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
Reflecting in a Metaphysical Mirror
August 31, 2003
Ordinary Sunday 22 Wisdom 1:16-2:(1-11) 12-22 James 3:16-4:6
His lover waits expectantly in the bedroom; oils burning lightly, music playing softly. He hears the voice of his beloved: "Look," she says, "Here he comes, leaping through the door, bounding vivaciously around the room, like a gazelle, like a young stag." And the young stag's heart fills with pride, and his ego fills with hot air, and as he prances proudly around the bedroom. Nothing could stop this stallion! He is almost superhuman in his splendour. And as he glides poetically to the bed he catches sight of himself in a mirror. The Barry White music comes to a screeching halt, the oils fizzle and his head sinks. Our young stag sees in the mirror, not a stag, but a rather portly gorilla.
Does that sound a little like the first two readings this morning? The gazelle, or stag of the romantic Song of Solomon is brought back to earth with a great thud by the mirror of the James reading. As we stand in all our naked splendour before our lovers and their only comment: "That outfit could do with a bit of an ironing."
I want to take some liberty this morning with the concept of the mirror in the James reading. The problem with mirrors is that they don't show us reality at all. Not only do they not reflect our true hearts, but they show us the outside only through the ego tinted glasses we wear.
Imagine if we could stand before a metaphysical mirror and see our bare souls reflected for us to gaze upon. Imagine if we could see our naked hearts reflected as if in a mirror. If you were to see your soul reflected would you be pleased with the sight? If the true intentions of your heart were laid bare in a mirror would you like what you see reflected? I hope that your answer is yes, or at the least like me you might say you are growing to like the look. The gospel reading is a call to see our souls for what they are, and to be pleased with the results.
In our culture where appearances are everything, in a world where straight teeth in the mouth are more important than the words that come out of them, we are called home in the gospel to our soul. We are reminded that our essence is our heart, our true self. This is the space out of which we find our real courage, beyond what we ever knew was possible. This is the place where we show real compassion, beyond expectation, and express authentic love beyond words. This is home, because we are reminded that God resides with and alongside us, and if God resides there how could we not achieve great things. It is our destiny as we are no less than collaborators with God.
The passage points to pure hearts, which I take to mean authentic hearts rather than 'pious never think evil thoughts' hearts. We are truly present to our own core, our past, our reactions, our dreams. This is the state of being where events and thoughts and other people's words come and go, are seen for what they are, and the heart stays on course.
A quote from the Tao Te Ching The wise person, or the Tao, acts without doing anything, teaches without saying anything. Things arise and she lets them come; things disappear and she lets them go. She has but doesn't possess, acts but doesn't expect. Where her work is done, she forgets it. That is why it lasts forever. She stays behind, that is why she is ahead. She is detached from all things, that is why she is one with them. Because she has let go of herself, she is perfectly fulfilled. She observes the world but trusts her inner vision. She allows things to come and go. Her heart is as open as the sky.
Some of you joined in the meditation sessions with our Buddhist Monk Tenzin a year ago. One thing I will always remember about these sessions was the lead-in words of Tenzin. He stilled our minds, relaxed our bodies, made us aware of our breathing. He then suggested through the meditation that we allow thoughts to come and go, to offer no judgment on them, simply allow them to move through our minds. Allow them in, allow them out, but know the essence. The bare soul reflected as in a mirror, with no judgment, just endless acceptance.
Of course another feature of Buddhism which we take to be important is mindfulness. What goes in is important. It's just that it is unable to disturb the essence. So, we watch our diets; both our food intake and our intake of violence and Hollywood idealism. We watch our weight, our bodies, our looks. We just don't confuse these things with the essence.
Be mindful. But also be realistic. I like action movies, but don't expect that I will one day run rampant in the streets because of it. Watching violence will no more make me a violent criminal, than watching Billy Connelly will make me a hilarious comedian. Live with freedom. Just don't confuse the external with the essence.
I made a decision the day my daughter was born, one year and two weeks ago. I don't know why that day, but decided after several years of not taking care enough about my health that I would begin that day. And so I did. In the past year I have exercised regularly, and eaten well. My body is in better shape than it has been in for years. My cholesterol levels have plummeted, blood pressure is good. I have taken up regularly reading for pleasure, even taken up playing the piano again after many years away. All great things. I recommend all of them. Yet if the heart is not true, if life is not being lived authentically and fully in the present, then these external changes cannot bring real contentment.
And so, about a month ago I looked in the metaphysical mirror to assess the state of my heart. I have to tell you I didn't like everything I saw. When I looked at my soul as if in a mirror, I saw a person who spends so much energy defending himself from attack, that he has blocked out a whole lot of love, including self love. In that mirror I saw a person who is reluctant to be depended on, because eventually he will fail. This person could never be good enough, never acceptable, even to himself so it would be better to protect himself from getting too close.
I saw as if in a mirror a person who was locked into safe and protective patterns from the past, recreating them in the present and setting them up for the future to happen all over again. When I looked I saw a person who was not becoming more compassionate, but less compassionate, not feeling more but feeling less.
You will understand that it is not easy to say this publicly. In fact as I prepared I kept taking parts out, then realised that this too was an unnecessary protection. If it comes out of my essence, then how could it be wrong to speak it? So, having looked in this mirror, I decided to make a change. I stand before you today in the midst of this journey towards living more fully in the present; present to God who is inside me in the form of meaning and spirit, present to God who is between me and the universe, connecting me to all things, present to God who is beyond me filling the universe with possibility.
This is an exciting journey, but also one of some anxiety. It has been a long time since I experienced life without having to defend and protect myself. As I conquer that pattern and move into possibility, I don't know what life will look life.
You too will have your stories; some of which you will share, some of which will just be that part of your soul which is reflected as if in a mirror. Take the journey to your essence; strive for authentic living, acceptance and possibility. Do so knowing that home is the soul, where God dwells, so how could you fail?
Think about what you put in to your body. But know also that these things can neither bring about your ultimate demise, nor make you complete as a person. Only your essence can do that. Live with freedom.
It is the essence from which you will achieve greatness, and dwell in possibility. It is here that you will know the power of fulfilment right now, the wonder of endless love.
I end with two quotes from the Jesuit Priest and Paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin:
"Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire."
"Our duty, as men and women is to proceed as if limits to our ability did not exist. We are collaborators in creation."