Via Transformativa: From Glory to Glory
From Alive to Living

By: Candace Chellew-Hodge

Preached on Sunday, April 29, 2012 at Jubilee! Circle, Columbia, SC

Readings:
Psalm 22:1-19: "I am poured out like water"
John 15:1-12: "Abide in me ..."
  Hear this sermon at the Jubilee! Circle Web site.

Our first song comes was written by country singer Kenny Chesney and originally recorded in 2008 by Willie Nelson. Later that same year, Chesney did the song himself as a duet with Dave Matthews. The song peaked at number 6 on the Billboard country charts. It's called "I'm Alive" and goes something like this:

So damn easy to say that life's so hard
Everybody's got their
share of battle scars
As for me I'd like to
thank my lucky stars that
I'm alive, and well

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest. Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame. But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people. All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads ..."

I like to call this the Eeyore psalm. You remember the purple donkey from Winnie the Pooh with the tacked on tail. Eeyore is known for his pessimism and his often dry take on the world. I can hear him asking forlornly, "why have you forsaken me?" And describing himself as "a worm, and not human" (which he isn't, but that's beside the point), or scorned by others, despised and mocked.

As he says in one Winnie the Pooh movie: "One can't complain. I have my friends. Somebody spoke to me only yesterday. And was it last week or the week before that Rabbit bumped into me and said 'Bother!' The Social Round. Always something going on."

Eeyore is the epitome of our first glory today - that glory of simply being alive - of merely existing - life is hard and we've got the battle scars to prove it. In this glory all we really do is thank our lucky stars that we're alive and well. Often, in this glory we feel like we're poured out like water. We can't get our act together - we can't seem to make life work for us. But we're here, still hanging on, still getting up every day and gamely making a go of it. Even if we're cynical and defeatist about it like Eeyore, we still try. There's still something about life that is better than the alternative, so, on we plod - alive and well, but still not really living.

What makes this state a glory is this: Even in the midst of our despairing, there's a glimmer of hope. Even in the midst of the daily pain of life, despite all of his troubles and bother, Eeyore living is a glory - because it sets us on the path to the Holy.

"In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame."

That's something that could make even Eeyore perk up a bit.

It'd be easy to add up all the pain
And all the dreams you sat and watched go up in flames
Dwell on the wreckage as it smolders in the rain
But not me, I'm alive

And today you know that's good enough for me
Breathin' in and out's a blessin' can't you see
Today's the first day of the rest of my life
And I'm alive, and well
I'm alive, and well

Don't get me wrong. Not everyone who is in that first glory of simply being alive are all hapless Eeyores. Some certainly are, but actually, there are a lot of people who are alive who are quite happy with how things are. Being alive and well is certainly not a bad thing. Often, for any of us on any given day, that's good enough.

In the Hindu tradition, this glory of simply being alive is often called The Path of Desire. In this path, people seek meaning in their lives by seeking after the pleasures and the material gains of this world. They seek after fortune, or fame or power. They want to be something in this world - adored, imitated and loved.

There is no condemnation of anyone in the Hindu faith who pursues this path of desire, because the Hindus understand that this is a valid path - and one that can lead to a deeper understanding of life. Those who achieve fame, fortune and power may indeed still find meaning in life - they may find dignity and self-respect.

But, eventually what they find is that wealth, fame and power are exclusive - not inclusive. If I have a dollar, then that dollar can't be yours. If I have a chair, then it can't be yours. If I have power, then you can't have any. I can't let my fame wane in favor of yours.

Eventually, people find that worldly success, while it can be enriching and fulfilling to a point, it can never truly satisfy what it is that the heart truly longs for - that delight of feeling connected not just to the Holy, but to the world around us. The path of desire can cut us off from not just the world, but from ourselves as well. We cannot be fully satisfied with more and more stuff, or more and more fame, or more and more power. Eventually, we become isolated. Eventually, we may start adding up all the pain, and dwelling on the wreckage of dreams gone wrong - or dreams that come true but still don't satisfy that deep longing for connection to God and each other that we all crave.

As actor Jim Carrey once said: "I wish everyone could experience being rich and famous, so they'd see it wasn't the answer to anything."

Even if we get all the worldly desires that our hearts long for, we will certainly be alive - but can we really be living?

Breathe deeply.

Stars are dancin' on the water here tonight
It's good for the soul, when there's not a soul in sight
But this boat has caught its wind and brought me back to life
Now I'm alive, and well

And today you know that's good enough for me
Breathin' in and out's a blessing can't you see
Today is the first day of the rest of my life
Now I'm alive, and well
Yeah I'm alive, and well

The Muslim mystic poet Rumi wrote:

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight. The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

You can be alive, you can exist, you can survive, you can subsist, endure, hold up and hold out, but until you open your heart and mind to everything that comes into your life, you will never actually get to the glory of living. As Rumi reminds us, life comes to us in many different forms. Whether joys or sorrows, it's all part of life and it's only when we can greet everything at our door, whether it's good or bad, with laughter and gratitude we will never move from being alive to living. We must welcome and entertain them all - all the unexpected visitors of this life.

Breathe deeply.

Our second song comes from the new album by singer and songwriter Jason Mraz. He came onto the music scene in 2002 with his debut album "Waiting for My Rocket to Come." He's won two Grammy's since then and has released a new album called "Love is a Four Letter Word." This song is from that album and it's called "Living in the Moment."

[Verse] If this life is one act
Why do we lay all these traps
We put them right in our path
When we just wanna be free
I will not waste my days
making up all kinds of ways
To worry 'bout all the things
That will not happen to me
So I just let go of what I know I don't know
And I know I only do this by

[Chorus] Living in the moment,
Living my life
Easy and breezy,
With peace in my mind,
With peace in my heart,
Peace in my soul
Wherever I'm going, I'm already home
Living in the moment

In our Jesus story, we find our guy sounding a lot like Rumi.

"I am the true vine, and the Holy is the vinegrower. She removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you."

Abide in me ... abide in me. Just like that guest house of Rumi's this is the key to moving from being alive to living - going from glory to glory.

We truly begin to live when learn how to abide in the Holy, how to make our home as part of the divine vine that grows out from God.

This is the kind of abiding that lifts us from the life of an ever-complaining Eeyore, or an ever-worldly glory seeking fame and fortune hunter. This kind of abiding is not based in merely existing, or existing only for ourselves. This kind of abiding - this kind of real living - exists only for love - love of self and love of neighbor.

When we truly abide with the Holy - when we reach that point of really living - we live in the moment. We stop worrying, like an Eeyore, about things that won't happen to us. We're not worried about whether the world thinks we're smart enough, or good enough or good looking enough.

Instead, we let go of what we know we don't know, and we live in the moment - with peace in our hearts, peace in our minds and in our souls because we know, without a doubt, that wherever we roam in this world, we are already home - because we abide - we really live planted in the center of the Holy. This is a place where we can bear much fruit - fruit that feeds us, but also feeds the world around us.

When we are really living we become aware of the world around us. Our attention turns from what we need or what we want to what the world needs and what the world wants. We stop gazing at our own navels and begin to recognize that the world around us is hurting and in need of love and companionship.

Don't worry, though, if you don't always feel like you're really living. We all have our Eeyore and fame and fortune seeking days, or weeks, or months, even years. We may even move back and forth between being simply being alive and really living. This is not a linear process, but once we've tasted the life of really living - of really abiding in the love of the Holy, we find it harder and harder to exist as an Eeyore or a pleasure seeking. Instead, we begin to take the most pleasure in seeing other people happy. We begin to take the most pleasure in seeing people come alive when they are given love and support.

This is why Jesus says, those who don't abide in the Holy, who don't make their home as part of this living vine, will wither and die. More conservative Christians use this passage to condemn other people to hell. But, I don't think that's what Jesus is saying. I think he's pointing out the simple fact that if we are not rooted in love for ourselves and our world, our lives are dead and withered. You've met some of these kinds of people before. They move through this world looking out for number one - grabbing all they can from the world and denying the abundance of the world to others.

They live fearful, selfish, empty lives. Their lives may flourish for a time, but they do not bear fruit that will last. It's only when we abide in the Holy and let that love of the holy infuse our lives with that divine life source do we begin to grow and bear fruits of love and compassion that can never die.

Hindu mystic Sri Ramakrishna once said: "A newcomer to a city should first secure a comfortable room for his rest at night, and after keeping his luggage there, he may freely go about the city for sightseeing. Otherwise he may have to suffer much in the darkness of night to get a place for rest. Similarly, after securing his eternal resting place in God, a newcomer to this world can fearlessly move about doing his daily work. Otherwise, when the dark and dreadful night of death comes over him, he will have to encounter great difficulties and sufferings."

Abide in me, Jesus says. When we rest there, we can fearlessly live in the moment and do the work of compassion we're called to do.

[Verse] I'm letting myself off the hook
for things I've done,
I let my past go past
And now I'm having more fun,
I'm letting go of the thoughts
That do not make me strong
And I believe this way can be the same for everyone
And if I fall asleep,
I know you'll be the one
who'll always remind me,

[Chorus] To live in the moment,
to live my life
Easy and breezy,
With peace in my mind,
With peace in my heart,
Peace in my soul
Wherever I'm going, I'm already home
Living in the moment

But wait, there's more! We move from the glory of being alive to the glory of really living, but there's still one more glory that we move into from here: the glory of being ALIVE! This is where Tigger lives - the striped tiger that joyously bounces his way through life.

As the Hindus tell it, this third glory of being ALIVE! means that we don't just want to know that we're alive, or even the joy of living - we want being and joy infinitely. When we are ALIVE! we experience infinite being, infinite awareness and infinite joy. And for Tiggers ... infinite bouncing!

Even in the glory of being alive, we can still have our Eeyore moments when the despair seems too much, when the need seems to be too much. We can get overwhelmed, even when we are abiding in love. We can get stuck - because we begin to wonder what in the world can we do to improve things? We may begin to feel helpless - with that Eeyore attitude of "Oh, bother," popping up its purple head.

Theologian Howard Thurman has some advice for us. To truly come alive he says: "Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."

To come ALIVE! we're not seeking to meet the world's needs. That's where we get overwhelmed. Instead, we become truly ALIVE! when we discover what makes us come alive. What the world needs is passionate people living with their whole hearts. What the world needs is people who are welcoming both the sorrow and the joys of life with laughter and gratitude.

When we are truly ALIVE! we can live in the moment - wherever that moment takes us because the Greek word used in our Jesus story that means "abide" also means "to sojourn." Being truly ALIVE! doesn't mean dwelling in one place, it means to be at home wherever we find ourselves in the world. Whether the wind sweeps our house clean or joys and delights come knocking with gifts, we are at home, abiding the Holy, abiding in love - living wherever we find ourselves with peach in our hearts, in our minds and in our souls.

Where can we find this always abiding home that makes us truly come ALIVE, we might ask? Both the Hindu sages and that sage named Jesus have the same answer: you already have it. The kingdom of God is already within you.

When you abide in the Holy, when you live as part of the true vine of life, to come ALIVE! you must realize it. Don't search the world for the perfect lover when she's lying right beside you. Don't travel the world to find beauty when it's right in front of you. Your true home, the place where you can be fully and truly ALIVE is already in you. You have it right now.

Even when we're still stuck in Eeyore living, we still have it - it's just buried underneath the concerns, anxieties and desires of that Path of Desire. Lamps covered in dust and dirt still put out light, but it's only when the dirt and muck are cleared away that the light can shine. Learning to abide in the Holy is part of the process of clearing out the muck of life that has covered up our internal and Holy light.

In his new book, Wayne Dyer talks about finally finding this home within. The self-help guru had been diagnosed with leukemia and was worried about his health. A friend helped to arrange a long distance surgery from John of God. After the surgery, Dyers says he no longer lives with love - he IS love.

It's no longer a matter of trying to love people or getting into a mindset of love - he has become love. He is literally abiding in love - making it his home wherever he goes.

Jubilants, this is how we go from the glory of being alive, to the glory of living, to the final glory of being ALIVE! When we fully embody that Holy love we are ALIVE!

A lot of us are alive, some of us may even be living - but very few of us ever truly come ALIVE! We may have moments of being ALIVE, glimpses of what it could be like.

When we experience being ALIVE, our task is to stretch those moments into minutes, those minutes into hours, hours into days, days into years, into a lifetime. I invite you, Jubilants, to abide in the Holy, to move from Eeyore or fame seeking living to really living, and perhaps to come ALIVE! This is what the Holy offers us, that chance to come ALIVE and embody the love that this world desperately needs. It can be a scary thing. Being an Eeyore, or media darling, or just a caring person can seem a lot safer than being fully ALIVE! And it is ... but we're not called to be Eeyore, or popular, or simply good people. We are called to be ALIVE! To embody the spirit of life, the spirit of love, the spirit of compassion and mercy. We are called, Jubilants, to make the world want to say: "Oh, Yeah!"

[Chorus] By living in the moment, livin' my life
Easy and breezy,
With peace in my mind,
With peace in my heart,
Peace in my soul
Wherever I'm going, I'm already home
Living in the moment

[Bridge] I can't walk through life
facing backwards, I have tried,
I tried more than once to just make sure
And I was denied the future I'd been searching for
But I spun around and hurt no more

[Chorus] Living in the moment,
Living my life
Easy and breezy,
With peace in my mind,
With peace in my heart,
Peace in my soul
Wherever I'm going, I'm already home

Oh, Yeah!

Candace Chellew-Hodge is a recovering Southern Baptist and founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians. Her first book, Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians, published by Jossey-Bass is now available at http://www.bulletproofbook.com. She currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle, a progressive, inclusive community in Columbia, South Carolina. She is also a spiritual director and is currently taking on new directees. She blogs regularly at Religion Dispatches. She can be reached by email at editor-at-whosoever.org or by using the suggestion box.

Copyright by the author All Rights Reserved

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