1 Kings 19:1-15a
For many years before I became a pastor, I taught junior and senior high Sunday school. Junior highs loved the gospel story we just heard, especially the part where the pigs jump into the water. It’s such a fun story on the surface. Junior highs didn’t care as much about the man whose life was changed dramatically as they were about the pigs.
But I think of this as the second part of the story. If this were a TV show, this is where the announcer would say, “Previously in the Gospel of Luke. . . .” One day Jesus got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they put out, and while they were sailing he fell asleep. A windstorm swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger. They went to him and woke him up, shouting, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” He woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?”
The burial caves in today’s gospel reading overlook the Sea of Galilee. Can you imagine what it would be like to watch Jesus calm a raging storm if you couldn’t control the storms raging inside your head? When Jesus and his disciples reached shore, there was the tormented man hoping that Jesus would perform the same miracle in his life. Jesus simply commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man and then he began to talk to him.
I’ve already told you about a man who came to another church that I served who was tormented in a similar manner and through the love and care of that congregation began to take his meds and find community. Eventually he sat among us in his right mind. But most of us are not tormented in such a dramatic way. Most of us do live with fears that determine our expectations and actions. Sometimes we don’t know that the fears exist because we have lived with them so long. We carry with us messages from our parents and early teachers about what makes us lovable. Sometimes the messages make us question whether we are lovable. Most of us work with what one of my spiritual director’s calls an inner council made up of voices from our past. We might hear our parent’s voice, a grandparent’s voice, a shaming teacher’s voice, the voice of our inner child, the voice of our inner adult, and probably a couple of values voices. Let me give you an example from my inner council. I hear my parents’ voices expecting me to excel and telling me I can do better. My inner child wants ice cream at odd times and can really throw a fit. My inner adult is a work-aholic. I have a voice that always thinks about the financial bottom line—I’m not sure whose influence that is, but it is a loud, strong voice in my head. I often hear my best friend from high school reminding me not to show off, but to let other people discover my gifts. The good girl in me doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings which means sometimes I don’t say what needs to be said; I fail to speak the truth in love. Most of these voices are expressing a fear—fear of not being good enough, fear of being deprived, fear of failure, fear of being embarrassed, fear of rejection, fear of not being lovable.
The good news is that perfect love casts out fear. Jesus shows us that God looks right through all our fears and loves us just as we are. God’s perfect love casts out fear. Just as Jesus looked at the tormented man at the foot of the burial caves and asked him what is name was, God asks us to name the fears that torment us. If we don’t recognize those old messages that we live with and the fears behind them, we will continue to live with behaviors that harm us and others. Some of us break off relationships before we can get hurt again; or we withdraw whenever there is a hint of conflict; or we bully others because that’s what we know; or we try to make everyone as perfect as we think we need to be; or we do things for people so that they will like us. My guess is that you can add other behaviors to the list. It’s often easier to see those flaws in other people, but we have all found ways to try to protect ourselves that end up hurting us and others. Jesus looks at us with love and asks, “What is the name of your fear? What is the name of that belief or that thing that is driving you and others crazy?” We can let his perfect love casts out our fear, and then we can sit in our right mind, we can discover our True Selves.
When I am trying to make a decision, or when I’m tired or having a bad day, when I am having difficulty with a relationship, the voices in my inner council can get loud and strident. It gets more confusing as I try harder to listen for some wisdom. What I need is space and peace, but what I get is often clutter, noise, and discord. What I want is that peace that Jesus brought to a raging storm at sea. That’s when I need to run to Jesus, turn to prayer, and sit at his feet. As his perfect love casts out my fear, then I can sit in my right mind. I can be my True Self.
When I know that I am loved, I can become a better moderator at my inner council. I can listen to each voice or influence. I have even learned with the help of a spiritual director to thank some of the voices at the table for their help in the past and dismiss them. I have one friend who was abused as a child. When he was sufficiently healed, I suggested that he thank the voice that always sought to protect him from harm and dismiss it. He came back to me to tell me that he had decided instead to ask that voice to alert him when someone else was being abused physically or verbally. He turned that protective voice outward to help others.
God’s love has the power to break the messages that hold us captive. God’s love has the power to cancel out messages that hurt us. God’s love has the power to let us receive love we may not believe we deserve. God looks through our fears and creates the space that allows us to discover our True Selves. I’m probably making this sound way too easy. It is the work of a life time because the messages we live with seem so normal that we don’t recognize the damage they do. It is possible to re-author those messages. We can change a negative message into a message of love and hope. For instance, “I need to be perfect or excel” can become “I am God’s beloved child and what I bring is enough.” I encourage you to think about the messages or fears that have shaped you and re-author them. I know one woman who changed “God wants people to succeed” to “God wants us to have a good life.” She relaxed into her life and what a difference it made in her relationships, especially in her relationship with her son, whom she wanted so desperately to succeed!
This is the last book I’m going to suggest that you read. Richard Rohr is a gifted theologian. If you are a senior adult, and you haven’t already read it, you should read Falling Upward. If you want to do the work of discovering your True Self, I recommend Immortal Diamond. Let me just read you The Song of the True Self from that book.
Within us there is an inner, natural dignity. (You often see it in older folks.)
An inherent worthiness that already knows and enjoys. (You see it in children.)
It is an immortal diamond waiting to be mined and is never discovered undesired. (That means you have to want to find it and work to find it.)
It is a reverence humming within you that must be honored.
Call it the soul, the unconscious, deep consciousness, or the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Call it nothing.
It does not need the right name or right religion to show itself.
It does not even need to be understood. It is usually wordless.
It just is, and shows itself best when we are silent, or in love, or both.
I will call it the True Self here.
It is God-in-All-Things yet not circumscribed by any one thing.
It is enjoyed only when each part is in union with all other parts, because only then does it stand in the full truth.
Once in a while, this True Self becomes radiant and highly visible in one lovely place or person.
Superbly so, and for all to see, in the body of the Risen Christ.
And note that I did say “body.” It begins here and now in our embodied state in this world. Thus, the Christ Mystery travels the roads of time.
Once you have encountered this True Self—and once is more than enough—the False Self will begin to fall away on its own.
This will take most of your life, however, just as it did in Jesus.
Even in the midst of the raging storms in our lives, God’s love has the power to create space and peace so that our False Selves may be unmasked and our True Selves centered in God may shine.