~ e e comings
There is an old Hasidic tale that was brought to light by the Jewish rabbi and scholar Martin Buber. It goes like this:
A rabbi named Zusya died and went to stand before the judgment seat of God. As he waited for God to appear, he grew nervous thinking about his life and how little he had done. He began to imagine that God was going to ask him, "Why weren't you Moses or why weren't you Solomon or why weren't you David?" But when God appeared, the rabbi was surprised. God simply asked, "Why weren't you Zusya?"
Or as friend of mine once said, "I always wanted to be someone else but then I discovered that everyone else was all taken." One of the strongest and most prevailing messages in religious texts and the in spiritual development is, "be yourself." And yet it seems to be one of the most difficult things we attempt as we grow and mature. Other people seem to have lives that are more exciting, more interesting and more engaging than ours. Others seem to have it together when we are falling apart. Or they are smarter, prettier, stronger, braver, slimmer and taller than we are. It often comes as a surprise when a person tells you that they admire you for the way you carry yourself, or the way you live your life. "Oh they are just saying that, they dont really mean it," we say to ourselves. Or, "If they really knew what I was really like, they would have a very different opinion of me."
The truth is, you are the expert on your life and you do have more knowledge about yourself than anyone else on the planet. But it seems that that knowledge can in most people tip us over into the negative and we often shrug off the positive comments about ourselves and doggedly embrace the negative. Now thats not always the case. There are individuals we have a large dose of hubris which often expresses itself as arrogance, but if the psychologists are to be believe this is can be an over compensation for feelings of inferiority so they say. There was a Ziggy cartoon some years ago where Ziggy was standing in the doctors surgery and the doctor said, "The test on you interiority complex have come back and they are positive, you are inferior!"
I think there is a lot of common sense in the oft quoted statement from Marianne Williamson:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, "Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?" Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
(A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of "A Course in Miracles", Harper Collins, 1992. From Chapter 7, Section 3)
And thats the crux of it, that last line "As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others." If the message and teaching of Jesus has any relevance for us today in the 21 century and it has much, then it is this idea, this notion, this experience of liberation. Jesus the prophet, the truth-teller, the life-giver centred his life and his ministry on the liberation of those who crossed his path. His healings liberated those who were ostracized from the company of those who were healthy. His parables and stories gave a vision of a society that brought people together in full and whole relationship, liberating them for fear, failure and prejudice. And his table fellowship with sinners, tax collectors and fringe dwellers, demonstrated a new and vibrant community.
But here is the interesting point. Most often we think of liberation or salvation as making us better; a more loving person, or a more moral person; or someone who was once mean and greedy, and is now caring and generous. And of course there is truth in that. But how do we come to that place in our lives? I would suggest that it is not so much becoming a new and different person; it is rather becoming who you really are. Much of our lives are spent in being what we think we should be. But true liberation comes when we are what we were meant to be.
The poet e e cumings said, "It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are". If I may take the less worn path as I look at the story of Jesus releasing the man from his demons, I think we see a powerful illustration of liberation, or growing up to become who you really are.
Releasing the Demonic in our Lives
The context is of Jesus the teacher in the Capernaum synagogue. He was a rabbi, a teacher and it was not uncommon for him to be in the place of learning and worship on the Sabbath. However, on this occasion his sermon was interrupted by a man who was under the power of an uncontrollable force, or rather uncontrollable forces. The ancients attributed this to demons, forces that were opposed to God and to truth. Some have put a modern slant on this and postulated that he was an epileptic or suffered from seizures hence the convulsions. But I would prefer to stay with the idea that this man was living a life that was false and under the "demonic" power that robbed him of wholeness. What Jesus was to offer him was liberation for all that would bind and hold him in that devilish inauthentic life. And his liberation was to be for him to recover and rediscover that original blessing of who he really was and what God intended him to be.
The powers of darkness and despair are confronted and confounded by the power of light and truth found in this person Jesus who lived the undivided life of wholeness and a man is restored to who he should be.
And the second part of the story tells of the amazement of the crowd that this local boy, who grew up just down the road in Nazareth, a mere 30 years of age and not under the tutelage of any famous rabbi possess such wisdom and authority. "Where," they asked "did this new kind of teaching come from?" In fact they are more impressed and intrigued by what he said before the demonic interrupted the sermon than his act of liberating the man from his oppressors.
So where did this wisdom and power come from? Some would say that he had this wisdom because he was the Son of God. And that may be so. But I would suggest that it comes from somewhere even closer, and that is the human heart. It is the life of Jesus shaped by his relationship to God who he saw in the most intimate terms that gave him a power that transformed those around him. It would be over a century later that the cleric and theologian Irenaeus of Lyons would say, "the glory of God is man fully alive." That, I think is what was seen and experienced the person of Jesus. He was a man who was fully alive and so the glory of God was manifested in him.
Is it possible that when we confront wholeness in another person we begin to find wholeness in ourselves? It was the Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, suggested that there is "a hidden wholeness" in all of us and that when we pay attention to our deepest self, what Merton called our true self, then that wholeness emerges in our lives. Its the place we call the soul, the centre of our being out of which we act. The poor demonic lived the life of the false self which was for him no life at all. Under the influence of all that would put him down, judge him and degrade his life he stumbled from day to day. But this fortuitous encounter with the one who lived the undivided life, whose power came from the depths of solitude and encounters with the divine, this man was given back his life. He was liberated to become who at the centre of his being, he already was.
The author Maria Robinson once said, "Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending." Or as the oft quoted anonymous said, "When you stop chasing the wrong things you give the right things a chance to catch you." While the story from Marks gospel is set in an ancient context and the ideas and concepts are not those of this century, there is here nevertheless, an abiding truth in the need for liberation in our lives. The demons of the twenty first century maybe named differently. We call them addictions or compulsions. They are the demons of corporate greed, lonely alcoholism, the tragedy of problem gambling; the demon of racism or sexism or hatred of those who are not like me, and so forth. Each of these robs us of a full life, of a life that could be fully lived. And what Jesus gave this man in Marks story was new life right in the middle of his old life. He gave him the courage to throw off all that impeded and inhibited him and embrace the undivided life, fully live. And in the brief moment in that obscure synagogue in a town in northern Israel he meets God in the form of a man fully alive and it changes his life forever.
I have always loved Robert Frosts poem The Road Not Taken because it illustrates the courage to make the decision to follow the way of the soul rather than the road most travelled. And I see the road Jesus calls us to as the road less travelled, but in the end it makes all the difference.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.