and spiritual wellbeing. Terms like anxiety disorder, depression, OCD, ADHD and other mental health diagnostic labels have become part of our everyday vocabulary and are a socially accepted way to categorize our struggles. I am not going to ask you to raise your hand if you ﬁt any of those categories so that you can see you are not the only one struggling. Statistics tell us that many of us here today know what I am talking about from personal experience. What I am going to do is suggest that intimate experiential relationship with the divine is a very powerful antidote to the suffering associated with those mental health labels and to much of what we struggle with as human beings. To get there I am asking you to come on an interesting journey with me.
Inner Rootedness; A Symphony in 4 movements Intro What anchors you when the storms of life are raging? When your days are ﬁlled with worries, fear, and despair? When you feel weak and useless? When you feel angry and tired? What do you rely on? Where do you go when people disappoint you or when the people closest to you don’t understand you?
This morning we heard the story of Daniel’s friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Threatened by the powerful Nebuchadnezzar to be thrown into the ﬁery furnace if they didn’t bow down to his golden statue S, M and A replied: “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” How could S, M, and A dare to not go with the “mainstream order” of bowing to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue? How could they say “even if God doesn’t save us from the furnace it doesn’t make a difference to us”? They had a conviction that went beyond pleasing their superiors. They refused to obey. Their conviction was stronger than their desire to avoid suffering. There are a lot of reasons why people die for their convictions but here is my hunch about S,M, and A. It seems to me they were rooted in a relationship that was “out of this world”. Their relationship with their God was so all consuming that the importance of other things such as approval of the king and even physical life itself faded. Their inner rootedness enabled them to remain loyal to the God of Love in the face of burning in the ﬁery furnace. This story has a happy ending. Not one of the friends caved to the pressure and all were rescued. What is the moral here? Is it that God will rescue you should you ever end up in a difﬁcult situation? Or is it that the 3 friends were prepared to leave the ending of their story in God’s hands and didn’t demand to be rescued?
What?!, you might say, leave the ending in God’s hands? Accept uncertainty? I don’t like that. I want assurance that my good behaviour will be rewarded. We shy away from uncertainty. The need for structure, predictability, and rules to play by is inherent in our human desire for security. Wherever groups of people come together there seems to be a need for organization and establishment. There is a striving for unity which pushes us to uniformity. Standards and conditions of approval are set. And consequences for misbehaviour are spelled out. We know what to expect. We feel secure and in control. We rely on tangible, rational structures.
In Old Testament times God gave the people of Israel the 10 commandments intended to help keep them in a loving covenant relationship with God. There was security for them in knowing what to do and what not to do. Their leaders became enthusiastic about this and religious scholars kept adding footnotes until 10 grew into a more than 500 law compendium. This became a tool to control the people, a means of power over the people, and a justiﬁable vehicle for abuse. Then Jesus came along and said, back to basics. He cut through the labyrinthine expectations and religious assumptions of his time to point people back to relationship with God. His life modelled one-ness with God. His good news was that we could and should reconnect with God directly. To realize they were children of a loving mother/ father. His teachings were in essence consistent with the origins of Jewish laws. However, most people, especially the religious leaders simply saw Jesus as a threat to their religious establishment. Jesus was disrupting their sense of control and security and for that he was cruciﬁed.
2 quick observations on this:
1. God seems to disrupt our security and reliance on establishment. We are invited to become un-established in ourselves and lose ourselves in God’s embrace.
2. Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” He was modelling a “letting go”. He was trusting God to know what God was doing when the abyss of suffering opened up before him. Like to S, M, and A he was demonstrating that even if God doesn’t save us it shouldn’t make a difference to us. Jesus was rooted in an intimate loving relationship with God. He sought one-ness with God.
Moving on in our journey through history…
Christianity was born and eventually became more and more established not unlike the Judaism it broke away from. And along came new reformers like the Anabaptists who said, it is time to get back to basics. Other people were also rejecting established Christianity at this time, but the Anabaptists were rejecting it for a very interesting reason. They sought direct personal relationship with God.Hans Denck, a 15th and 16th century German scholar central to the development of Anabaptism told us: “No one can truly know Christ unless one follows Him in life. And no one can follow Him except inasmuch as one has already known Him”. In other words, the roots of Anabaptism are in mysticism. They are not in social or political reform. They are not grounded in rational or purely intellectual thinking and debate. Clarence Bauman, who was a professor at AMBS, a friend of our Walter Paetkau, builder of the hermitage at Camp Squeah, and translator of Hans Denck’s writings, puts it boldly: “Anabaptism is not primarily a reaction to the Reformation but is a product of mysticism.” Werner Packull, an Anabaptist scholar and professor emeritus at Conrad Grebel University College writes that “South German Anabaptists took their theological starting point not from the Reformers but from a popularized medieval mystical tradition.” It was the personal, direct spiritual experiences that are central to mystical experiences which compelled early Anabaptists to challenge the established church.
As Anabaptists, we might want to think about what Denck had to say. The opening sentence of Denck’s Confessions before the Nürnberg council offer the key to the mystery of his own spirituality. He called it ‘Armutseligkeit’. Translated literally this means poverty-blessedness. Much like Jesus in his ﬁrst beatitude Denck was putting together material poverty and spiritual wealth. Denck was never quite sure how to express his experience and understanding of God in human language. He refers to “something within” him, something divine, an inner awareness which guides him on the deepest level of discernment. He also said that one needs this “true spark of divine zeal” to understand scripture because the letter in itself is dead. And he said there is no use in forcing the understanding of the word or of scripture. He wrote: “Indeed, he who will not await the revelation of God but presumes the work which solely belongs to the Sprit of God, he surely makes out of the mystery of God, documented in the Scripture, a dissolute abomination before God and perverts the grace of our God into licentiousness, as pointed out in the epistles of Jude and II Peter. From then on immediately after the apostles’ death there appeared very many divisions or sects all of whom armed themselves with Scripture badly understood. Why badly understood? Proceeding headlong according to their own presumption, they acquired a false faith before desiring from God a true one…” For Denck, there was a crucially important and fundamental distinction between what he called the “inner word” and what he called the “outer word”. The “inner word” was a spiritual understanding of God obtained through relationship with God and the “outer word” was intellectual and nothing more.
There is one other aspect of Denck’s work that I want to highlight today. It is how he viewed discipleship. To understand Denck’s approach to discipleship we need to understand Denck’s concept of ‘Gelassenheit’ or “letting go”. Gelassenheit is the fundamental attitude of discipleship. It is resigning oneself to God. It is fully accepting and embracing that I am in God and God is in me. The way I think of and experience this myself is through the concept of “lining up”. Lining up my thoughts, my feelings, my immediate experiencing, and the whole of myself with God. I ﬁnd, and I think that Denck found, that to line up you have to let go, and when you can really do this, then you can feel yourself become one.
I also ﬁnd it helps to remember that Christ who was the living embodiment of God was ‘hoch gelassen’. That is fully committed in the boundlessness of his love. It is only when I can conceive of this boundless love and trust in this boundless love that the letting go necessary for lining up becomes possible. Of course, we seek security, and security gets understood in terms of control. But the world is deeply uncertain and we can control very little. Denck was fully alive to this, and he embraced the teachings of an earlier mystic, Meister Eckhart. Meister Eckhart’s response to the question: How can one recognize the people in whose soul the eternal Word is spiritually born? was: “They no longer live by natural desires but by the Spirit; they are ever hearkening to God’s voice within, and they are not perturbed by the uncertainty of things: nothing vexes or depresses them, as Christ said to his disciples, ‘In patience possess ye your souls.’”
For myself I am far from not being vexed, I am easily vexed, but I do ‘get’ that being at home in God, and making it possible for God to be at home in me does signiﬁcantly shift the importance of earthly values, standards and expectations. They fade. I recognize that they are ultimately not reliable or lasting. They provide temporary conﬁdence but no rootedness. That unshakable rootedness which I sometimes experience is a mystery, a gift, nothing to do with anything earthly, not associated with intellectual prowess, and in no way connected with good behaviour. It begins with making space in me for God, and working to line myself up, and then patiently waiting for God. It requires silence because only when we are silent are we able to hear and to become aware of the spirit moving in and around us. God is always there. God never abandons us. But very often we haven’t turned on our receiver. It is like you actually have to pick up or answer the phone when it is ringing in order to hear the other person speaking.
Prayer by Hans Denck:
Oh, who will give me a voice that I may cry aloud to the whole world that God, the all highest, is in the deepest abyss within us and is waiting for us to return to him. Oh, my God, how does it happen in this poor old world, that you art so great and yet nobody ﬁnds you, that you call so loudly and nobody hears you, that you are so near and nobody feels you, that you give yourself to everybody and nobody knows your name! We ﬂee from you and say we cannot ﬁnd you; we turn our backs and say we cannot see you; we stop our ears and say we cannot hear you!
Application: Today & Making Space for God
This brings our journey to today. Although we prefer certainty, regulations, and view our social systems as progressive, we also sometimes feel oppressed by it all. It is usually those on the edges of the kingdom, those who are not faring so well, who say, wait a minute, something is not right, the system isn’t working for us. This can make things very uncomfortable for those the system does work for. Those who are safe and secure in the centre of the system. Our world today does not value nor cater to silence, depth, or acceptance of mystery. Our world is noisy, ﬁlled with distraction, superﬁciality and make-overs to hide so called imperfection. There is pressure upon us from Kindergarten onwards or even earlier, to be the smartest, the prettiest, the funniest, the coolest, and later on the most successful, inﬂuential, and richest person. It is tough to keep up with all the societal and selfimposed expectations. We ought to produce and have something to show. We have categories for “normal” and “abnormal”. There is a standard for how a human life ought to be lived in order for the person living it to be worthy of recognition, acceptance, and love. Deviations from expected life experiences, things that are beyond our control, can throw a wrench into our projected life goals. Or we simply can’t keep up with the rat race.
That is when the search for a correction of the deviation or a quick ﬁx ensues. There must be a pill, a treatment or a trick to get things back into shape and it better be fast. Because we don’t like agony. It is acceptable to fake who you are because one always needs to be ready to impress and ﬁt in. Little do we realize that we manipulate “butcher up” a creation of God’s (the creation of God’s image). It makes us sick to be incongruent, dishonest, with ourselves and the world around us. And how is any lining-up possible when you are in this predicament? It is easier because it is more acceptable to bow to the mainstream and tell ourselves that the majority must have it right. We fear people more than God. And we are quick to blame God as something without real power to help us or decide their is no God. We categorize our struggles according to medicalized diagnoses and we realize with sorrow that there is hardly anyone who doesn’t ﬁt the categories. We hope that science will sort it out because God can’t be bothered to or maybe cannot sort it out. We say that the physical manifestations of our emotional struggles need to be accepted as medical issues, and have nothing to do with God. We hope that brain surgeons may be able to cut out our misery or neurological manipulation make it disappear, without having to face ourselves.
Could it be that our misery is a sign of misalignment? Could it be that it is time to get back to basics and experience directly the embrace of our creator? Could it be that what we call abnormal is – like a miracle – a deviation from the expected? Why does God keep inviting us to let go of our certainty? Our clamouring to what we know for sure?
God is like a crazy dance partner, completely in love with us, who gently invites us onto the dance ﬂoor and says with a gentle smile “don’t be so stiff”. Trust me. I’ll dance you. You don’t need to know the steps. When that fusion or One-ness happens, and we can fully let go, we stop worrying about whether we get the steps right. We start to enjoy the music. We realize who we really are… capable of dancing with our entire being. We care less about the audience. And we cannot imagine going back to what and where we were before.
It is not exactly a “happy ever after” scenario. It involves disruption and at times excruciating learning. Chances are that we will be threatened by others, although in Langley today there is no ﬁery furnace. Chances are that we will be rejected by others, although we will not be physically rejected from Langley as Hans Denck was kicked out form every town he lived in. We will certainly not be physically cruciﬁed like Jesus for bringing good news, but some will vilify us like Jesus was. The ﬁery furnace did not dismay Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Hans Denck accepted his expulsions, and Jesus walked towards cruciﬁxion because their invincible spirits were rooted in the everlasting embrace of God. They had a Home. Our home, too, is in God. Whether we look for it or not, it is always there for us.
Sometimes, we ﬁnd ourselves asking, is there a technique, a practice for ﬁnding our way to God. Here is what Thomas Merton said: “I don’t use special methods when I teach the novices how to pray. I try to make them love the freedom and peace of being with God alone in faith and simplicity, to abolish all divisiveness and diminish all useless strain and concentration on one’s own efforts…” What I called “lining up” a little earlier is certainly sometimes necessary to ﬁnding that freedom and peace. And sometimes it can all be as simple as talking to God directly. “Talk to me directly”, is what I think I have sometimes heard, not about problems or others or your difﬁcult issues, just talk with me.
Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire, unuttered or expressed, the motion of a hidden ﬁre that trembles in the breast.
Prayer is the burden of a sigh, the falling of a tear, the upward glancing of an eye, when non but God is near.
Prayer is the simplest form of speech that infant lips can try; prayer the sublimest strains that reach the Majesty on high.
Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath, the Christian’s native air, the watchword at the gates of death while ent’ring heav’n with prayer.
Text: James Montgomery 1818, alt. James Montgomery (4 November 1771 – 30 April 1854) was a Scottish-born poet, hymn writer and editor. He was particularly associated with humanitarian causes such as the campaigns to abolish slavery and to end the exploitation of child chimney sweeps. It sounds to me like he had the guts to face those issues because he was rooted in God and that relationship was like breath to him.
Ephesians 3:14-21 New International Version
A Prayer for the Ephesians: For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family[a] in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be ﬁlled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
Dietrich Bonhöffer, another theologian and disturber during world war II who was rooted in God’s goodness in the midst of terrible injustices wrote the text “By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered…”
Hymn: 552 by gracious powers
By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered,
and conﬁdently waiting come what may,
we know that God is with us night and morning,
and never fails to greet us each new day.
Yet is this heart by its old foe tormented,
still evil days bring burdens hard to bear.
O give our frightened souls the sure salvation,
for which, O Lord, you taught us to prepare.
And when this cup you give is ﬁlled to brimming
with bitter sorrow, hard to understand,
we take it thankfully and without trembling,
out of so good and so belov’d a hand.
Yet when again in this same world you give us
the joy we had, the brightness of your sun,
we shall remember all the days we lived through,
and our whole life shall then be yours alone.