Via Creativa: Lighten Up on Your Fear

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

According to psychologists, there are really only five types of fear we humans experience. We fear extinction or annihilation that produces that pit in your stomach feeling that you get from looking over the edge of a tall building. We fear mutilation – the loss of a body part or body function, or having our body violated in some way by other humans or animals like spiders or snakes. We fear a loss of autonomy, whether that means we’re trapped or imprisoned, or limited in some way by our circumstances. We fear separation – being abandoned, rejected or not wanted by the people around us, and we fear ego-death like humiliation or shame.

In our Hebrew scriptures this morning (Isaiah 9:1-4) , we learn that our ancient Israelite cousins experienced a full buffet of these fears. These are people who have walked in darkness for a very long time, afraid of annihilation by their enemies, afraid of what their enemies might do to them physically, afraid that those enemies would send them into exile, take away their autonomy, separate them from their sacred land and family and humiliate and shame them by conquering them.

That’s a whole lot of fear for one group of people to face.  But, the prophet Isaiah has good news:  “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shined.”

The prophet is promising these fearful people that darkness is not their destiny. Fear, shame and humiliation will not be their legacy in this world. Instead, the Holy, that great light, is always at work, always available, always shining even in the midst of our deepest and darkest nights.

These ancient Hebrews were familiar with fear – and we, too, continue to experience those fears of annihilation, mutilation, loss of autonomy, separation and ego-death. Those fears are alive and well in our time and those fears lead us down a path of brutality, spiritual poverty and hunger and ultimately into hopelessness. We, like our ancient desert dwelling cousins, often feel powerless over our fears. When we’re afraid, we all become fabulous storytellers, spinning great yarns about how our fears will play out.  We will be abandoned, nobody will love us. We’ll lose our freedom and be separated from everyone and everything we care about. We will be humiliated and shamed, violated by the evil of the world.

But, God reminds the people of Israel that despite their fears – even the ones that came true – they have always been guided through them, they have always emerged victorious, there is always a reason for hope. Isaiah reminds them of how God led Gideon, with an inferior army, to defeat the well-armed and well-trained Midianite army.

The message then is the same now: we may feel unarmed in the face of our fears, but there is a light shining in the darkness. The light of the Holy always shines, and always assures us of victory over our fears if only we’ll lighten up and be still and be not afraid.

Breathe deeply.

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Via Creativa: Lighten Up on Your Ego

By Jubilant Bill Harris

The writer and thinker Aldous Huxley identified what he called the perennial philosophy. It’s a philosophy, a wisdom, that shows up in every era of human history.  This perennial wisdom is the underlying foundation of all spiritual traditions.  There are three parts to it.

  1.      There is an infinite, changeless reality beneath the world of change.
  2.     This same reality lies at the core of every human personality.
  3.     The purpose of life is to discover this reality experientially—in other words to realize God while here on earth.

This realization is called enlightenment in eastern spiritual traditions and the kingdom of God in the Christian tradition. This is the gospel Jesus proclaimed—the experience of this infinite, changeless reality, the experience of the True Self, is actually available to us; right here, right now!! Experiencing this infinite, divine reality within us is the psychic and spiritually equivalent of butt naked underwear.

Now comes the question—how do we experience this gospel, this good news, as a living reality in our lives?

The story of Abraham gives us some clues.  The story of Abraham includes the story of his personal spiritual journey.  By looking at his spiritual journey  we can find some clues that help us in our spiritual process.

By the time we get to our scripture reading today Abraham had already had quite a journey.  He had heeded the call of the divine and left behind everything familiar to travel into a foreign land.  He had made a covenant with Yahweh and had his named changed from Abram to Abraham. And, one other really big thing had happened. His wife, Sarah, had given birth to a son, Isaac. She gave birth to Isaac when she was so old it was inconceivable—no pun intended—that she could possibly have a child. To Abraham, his son Isaac was the crown jewel of his life.  Nothing seemed more important to him than his son.  It turns out, though; there actually was one thing more important—his relationship with the Divine.

The deepest part of him, the Higher Self, the True Self, knew his attachment to Isaac was going to mess him up. If he kept on holding on, he was going to end up emotionally and spiritually stuck.  Abraham had to let go of his attachment, and he did.

This story of Abraham’s attachment to Isaac has some important things to teach us about getting free from the clutches of the ego self.  It demonstrates how the ego self works and what it takes to move into emotional and spiritual butt naked living.

To start with, it’s important to note Isaac is something external to Abraham.  This is where the ego self begins—the belief that our value, our worth, what defines who and what we are; comes from outside of us.  Driven by this belief, we become human doers rather than human beings. We buy into a life of trying to get the people, places and things right.  We hold on, hope against hope. We think our external circumstances will determine whether our life is okay; whether or not we are okay.

It’s understandable that the ego self would believe this fallacy.  You see, the ego self is not intrinsically bad.  It’s intrinsically naïve.  The ego self has a functional role to play in our lives.  It’s part of the natural evolutionary process.  It emerged to take care of our basic survival needs. Its job is to be the problem solver, to take care of the day to day tasks of life. It makes sense that the ego self would jump to the conclusion our identity is externally defined.  After all, our basic survival needs do come from outside our physical self—food, clothing, shelter, nurture and care.

This leads to the second understandable mistake the ego self makes.  The ego self believes that we and the world, we and each other, really are separate. It misses the underlying unity of everything and everyone.  It misses that there is a Ground and Mystery of Being that connects everyone and everything. Consequently, the ego self sees us as separate and believes that it defines who and what we are.

The other thing Abraham’s story tells us is how start getting free of the ego self. The story of Abraham and Isaac is the story of letting go of the ego self. We are ego self addicts and, the way out, is to let go.

Breathe deeply.

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Via Creativa: Lighten Up! — Lighten Up Your Word

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

I think we need a password, or let’s make that a pass-sentence.
That way, in case you ever come to my door
in an emergency and God and I are busy inside,
we could then just shout, Tell us the password!
if you really want to snuggle.

And part of the password will be you knowing
it is really… a pass-sentence. And here it is
in all its glory and truth:  Love kicks the ass of time and space.

This morning’s Jesus story (John 1:1-18) highlights some of the best poetry available in the Christian scriptures.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

As a writer, I love the fact that the Word has existed from the beginning of all time. Before it was even a word, before there was even language, before there was even a world, the word existed – it was hanging out, snuggling with God, getting ready to become part of that amazing pass sentence that would unlock the doorway to the divine for the entire world.

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us,” the author of John tells us. The Word became flesh. What in the world does that mean? How can a word get up and walk around, take on human form, live, breathe, eat, sleep, drink, love, laugh, cry and die?

I think it’s important to reflect on what kind of Word Jesus embodies. Remember, there are a lot of words out there and Jesus could have come to us in any Word he liked. He could have come to us in the word “ruler,” or “dictator,” or even “king.” He could have come to us as the word, “morality,” or “discipline,” or “punishment.” He could have come to us as the word, “shame,” or “sinner,” or “unworthy.”

Instead, Jesus manifested only one word his entire life. The one word that can set us all free. Have you heard? The word is “love.”

In the beginning was the word … and we misunderstood — and continue to misunderstand — this word. Love has become one of those tired, hackneyed words that can mean anything from how we love a new pair of jeans to how we love a rainy night.

The more we understand that God has broken into this world as pure, unconditional, incomprehensible love – the kind of love that can kick the ass of time and space – the more we begin to understand. Not only is this word good … this word means freedom. This word means liberation.

This word means that if we begin to embody that word, just as Jesus did – if we take up residence in the kind of love that kicks the ass of time and space, we, too can be word made flesh. We, too, can bring that humble, ass-kicking kind of love into the world.

When we can live into that kind of love, then our words can become those wonderful words that give life to those around us.

When I think about people who have given me life through their words, I am reminded of my sister-in-law, Libi. When I was a kid, I remember sitting at Libi’s feet one night with an old, ratty electric guitar in my lap. I didn’t even know how to play the thing yet, but I told her, “One day, I’m going to be a rock star.”

“You’d be so good at that,” she told me with a smile. With her encouragement, I told her about all my other wild and stupid dreams – how I’d not only make money with music but with words — as a writer — maybe even write books someday.

“You’d be so good at that,” she told me, with my ever increasingly wild dreams being dreamed, she assured me that I’d be so good at whatever I chose to do.

No one else ever took my dreams seriously. They always told me, “That’s nice, dear, but you’d better find a job where you can make money while you sing and write, because you’ll never support yourself with music and words.”

Which brings me to another point … we have a choice about which words we will believe, and give flesh to in this world. I chose to embody Libi’s words of love, and not the well-meaning, but ultimately cruel, words of those who didn’t believe in my wild dreams.

Jubilants, which words will you give flesh to in your own life?   — Breathe deeply. — 

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Via Creativa: “Lighten Up” – Let Community Lighten the Load

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

As the scriptures reveal, when Jesus wasn’t speaking in parables, he was speaking in paradoxes. Today’s Jesus story (Matthew 11:27-30) is one such instance. It’s hard to think about a yoke being easy and burden being light. Yokes are very heavy. They were placed on oxen so that they could pull heavy loads, and the very meaning of the word burden is something that is difficult to carry, something that weighs us down. How can a yoke be easy and a burden be light?

It seems Jesus understood what a paraprosdokian was, but the disciples must have thought Jesus had lost his mind. “All the persecution has taken its toll, brothers. The J-man has finally flipped!”

Just one chapter back in Matthew 10, he was outlining how life a disciple would be for them, telling them that if they are persecuted in one town to flee to the next, not to be worried about what to say when they’re handed over to councils for preaching the gospel, not to fear those who can kill their bodies and that if they lose their life for God’s sake they will find life.

So after all this dire life and death talk – telling the disciples precisely how difficult a life with him will be – Jesus has the audacity to tell them that his yoke is light and his burden is easy.

But, what Jesus presented to the disciples then, and to us now, is the paradox of grace. You see, Jesus understands the true nature of sin – Jesus knows that the root of our sinful nature is not some original sin committed by one man in some far away garden. No, the nature of our sin is our tendency to get totally caught up in our own self-interest. The Apostle Paul understood this thoroughly when he bemoaned the fact that even though he knew what was the right thing to do, he couldn’t get himself to do it (Romans 7:14-25). Instead, he would do the very thing he hated.

We know it’s best to help others, but we can’t seem to keep finding ways to only help ourselves. This “body of death,” Paul says, is our own self-absorption.

Think about this now – self-absorption is at the root of all sin. We go to war because we’re afraid some other person or group of people will take away what we have. We steal when we think we don’t have enough. We lie to cover up our own shortcomings and fears. We cheat to get ahead of someone else. We gain something for ourselves at someone else’s expense. I knew it was wrong to sing mean lyrics about my brother, but I couldn’t help myself. I wanted the attention of making up a funny song, and of course the personal satisfaction I gained from seeing him get angry. All sin springs from this preoccupation with ourselves and making things better just for us, forget everyone else.

It is this self-absorption that makes us see everyone else in the world as a heavy burden for us. As Hafiz reminds us, “There are only so many people you can carry in your small boat before their weight sinks you.”

But, this wise Sufi sage knows what makes the difference – love. If we love someone their load is suddenly as light as a feather to us. But, if we carry animosity toward anyone, self-absorbed in how they have wronged us, or how they are conspiring to harm us or wrong us in some way – they become a heavy burden to us.

Think of it as the difference between having a boat full of loved ones, or a boat full of your least favorite politicians or other people. Being around loved ones makes us immediately lighten up. We could row that boat full of people all day.

But, the boat full of terrible politicians and perceived enemies sinks quickly, because our burden of hatred and animosity toward them weighs us all down.

Jesus gives us some sage instructions on how to lighten the load for us all … give up that sin of self-absorption. Transform it into love by following that greatest commandment Jesus talks about — loving God with all our heart, mind and strength and our neighbor as ourselves.

In short, Jesus is saying, “If you want to truly lighten your load, stop being so self-absorbed! Lighten up! Step outside yourself and understand that wanting the good for everyone, and working for the good of everyone, produces the good for everyone.”

Breathe deeply.

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