Gentle Shepherd Metropolitan Community Church, Phoenix, Arizona
“Life is no straight and easy corridor along which we travel free and unhampered, but a maze of passages, through which we must seek our way, lost and confused, now and again checked in a blind alley. But always, if we have faith, a door will open for us. Not perhaps one that we ourselves would ever have thought of, but one that will ultimately prove good for us.”
— From the Forward of “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson, M.D.
“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And having come up out of the water, immediately Jesus saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my greatly loved child; you make me happy.'”
— Mark 4: 9-11
Here is a real worrisome statistic. The rate of consumption of dairy products has been on the decline in the United States for the last decade. Worried Wisconsin farmers, dairy farmers, sometimes known as “cheese heads.” That is because the Green Bay Packers are in Green Bay, Wisconsin and they bring all of these “cheese heads” to this stadium for their celebration of this and cheese is a very big thing in Wisconsin. They searched high and low for the appropriate advertising strategy to meet the challenge for a declining of cheese sales. They came up with this: “For centuries, poets and philosophers believed that the moon was made out of cheese. In 1969, we sent a man to the moon. He discovered that it wasn’t. When he found that the moon was not made of cheese, we haven’t been back since.” The ad hit on a deep truth. Silly as that may seem, “that which draws us, that which captures our imagination has the power to influence all that we do and all that we become.”
I tell you that there is a greater statistic that we all need to be aware of and at the risk of sounding like becoming an old fundamentalist preacher. Heaven forbid that is something that you would never hear me do. It is a decline in prayer. I’m not talking about prayer as in: “Oh you need to make sure you pray at night before you go to bed÷ You know Ç “Now I lay me down to sleep” (talk about terrorizing children through the night!). I’m not talking about prayer as an obligation or a duty. I’m talking about prayer as connection. Prayer as sharing. Prayer as being with and being in. You see, people have or take less and less time for reflection, for quiet, for silence. Heaven forbid that there be a moment of silence.
Today, we begin an 8 Part Series reflection that I call: “Ah! The Power of Prayer.”
The season of Epiphany is all about light and awareness and coming to an understanding. It’s a Greek word meaning, revealing – opening up. I like that. Epiphany, the day, which is always January 6, is celebrated as the arriving of the Magi, the wise men, who arrive in Bethlehem only to realize that they were witnessing an amazing miracle. The season is about dawning awareness. Traditionally, we see it that Jesus becomes more and more aware of his own divine nature. But we also understand that the reason that Jesus becomes aware is so we can become aware of our own divine nature. It means nothing if it is only in Jesus.
Why spend so much time on a topic that most people think they understand? I believe a true life of prayer, of meditation, of devotion, of open-ness is the elemental basis for forward growth and positive change. It’s what allows us to embrace it. Only in connection with the source of “all-that-is,” the cosmos, God, the “out there,” can we grown beyond our present state.
How many of you would like to grow beyond your present state? How many of us want to grow beyond where we’re at emotionally, spiritually or physically. The only way to connect to the “out-there” is to connect to the “in-here.” It is in the depths of our Spirit, in the sanctuary of our heart, in the deep recesses of our lives, what the Hebrew word, nephash, calls our soul. It doesn’t mean anything except the “breath of the divine.” What is a living being about you is the “breath of the divine.” It is only in connecting with that that we only connect with the “out-there.” You see we have all received divine breath. It’s why we’re all here. Epiphany is the discovering of how alive that can be.
We and creation are the depository of all that the divine is. Everything God is, we are. We just don’t know it yet and we don’t put it to good use most of the time. To tap that creative energy, we must tap “who we are.” We must become aware. So we must seek growth through action. How many of us seek growth by changing everything around us? We’ll change our home, job, lover, friend – we’ll change anything to change us. And after we go through all that, what do we have? We have us. Some of us will do it by giving ourselves and giving our all to a good cause. Good causes need your all. They also need it for the right reasons.
Some of us will do it with groups. There are group junkies! They will find every group on the planet and become a part of it until they are inundated with group stuff and nothing of their own. Some say groups are bad. None of this is bad. The problem is we’re not starting where we need to start. The growth toward the “out-there,” toward all that we can be. Is that not what God is? All that we can be? Toward “out-there” does not happen toward action alone. Sometimes the greatest action is stillness. Meister Eckhart was a 14th century Christian mystic and preacher, and he said, “The closest thing to God, in the entire world, is stillness.” For the next 8 issues we will explore what prayer is and what it is not and how we utilize prayer for forward growth and positive change in our lives and in the life of the church.
There are two key elements for this study. One element that we will be using is mystics, poets, philosophers from every religious tradition known to humanity. I believe that many people can give us wisdom about God and we should pay attention. The other thing that we will be using is “Who Moved My Cheese” the book by Spencer Johnson, M.D. Get it and read it! It’s only 80 pages. You can do it. It’s simple.
Around 1400 CE, 600 years ago, an Indian religious poet was born named Kebir. He was born a Muslim, embraced Hinduism, as well and decided to be both. He became a weaver by profession and he is one of the most often quoted poets in the entire world. You’ve probably heard his stories and do not remember that they are from him. Why is he one of the most often quoted poets in the world? Because he certainly could not embrace that there were any sects that could say that they had the market on the truth. He took some of what he learned from his Hindu basis, Muslim faith, the Christians around him, he took a little of everything and decided to be what he was and let the rest do whatever they wished. He made the simplest of statements. One of the ways that Kabir speaks to the human spirit is through what he calls his dohas. They are two line poems that embrace a truth that sinks deep within us. They’re incisive and insightful. The title of this sermon comes from one of Kebir’s dohas. He said: “I laugh when I hear the fish in the water is thirsty.”
It sounds odd, and yet I believe it tells all of our stories. There are all kinds of ways, methods, paths, to get what we need. Yet that which we need most, our deepest need, is reconnection with the source of “all-that-is” and how many of us so often feel disconnected from that? Maybe it’s because of experiences of what were going through in our lives, challenges on the job, our home life, whatever. We feel like somehow we are disconnected from God – from that “out-there.” Kabir says, “I laugh when I hear the fish in the water are thirsty.”
There are so many powerful tools we can use to reconnect – ways and methods. Yet do not pass up what is already there, what you already know, and that is the story that Kabir tells us. You see, a lot of times, especially I find for people from GLBT communities, we really have an anti-approach to our tradition of faith. Not without reason, because sometimes it’s been pretty cruel or pretty wrong or pretty bad and some parts of Christianity are just really sucky. So I understand why there are people who say “Well, it just doesn’t do a thing for me.” So we look for all kinds of different ways, I’ve done it myself. I love Buddhist meditation. I love Native American Rituals. They are wonderful things! Tools. But I learned something along the way in doing all of that. I learned that you should not pass up what already touches you and ignore it just because you find something new. You see, there is great power in that which already touches us.
I’m going to share a story with you. Jim Mitulsky was the Pastor of San Francisco MCC for many years. He is a fascinating, wonderful man. He is a theologian and deeply, deeply spiritual, although most people would describe him as a Unitarian. Many people would even say that he probably doesn’t embrace much of Christianity. I disagree with them. Jim used to conclude every worship service like this, with a benediction. “And the blessings of God, Goddess, Eternal Spirit, be with you. AMEN.” Now there are a lot of Christians who would freak over that one. Goddess is just the female term of God. What’s the difference of saying Father and Mother? But there are a lot of Christians who would freak and who would think that Jim would not embrace Christianity, when in fact, Jim has a broad spirituality. He is very broad and very deep. Jim also lives with HIV and in 1995 he faced one of the greatest challenges of his life. He wound up in the hospital with massive infections and there was nothing they could do. He was placed in Intensive Care and they said “Jim, we cannot save you.” Do you know what he wanted right then? This Milwaukee born Catholic wanted his Rosary.
You see, sometimes we turn to those things that are where we start because going to where we started has great power. It can touch us and it can move us. So I think that the message that we get from Kabir is that it is okay to explore every path we want but do not ignore the water already around you. “I laugh when I hear the fish in the water is thirsty.”
Jesus grew up in an area of the world that was a crossroads of many religions. He learned a lot of interesting things in Galilee of the Gentiles. When it came time for him to understand more of who he was, what did he do? He reached for a tradition from his history. You see, Jesus, as he became more and more aware that there was something different happening to him, needed reassurance. Jesus went to John, his own cousin, and he said “Baptize me.” It’s something our people have done for centuries. “Baptize me, John,” and John is like: “You already understand what’s going on in your life. Why do you need me to baptize you?” Jesus says: “Don’t ask me, John. Just do it!” And John baptized Jesus.
I like the Gospel of Mark’s version of this, better than any of the other. Do you know why? In Mark’s version the heavens open and Jesus, alone, sees God. And in Mark’s verse, the voice doesn’t open and speak to everyone. The voice talks to Jesus and says: “You are my greatly loved son. You make me smile.”
Jesus went back to his source, his roots, to begin the change to reconnect. Baptism is the place for each of us, for those of us raised in the Christian tradition, whether it was infant baptism or baptism as a child or adult, I don’t care. It is sort of the basis. The place we go back to. The reason Jesus said for everyone to go get baptized is because Jesus wanted everyone to see heaven open, to have a dove land on them and to hear the voice of God speak to them and say: “You are my greatly loved daughter. You are my greatly loved son. YOU make me smile!” That’s what happens through baptism. That’s what Christian tradition teaches us.
I practice a wide variety of spiritual devotions. Over and over again, when I feel that disconnectiveness, I return to the water that I’m in, that’s all around me, and I drink deeply again. Don’t, for one minute, think that I believe the same things that I believed when I was first baptized. When I was first baptized I believed that it was like this magical thing! Well, now I believe it is a magical thing. I don’t believe anything that I used to believe about baptism when I was first baptized. I also don’t believe anything about prayer that I was taught when I first was taught to pray but I still pray. Understandings changed but it isn’t all about understanding. Most of the time it’s about simple assurance, which is the knowledge that God is with you, so when you’re thirsty, why ignore the water you’re already in?
We start this journey of awareness that was, for most of us, the start of spiritual awareness. We do so with reaffirming baptism, the water we are already in; baptism as a re-connection to the source of creation; baptism as the voice that says: “You are my greatly loved child;” baptism as the voice that says: “You make me smile.”
Where do you want to grow to? My hope for you is over these weeks that this will be a growing awareness of all that you are and all that you may become. “That you will get it.” Stop now and take this moment. Where do you want to grow to? If you could grow to anywhere, where would it be? I encourage you to write that down today and do one thing. Underneath whatever you list of where you want to grow, draw one blank line and let that be for what you do not know. You may be amazed at where you grow to.
I want to close by reading your first lesson. You know, I too, laugh when I hear the fish in the water is thirsty. Start drinking.
Amen, Shalom and Blessed Be.
Rev. Brad Wishon was called in 1997 to serve as Pastor of Gentle Shepherd MCC, now Metropolitan Community Church Phoenix, in Arizona. An LGBT activist, he was named to Echo Magazine’s Hall of Fame in 2012 and named its Man of the Year in 2004.
In 2004, as Massachusetts became the first state to offer same-sex marriage, he was part of a local effort by clergy to help couples to try to obtain marriage licenses. When they were denied, he and others performed weddings for about 40 couples.
He was involved with No Longer Silent: Clergy for Justice, a Phoenix-area group with the mission of sharing an alternative religious perspective on homosexuality. He promoted the Phoenix Declaration, which calls for the end of LGBT discrimination.