Figuring out one’s priorities is no easy feat. Do I focus on my own needs, the needs of those closest to me, the needs of communities that I am part of, or the needs of all living beings and the planet itself? With so many needs, how do I best align my choices with God’s hopes – especially at a time when many of us feel that our capacity is at a low ebb?
This morning, I would like to frame these choices, within the criteria of health and wholeness. How do I seek and find health and wholeness for myself, for those closest to me, for the communities I am part of? How can I be part of bringing health and wholeness to those who are being denied justice, or for this planet which is under such threat? And, where do I find capacity for these things? – how do I ensure that the well does not go dry?
In preparing today’s message, I found there to be many authors asking similar questions, and arriving at similar conclusions: that is, the deeper you go in your own spiritual quest, the more likely it is that you will go even deeper than self, and emerge at God’s big agenda of love. And conversely, the broader you go in actively responding to the needs of the planet and its most vulnerable inhabitants, the more you will be personally opened to God’s big agenda of love. Whether you are in the depths of devout contemplation or the vigor of practical-minded discipleship, to seek God’s intended state of wholeness in one place is very likely to reveal and invite it in other places as well.
While all the issues and needs calling for our attention are hard to sift out, seemingly competing for our time and attention, I am sensing that at a deeper level, there is no competition here. Whenever and however we touch the heart of God, we will find health and wholeness – also known as Shalom – expressing a unifying intention that runs through all of healthy life. The same healthy, balanced choices that help Mother Earth to breathe easier, will help us to have healthy, well-rounded relationships with our neighbours. Cultivating a sense of wholeness that includes all people, is likely to also be aware of the needs of the fish and the birds and the animals and the tiny beings that share their world with us. The restorative love that helps build reconciliation in the world, will help me to accept myself more fully.
Let us pause for a moment, and let some of the implications of this bubble to the surface. If I am committed to a life that expresses the holy qualities of Shalom – peace, justice, health, wholeness, integrity, equity, lovingkindness, balance – it hardly matters whether I begin by seeking this for myself, for my friends, for my neighbours, for my Church, for the entire world. To truly give oneself to God’s intended health and wholeness in any of these venues, is to give oneself to it in every venue.
For the next few minutes, I’m going to share words from a few of the authors I alluded to earlier. Coming from different angles, addressing different topics, I found that these words speak into a common understanding, that to seek heath and wholeness for the world and for our community and for ourselves is not really a series of separate pursuits, but aspects of one unified thing. In the first draft of this sermon I attempted to formulate comments after each of these, but realized that (a) I ended up Greg-splaining things that neither needed nor benefitted from my explanation and (b) in order for these to sink in, a bit of silence is of greater value than a lot of words.
Richard Wagamese wrote this about the fullness of what it is to say, “All My Relations.” “’All my relations,’ means all. When a speaker makes this statement it’s meant as recognition of the principles of harmony, unity and equality. It’s a way of saying that you recognize your place in the universe and that you recognize the place of others and of other things in the realm of the real and the living. In that it is a powerful evocation of truth. Because when you say those words you mean everything that you are kin to. Not just those people who look like you, talk like you, act like you, sing, dance, celebrate, worship or pray like you. Everyone. You also mean everything that relies on air, water, sunlight and the power of the Earth and the universe itself for sustenance and perpetuation. It’s recognition of the fact that we are all one body moving through time and space together.”
Pope Francis, in his Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ writes, “”Inner peace is closely related to care for ecology and for the common good because, lived out authentically it is reflected in a balanced lifestyle together with a capacity for wonder which takes us to a deeper understanding of life (p.131)”. “A sense of deep communion with the rest of nature cannot be real if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion, and concern for our fellow human beings. (p.55)”
An international, interfaith organization called the Global Oneness project, shares this (pp.5,8): Oneness “describes a spiritual experience – the revelation that our deepest human nature is essentially interdependent with the created world as well as the divine. In oneness, we understand …that each part [of life] has a role to play in sustaining the whole, and that life is sacred. Living oneness…depends on our reaching to life from the depths of our hearts.”
Cynthia Bourgeault writes, “One of the most familiar of Jesus’ teachings is ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ (Mark 12:31, Matthew 22:39). But we almost always hear that wrong: ‘Love your neighbor as much as yourself….’ If you listen closely to Jesus however, there is no ‘as much as’ in his admonition. It’s just ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’—as a continuation of your very own being. It’s a complete seeing, that your neighbor is you. There are not two individuals out there, one seeking to better herself at the price of the other, or to extend charity to the other; there are simply two cells of the one great Life.”
And some 2500 years ago, the Psalmist wrote of all creation not only as beautiful but as a way through which the wisdom of God is communicated to us: “1 The celestial realms announce God’s glory; the skies testify of God’s hands’ great work. 2 Each day pours out more of their sayings; each night, more to hear and more to learn. 3 Inaudible words are their manner of speech, and silence, their means to convey. 4 Yet from here to the ends of the earth, their voices have gone out; the whole world can hear what they say.”
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At a time in human history when we are painfully aware of how off-balance things are, God invites us to seek balance, harmony, justice, wellness – in one thing and in all things. We look at the needs of this planet and the need to address racism and the heartbreak we personally experience at broken relationships, and recognize that the healing intention of our eternal and steadfast God is actively reaching out to all of those things. In a world ruled by opinions and entitlements, we seek as people of faith to open ourselves to the God whom we meet in nature, in stillness, in the human condition, to invite health and wholeness into our lives by seeking health and wholeness for all lives and for the life of the planet itself, as one interconnected web of wellness.
In the midst of so much that demands our attention, we are called to seek peace and well-being, health and tranquility: for self, for family, for friends; for community, for Church; for all living beings and for this beloved planet that is our home. Be drawn to the fullness of Shalom, my friends, as it inspires you to greater depth in your contemplation, broader love in your action, deeper embrace of your belovedness in God’s eyes. Amen, and Amen.
Bourgeault, Cynthia. The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind—A New Perspective on Christ and His Message (Shambhala: 2008), 31-32. Accessed via the 17 January 2019 daily email of centerforactionandcontemplation.com
Pope Francis. Care for our Common Home: the Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’. NYC: Paulist Press, 2015.
© 2021 Rev Greg Wooley, Ralph Connor Memorial United Church.