Midweek Faith Lift
August 12, 2020
The Crucifixion- Station 12
Rev. Deb Hill-Davis
The God who Loves us into freedom and frees us into loving…..the God who loves us into freedom and frees us into loving. This is the God of which the minister who officiated at the funeral for Congressman John R. Lewis spoke in his closing prayer to end the funeral service. It was a powerful statement about God and about the life and presence of John Lewis. And it really landed with me, so much so that I had to go and quickly write it down so that I would remember it. The God who loves us into freedom was really a thought provoking idea. How is it that God loves us into freedom and frees us into loving? That question was at once intriguing and compelling to me.
Well, as I contemplated that question and began to read the chapter about the Crucifixion, things began to come into focus for me. The story of the Crucifixion is an archetypal story about suffering and death. It is one part of a three-part story about Life, Death and Resurrection. And this part about death, about the crucifixion of Jesus is part of the energy of the Cosmic Christ. It is an energy that is part of the Universal energy that teaches us that life, death and rebirth are natural events that we do not need to fear or try to avoid or deny.
We want to pretend that suffering does not need to happen, that we don’t have to ever suffer and that death is not real because we will go to heaven and live forever in peace and joy with all the treasures we could not or did not have on earth. That has been the story that we are telling ourselves in Christian mythology….but it really doesn’t quite cut it, does it? We didn’t want to look at the suffering of Jesus in the crucifixion unless we could say that Jesus was dying for our sins. Now that makes no sense at all!! Jesus as the Cosmic Scapegoat is just too easy a way out for us and does not at all reflect the God that loves us into freedom!! Not at all!
No, the suffering Jesus is the story of our suffering, of Universal unearned suffering, Archetypal suffering, the kind that is redemptive. It is the kind of suffering that transforms us if we can embrace it and lean into it and not try to escape or avoid it. In our human condition, none of us really wants to lean into pain and suffering. It just is not an appealing thought, is it? It certainly is not an easy sell, that’s for sure. My mother used to say that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, and she was right about that! And who doesn’t want to reach for an aspirin or Tylenol when they have a headache, right? Who wants to lean into the redemptive experience that a headache might offer? Not so much!
And yet, and yet… the stories of those who have suffered and triumphed are so compelling, aren’t they? Like the story of John R. Lewis and Nelson Mandela and the Dali Lama and Archbishop Desmund Tutu which are all stories of redemptive suffering, unearned suffering like the suffering of Jesus in the Crucifixion. We want to listen to the story of someone else’s suffering and redemption and get the redemption experience through their story.
That is not how it works! The story of the suffering of Jesus is an archetypal story of cosmic suffering that the Universe presents us in an ongoing narrative. Stars, galaxies, planets and supernovas are born and then they die thereby seeding other new birthings in the Universe, as Matthew Fox says on page 126 of Sixteen Stations of the Cosmic Christ. He continues to ask the very powerful questions,
How do we find meaning in the suffering? How do we respond to it without just projecting more suffering onto others? How do we, in Leonard Cohen’s words deal with the “Holy and the Broken” and still manage to sing “Hallelujah” or “Praise to Life?”
Finding the meaning in our suffering is really the biggest challenge both collectively and individually. It is not an easy journey, but when we take that road, we are deciding to allow God to love us into freedom. How is that?
Well let’s go back to that headache scenario. What if we take the aspirin and the headache does not go away? And then we take more, or we call the doctor for pain meds and it still doesn’t go away? Well, the typical response is to become angry and frustrated and then blame someone for causing your headache, right? We describe this as “taking it out on” and we do that to our kids, our pets, our spouse, our co-workers and on and on. We are in pain, so we do things that cause pain to others in the delusion that it will reduce our pain if others are also suffering because of our pain. We can also take the more passive route of saying, “Oh don’t worry about me” and then guilt trip everyone into taking care of us! Or we guilt trip them by not taking care of ourselves, and then become the really big time victim.
These are the many and varied ways we can try to give our headache pain away rather than letting the suffering, the unearned suffering of our headache be redemptive. How do we let our pain become the “God that loves us into freedom that frees us into loving?” Friends, I believe that is the Cosmic question we are all sitting with right now in race consciousness all around the globe. We are all caught in the web of this kind of suffering in the midst of the pandemic right now. And collectively, we are really resisting it, resisting the unearned suffering that this COVID 19 experience is giving us rather than leaning into it. At first everyone was so dedicated to “flattening the curve” to prevent the spread, but only for so long! As soon as there was economic suffering, rather than lean into that and figure out how to help one another, looking for new ways to share wealth to soften the suffering, we were no longer interested.
Clearly, we said there is a limit to just how much I am willing to suffer! We are seeing the backlash to the request the Universe made of us to endure unearned suffering. We are not seeing Jesus and the Crucifixion as the model for how to navigate this suffering with dignity, love, compassion, forgiveness and the Buddhist word, equanimity, or evenness of mind. Collectively, while there are those who are willing to do their part, there is a huge energy that is saying no to suffering. But here’s the hardest part. Until you lean into unearned suffering, it doesn’t go away. It keeps asking for your attention so that you can receive the gifts it has to offer.
Let’s go back to the headache; because this is one that is very familiar to me, it is one that I lived. Back in the 90’s I had a headache that was so bad and so prolonged and intractable that it sent me to bed for a week. As I moaned and complained and whined to no avail and I had a CAT scan, which revealed nothing organic or physical as a cause, I began to ponder the possibility that something else was the source of my suffering headache. Rather than making it someone else’s problem, I finally leaned into it, with prayer, affirmations, reflection, journaling as best I could and asking my body to tell me what was going on.
It was also at that point that I was learning about Louise Hay and the body-mind-heart connection and Emilie Cady and the process she called “chemicalization” which she described as the body’s way of dissolving toxic energy that we are holding in the body. Aha! My headaches were literally dissolving all the toxic beliefs that I had been given in my childhood religious training in Catholic school. I had recently attended a Unity retreat that was held at a Catholic monastery in Bethany, MO and the interior looked exactly like my elementary school. WOW!! When I began to allow loving thoughts into my head, like “You are God’s beloved daughter in whom she is so well pleased” things began to shift. And my headache began to lift.
I said that affirmation so many times it was like a mantra that somehow began to permeate my resistance and my consciousness. It literally was the way that God loved me into freedom and freed me into loving. One of the takeaway lessons for me was to pay attention to my body and its pain, because there has usually been some kind of redemptive suffering in consciously and deliberately doing that. However, I did not get that lesson until I had suffered a great deal, because my human self wanted to resist the suffering, and to be very honest, at times I still do.
I want this pandemic to be over with so I can have my life back, and travel and be with my friends and family and hug everyone and have everyone back in church. But that is not the message of Jesus. He did not tell us to work really hard to have everything just the way that you like it and them work really hard to keep it that way. No, his message was a lot clearer and a lot more direct. I found it in the gospel of Matthew when I was thinking about the Buddhist idea of impermanence and wondering what Jesus had to say about things not lasting. Here is what Jesus had to say about that:
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (NRSV)
So, dear friends that brings us right back to the pandemic and also to our witnessing of the suffering of our black brothers and sisters that was made so brutally real in the crucifixion of George Floyd. It is also revealed in all the others who have died in the same manner, as a result of unearned suffering. It is clear, dear friends, that we are in a time of seeing all the suffering and in a time of great possibility of redemption all around the globe. It is a time when we really do need lean into the lessons of the suffering and let the “God who loves us into freedom free us into loving,” for that is where our hearts are also.
May it be so!
Blessings on the Path,