A u c k l a n d A o t e a r o a N e w Z e a l a n d
a n g l i c a n c h u r c h
Ego, Advent and our True Calling
November 30, 2003
Advent 1 Luke 21:25-31
It was my first Anzac Day in Auckland in 2001. I found myself at the dawn service at the Museum, without an official role, but with my dog collar on. With the event underway and no Padre in sight I was spotted and handed a microphone. I was told to pronounce the official Anzac blessing in front of this crowd of 10,000 people, live on National Radio. As I framed the question to ask the MC as to whether there was some particular words to be used he said, "Right, you're on in three seconds!"
Let me tell you about those three seconds. My mind went crazy and my heart beat for dear life. Three seconds felt like three hours. I began hearing my fourth form teachers voice as I was saying to myself, "I am not good enough to do this. I can't project my voice well enough. I cant gather my thoughts well enough." It was like my life was flashing before my eyes. I thought about everything except what it was I was actually going to say.
As the numbers counted down three, two, one... I was on! I stood frozen in front of the microphone for a split second then opened my mouth still with my mind empty of ideas. To this day I don't know what I would have said, because just before a sound came from my mouth, I heard the voice of the Padre who had arrived and was speaking now from another microphone in the crowd. Phew! That was close. I could safely say it was the largest crowd I almost spoke in front of.
Advent is a time when we venture into unknown territory, and ponder the enormous potential and possibility of God in human flesh, even our own human flesh. It's a time for personal transfigurations and enlightenments, time to hear the voice of God which tells us there are no limits to what we can achieve. Yet there are other voices, like my fourth form teachers and these hold us back and form part of our inner critic.
For many years I could not imagine ever being a public speaker. As a 15 year old, I stuttered and spluttered my way through a school presentation and was told by the teacher that I couldn't project my voice, I couldn't gather my thoughts usefully and - whatever else happened in my life - I should never consider any job where I had to speak publicly. I just wasn't good enough at it.
Teachers say things like that. At least some teachers do. I'm sure they speak without considering the possibility that their voices could remain lodged in our heads and psyches. Comments like these become haunting echoes of past failures. They feed our egos, our identities, our 'I am' statements. They become voices which recur at moments of opportunity saying "I am just not good enough", and so we become locked into either failure, or mediocrity or only occasional achievement.
We all have 'I am' statements. I am a burden, I am useless, I am hopeless, I am stupid, I am weak, I am guilty etc. Whatever they are they feed our egos and limit our experience of life. When I speak of ego I do so aware of the complex and diverse opinions about ego and definition. I am no expert, as I have no psychological training, but speak of ego something like Jungian theory which sees ego as the conscious representation of the deeper self. Unlike Jung I see ego as an illusory or a false self. It is a creation of our mind and the part of our psyche which is open to other people's criticism, comments and judgments. It is up and down, in a constant state of flux as it exists in individual isolation.
Ego could be summarised as 'Edging God Out' as the true self is our spirit which tunes into the universal energy or God or love or whatever the guiding principle is. Our egos take on critical messages and live into them. 'I am just not good enough' could be the anthem of the human ego. It needs struggle and criticism to feed its dependence. The ego is dependent and fragile.
I want to urge you to journey past the ego this Advent, as we honour the imminent arrival of the great 'I am' into human experience. As you delve past the ego, and discover your true being, your true voice, life will open up with possibility beyond your wildest dreams. It will be the magic of Christmas. It will be the flame of hope which will drive you to live fully in the present. This will be the miracle of a transfiguration where life can be pure joy and peace.
It was Popeye who said "I am what I yam and that's all that I yam." This could be an alternate Advent anthem. God may even have been quoting Popeye when, as quoted in Exodus 3, he said to Moses with the Hebrew YHWH, "I am who I am." God is true being, or as Paul Tillich taught, the Ground of all Being. To the extent that God is within us, God is our true Being, our source. To the extent that we are made in the image of God, we live out God's being. Jesus lived as a wonderful, even unique, manifestation of true Being. He often made "I am" pronouncements; the gate, the living bread, the good shepherd, the way, the truth and the life, etc. He was unaffected by ego, as he put criticism and attack to the side and lived out powerfully his purpose and vision.
Now, rather than saying, as some would, that this makes Jesus the only way to God, I would rather say that Jesus has modelled full humanity as the way to God. That way is the deep journey inwards, between and beyond to true being. If only we would take on board the voice of YHWH or 'I am', the voice of the Good shepherd telling us that we are complete and good enough in our true beings. If only we would hear the words 'Well done! With you I am well pleased' instead of the voice of the inner critic. This morning the confession has been left out of the liturgy, as the weekly communication of inadequacy may feed the ego but does little to foster powerful lives. God forbid that we should actually feel that we are doing quite well in life. What role would the Church have then?
If there is any theme running through this Advent season, let it be a call to living powerful and authentic lives. Let it be a church which communicates positive and powerful messages about achievement rather than locking people into the codependent egotisical patterns of underachievment. As an aid in this Advent process the prayers will be handled slightly differently. As many of us no longer see prayer as a form of petition to a controlling God beyond the clouds, we will explore prayer as an inner journey through silence and reflection into an experience of I am, not the inner critic 'I ams' which rule our egos, but the powerful true self where God dwells.
If the ego's anthem is 'just not good enough' lets conquer it by living out Popeye's Advent anthem "I am what I yam and that's all that I yam." Whether you open your can of power spinach by squeezing it with your bare fist, or with your trusty blow torch, or however it is you find energy, the call this Advent is Popeye's, "I am what I yam and that's all that I yam."