Midweek Faith Lift
December 9, 2020
2nd Sunday of Advent- Peace in the Midst
Rev. Deb Hill-Davis
As we move through the Advent season in this very unusual time, we come right up against all the unsettled energy that seems to be everywhere. If this is the Sunday of Peace, why is it that there is so much around us that is “Not Peace?” We are living in what can best be described as an “age of discontent.” There is agitation, discouragement, controversy, opposition, conflict and finally, a great sadness in our nation, in our families and in our own hearts. Personally, I am getting very weary of it, and I don’t believe I am alone. So what do we do with all that? How do we use this time of Advent to find that place of peace, that place of stillness? We have just finished our journey through the Book of Joy, and what do we take from that journey that will bring us to a place of peace?
I sat here in the Sanctuary last Sunday, after Todd brought up all the Christmas decorations from the basement of the church and just cried. And you know, after I cried about not having all of us together here, in the Sanctuary for Christmas this year, I felt better. It was better to actually honestly feel the loss of what we treasure, than to just keep going, staying so busy you just don’t notice what it is you are feeling. It is time to stop and recognize what we are feeling and experiencing. This year, in the spirit of simplicity, we all will truly practice being with what is here right now, warts and all, finding “peace in the midst” of all that is.
And in the midst of my funk, in walks Jim Trenberth with smiling eyes above his mask, positive energy and news of a happy Thanksgiving Zoom call with his siblings as well as heart-felt words of appreciation for the service last Sunday. Ahh, good to see him, and Heather and Sally, who were at church today. And then our online class which has been so rich with heartfelt sharing as we walked through Tara Brach’s message about the practice of RAIN. It was so interesting to me that after I let myself have the moment of funk, shared what I was feeling with a caring person, Jim, then I actually felt much better for the rest of the day.
I want to share with you that I was actually practicing, and that is RAIN, her acronym for the practice that has offered us a true source of peace in the midst of all that is. It is a source of peace for all that I embrace and all that I don’t like! I want to share some of it with you today and next Sunday, because so much of it parallels what we explored as the Pillars of Joy and has actually given me a way to put those pillars into practice in my life during this challenging time.
The Acronym is RAIN, which helped me really remember it! The letter R stands for “Recognize” which asks us to pause in the midst of things and just notice what it is we are feeling, thinking or sensing in this now moment. It is a regular practice, not just for when you feel upset about something. Just be curious about it without judgment. What is it that attracts your attention and what and where in your body do you respond to it, all really helpful questions that enable you to Recognize what is there. Even if all you feel is numb, there is great power and healing in just recognizing the numbness. Or you can actually stop and feel the pain or tension in your neck and shoulders! What message is there in that?
The “A” of RAIN is “Allowing” which asks you to let be whatever it is that you have just recognized. “Can I be with this?” or “Can I let this be?” are the questions we sit with as we allow what is there. And the reality is that when your response is “No, I hate this, I hate the way I feel!” the “A” of allowing lets all of that just be there. Rather than analyzing, resisting or fixing, all of which are head trips, just notice all of it and allow it to be there without judgment. I frequently want to escape unpleasant feelings by getting busy, getting mad at someone, but if I allow them to just be, then they pass more quickly. Or I want to think it through and explain it away. Many people want to jump to fix it, find a solution quickly. Allowing is a challenge; simple but not easy.
We are focused on Peace during this second week of Advent. The paradox is that when we Recognize what is there, everything we have been avoiding, the loneliness, the hurts and fears, and then we Allow them to just be there, then we discover we can maintain a balanced, open-hearted presence in the midst of the storm. This is a mindfulness practice, which can literally change how our neurons fire together and then wire together to bring us to a more automatically peaceful response. It is a practice, not a sudden landing! It does not require hours and hours of meditation; rather, it calls us to pay attention in each now moment of our daily life experiences.
What really jazzed me about this is that there is a wonderful parallel Advent story in Scripture that reflects what this RAIN process is all about. Most versions of the Christmas story in Scripture begin with the Angel Gabriel telling Mary that she, even though she is a virgin, will bear a son who is to be called Jesus and that he will be called the Son of God. The Angel Gabriel continues with reassurances that this is all in divine order and that all will be well with her. Even though this is a most unlikely event, Mary responds by saying, “let it be with me according to your word.” Luke 1:38
Earlier in the first chapter of Luke, the Angel Gabriel also visits Zecharia, husband of Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, to tell him that his wife is going to conceive, even though she is of advanced age. And his response is not quite so peaceful or accepting. It goes like this: Luke 1:18-20
18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” 19 The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”
And that is how it went down! Here we have two completely different responses to the same information! Angels are metaphysically divine ideas, and this divine idea of a divine or miracle birth was presented to a man and then to a woman. Metaphysically, the masculine energy represents our thinking nature and the feminine energy represents our feeling nature. This is a clear object lesson here that tells us that when we recognize and allow to be what is there, we are assured of the manifestation of a Divine Idea in the right and perfect order, even when we don’t understand how that can be. When we try to figure out, over think and analyze and object to what is there, the message is to silence that energy as Zecharia was muted.
The primary messages of Unity is that we already have all that we need within us; there is no need to look elsewhere but only a need to be Silent and awaken to what is there. Here is how Charles Fillmore expressed it in an article, Unity, Vol. 17 (Unity Tract Society, 1902):
All manifestations of life originate in the Silence. The thoughts that rise in you and come to the surface in deed and act, are they not from the Silence? Do you take a step or lift a hand that has not its motive from the depths of the mighty sea of throbbing life within your own being? Then why look to the external for that which comes only from the silent within?
Zecharia was not being punished when he was struck mute, he was being instructed by being afforded a time in the Silence, a time of watching, listening and a gift of peace from the perpetual cycle of thought that can rob us of peace. He was engaging in the practice of Recognition and Allowing that are the first steps in a mindfulness practice that brings us peace. What is also allowed is to notice our feelings, which is why Mary, our feeling nature is not muted. This whole story is an illustration of the practice of the first two steps of the mindfulness practice of RAIN, Recognize and Allow. We see what is there, feel what we feel and like Mary, we say, “let it be with me according to your word.”
Advent is a time of reflection, of anticipation, of literally waiting for the light to return even as the days get shorter and shorter. Right after the winter solstice, about the time we celebrate Christmas there begins to be a perceptible lengthening of daylight. The light will return! Ah, there is hope! It is a time of being in the darkness, of not knowing and walking a path of faith to hold a conviction of things not yet seen, an assurance of things hoped for. Next week, we will explore the next two steps in the mindfulness practice of RAIN: Investigate and Nurture as we explore the path of Love that is being laid out in this time of waiting.
Blessings on the Path,