Welcome to the Yoga Church Sunday Sermons
Early Winter 2019 | Opening to Mystery
Can you believe we’re at the end of a decade?
It feels like kind of a big deal. And as I look back over the past 10-years I’m overwhelmed by all that’s happened. I’m no stranger to big changes, but the past decade has been intense for me. It contained both a deep experience of fulfillment and a life changing experience of depression. It was filled with soul level transformations that will ground and shape the rest of my life.
And while I’m interested in welcoming the 20’s with some intention, I’m not as smitten with the New Year as I used to be…
After diving deep into the cyclical nature of the seasons, the New Year seems too linear to me. And the overwhelming flow of “New Year, New You!” marketing messages is a complete turn off. Everyone’s telling us we need to improve. We need to be better. And they’ve got 3-easy steps to help us become thinner, more productive, health machines! All these messages are calling us toward self-aggression and perfectionism. And I don’t know about you, but these are two things I’d like less of in my life, not more.
So as we prepare to greet a new decade, let’s remember that we’re still welcoming the season of winter. Which is a time of gestation and stillness. I don’t have any goal setting activities for you. What I have is a new sermon series focused on Opening to Mystery.
Over the next month we’ll explore: Seeking, Yearning, Finding Refuge, and Connecting. These four sermons are definitely linked, so I hope you’ll plan to watch them all.
Early Winter Part 1: Seeking
And for the readers…
Ten years ago, in 2009, I was finishing my seminary career and although I didn’t fully understand it back then, my time in seminary was marked by a dark night experience. I was in the midst of a spiritual depression struggling to let go of quote-unquote ‘right belief’ and say goodbye to the ‘God of Answers.’
As painful as this experience was, it was an absolutely essential part of my spiritual development. Because while there’s a great deal to be learned from the wisdom of others, no one can explain Mystery to us. They can help point the way—but they can offer us no definitive answers. Mystery can be felt. It can be experienced. But it can never be tied down or locked in a book.
I’m fully committed to the path of spiritual seeking—which means I’ll spend a great deal of my life-energy searching after Mystery—even though I know I’ll never be able to pin it down.
My theology is one of skepticism. I’m afraid of anyone or anything that’s too sure of answers. I subscribe to the value of holding it all lightly. As we participate in the institutions of religion, we must hold it all lightly. As we listen to our teachers, we must hold it all lightly. As we study ancient scripture, we must hold it all lightly. As we undertake spiritual practices, we must hold it all lightly.
Please understand, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be serious or reverent. What I’m saying is that we would be well served to remember that everything is always changing, which means the words and symbols we use to describe Mystery are always changing. Take the swastika, which is an ancient Buddhist symbol representing good fortune that was utterly defiled by the Nazis and transformed into a symbol of destruction, hatred, and genocide.
The words and symbols we use to describe Mystery are an important part of our spiritual lives. They give shape and form to the ineffable and spark our imagination, but they will always be inadequate. And when we hold too tightly to them, we can cause ourselves and others harm. Words and symbols can allow for an arrogant complacency—they can allow us to fool ourselves into thinking we understand God. And this can be wildly dangerous. Holding too tightly to our religious stories and symbols we might just become bystanders and perpetrators of suffering and injustice.
But when we can remember that the symbol isn’t the Mystery, but a representation, we can hold it lightly. We can practice non-attachment and avoid the pitfalls of dogma that allow for religious and political abuse and oppression. Symbols are designed to point us toward something that can’t be described. They’re tools that help us understand ourselves, the world, and the unknowable. Searching after Mystery can be like trying to grasp smoke. And hearing of other people’s experiences of the Divine can help us draw closer to our own experience of the Divine. But we must always remember that experience is personal. And that symbols and experience aren’t the same thing.
In a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, Ravi Ravindra writes:
The experiences of great visionaries or mystics and prophets—such as Arjuna, Moses, and John of the Cross—are concrete and real, but when they express what they see, they use words, metaphor, similes, or analogies that are symbolic from our perspective, because what they see is not in our experience. [The great visionaries were] not experiencing symbols; what they experience is very concrete. … [But] having heard the name [they use to describe their experience] we can imagine having touched the face, mistaking words for reality.
Holding the words of others lightly, we can seek our own divine understanding. And remembering that everything is always changing, we can pay attention to the direction that our words and symbols point us. Holding it all lightly we can open ourselves to a divine dance built on introspection and big questions. We can dive into the heart of Love. We can take on the mantle of seeker and bravely release the need for false assurities.
The great visionaries of the past left us maps. We are blessed to live in a time when we have access to so much ancient scripture from so many different traditions.
So here’s my invitation: Take on the mantle of seeker. Let go of answers and search after Mystery. Open up the old books and holding all that you find lightly, allow yourself to be dazzled. Take on the mantle of seeker and search after stories that help tear down your attachments and assumptions and guide you into the heart of Mystery.
- How do you respond to the idea of ‘holding it all lightly’? Are there things in life (specifically your spiritual life) that you hold tightly? What would it feel like to loosen your grip? If it feels frightening, can you identity what you’re scared of?
- Reflect on your religious journey… from childhood to now. Did anyone give you hard and fast answers about religion? How did this feel? Did anyone give you a sense of openness and curiosity about religion? How did this feel? When you think about your life today, where do you find yourself drawn to solid answers and where do you find yourself drawn to mystery?
- Can you think of a few important points along your spiritual journey? Have you experienced times of spiritual desolation or isolation? Have you experienced anything you’d describe as a Divine encounter (you may or may not have language for this…)?
- Think of a symbol that matters to you. Where did this symbol come from? What does it represent for you? If it’s a common symbol, what does it represent in the religious and political systems of the world? How does it connect you with divine mystery? What answers does it give you? What questions does it raise for you?
- Holding the image in your mind’s eye, allow it to become blurry. Imagine letting it go. What do you feel in your body as it dissolves? Allow the image to return. What do you feel in your body now?
We all benefit from the wisdom of spiritual community. And community means more than one voice, so please add yours to the conversation. What did this week’s sermon and reflection questions spark in you?