Jesus’ Affirmations for Life: “Affirming Renewal” Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins June 9th, 2013 It’s LBGT Pride Month. Every June I think back on when I first realized I was gay. When I was a kid we’d play the spin the bottle. You’d lay a bottle on its side, give it a spin, and when it […]
Jesus’ Affirmations for Life: “Affirming Renewal”
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
June 9th, 2013
It’s LBGT Pride Month. Every June I think back on when I first realized I was gay. When I was a kid we’d play the spin the bottle. You’d lay a bottle on its side, give it a spin, and when it stopped spinning, if it was pointing at someone of the opposite sex you had to give that person or kiss or a dime. By the time I was in the eighth grade, I had wiped out my college fund.
But coming out, embracing who I am and actually celebrating my truth – that was life-changing, probably life-saving for me.
Now, just realizing that if I were ever to fall in love it would be with a man rather than a woman wasn’t the only discovery I made. I realized that my experience of gender was a bit more fluid than some people’s, that my talents were varied and that I could only be happy if I found a way to integrate them all. Performance, academics, writing, ministry, pop culture…I used to wonder which of these “callings” were mine, until I finally realized they were all the same calling, all different ways of expressing myself authentically and serving others.
There are moments of discovery, of insight that are absolutely reviving for us, life-enhancing. Those are the moments when we realize, ‘Oh, this is who I am, and this is mine to do, and this is the good that Life wants me to have.” And those are miraculous moments.
Miraculous moments are featured in both bible stories we heard today. I want to look at four key statement from the first story in 1 Kings:
“He…carried him up into the upper chamber where he was lodging…”
Charles Fillmore in The Revealing Word (Unity, 1959) interprets “upper chamber” allegorically as “a higher state of consciousness attained through prayer or by going into the silence.”
The prophet faces a difficult, seemingly impossible situation by taking the situation into the “upper chamber,” into an attitude and state of prayer, of quiet contemplation of possibilities and hope.
The prophet has been staying in that attitude of prayer (where he was lodging) since facing famine, depending on “ravens” (or more likely, “Bedouins”) for assistance, and accepting the hospitality of a widow.
Elijah has been going through a rough time for a while and has depended on the power of prayer to sustain him, to give him hope, to help him see and seize possibilities all the while. When his host’s son falls ill, “prayed up” Elijah takes him into the atmosphere of prayer (the upper chamber where he had been lodging).
“He cried out…‘have you brought calamity even upon the widow?’”
Elijah is tempted to assume, as we sometimes do, that misfortune is the result of divine judgment or displeasure. We call bad storms “acts of God” and some people refer to death of people as “God taking them,” or when something painful happens, they’ll ask, “Why me?” as if it was all part of some cosmic design.
But even though Elijah is tempted to blame God for the difficulties, he prays through those feelings and turns from assuming God is the cause of the problem to believing that God can be part of the solution, or at very least that God has designed the world in such a way that we can take lemons and make lemonade, or navigate difficulties, or reconstruct something positive from disaster. Elijah has a change of attitude, and that opens up the possibility to experience the situation differently.
“Then he stretched himself…”
Prayer is comforting, but its power is in the change it facilitates in the one praying.
Eric Butterworth taught, “God can only do for you what [God] can do through you.”
Similarly, the Apostle Paul wrote, “It is God in you who gives you the will to do good things” (Philippians 2.13).
A frequently used quote on Unitarian Universalist church signs says, “Prayer doesn’t change things; prayer changes people and people change things.” The quotes is sometimes attributed to Albert Einstein.
And Abraham Heschel famously counseled, “Prayer cannot bring water to parched fields, or mend a broken bridge, or rebuild a ruined city; but prayer can water an arid soul, mend a broken heart, and rebuild a weakened will.”
Butterworth, Paul, Heschel, and the anonymous source quoted on church signs all seem to agree that prayer is more than making wishes and waiting for them to be granted; prayer is spiritual exercise that helps us stretch/broaden/increase our consciousness so we can do more and be more. Prayer changes us and as our attitudes, expectations, understandings, insights, or points of view change, our experience often changes, or our interpretation of our experiences changes.
Prayer stretches us, changes us, and our changed perceptions are the miracles. When we see something differently, we experience it differently, and that “change” is the miracle.
“See, your son is alive.”
Psychologist Wayne Dyer says, “You’ll see it when you believe it.” In the story, Elijah asks the mother to notice something that has happened; but psychologically, we also know that achievement is often preceded by a vision or plan.
The prophet Habakkuk said, “If the vision seems slow in being fulfilled, wait for it; it will eventually come to pass” (2.3).
Before we get to where we want to be, we first imagine it; we then tell ourselves it is possible.
Then, we commit to working toward the goal (keeping the vision in mind).
And, if the goal isn’t reached quickly, we keep trying, adapt our plans, even take a break and revisit it later if we need to, but all the while, we have a vision.
We “see” it, and as long as we keep that vision alive, the possibility remains of moving toward it and bringing it to pass. The first step to experiencing a miracle, a change, an achievement, is to mentally “see it.”
Did Elijah literally raise a dead boy? Was the child merely very ill, and somehow experienced a spontaneous remission? Is the story created out of whole cloth? We can’t know, but what we can know is that having a clear vision is the first step toward setting and accomplishing goals. If we can “see” it, the possibility exists of our experiencing it.
And that’s where the ancient narrative of reviving one thought to be dead becomes applicable to our lives today.
Put aside all biological and medical questions about the people raised back to life by prophets in our stories today, and let’s ask how we can be revived, how we can experience renewal, how we can be raised to new experiences abundant living?
Remember the lessons of Elijah. If we are feeling overwhelmed, drained, even lifeless, we can follow the prophet’s example:
1. Pray constantly (reside in the upper chamber)
2. Be willing to have a change of attitude…changing our thinking is how we change our lives.
3. Stretch yourself…one must try new things and entertain new ideas in order to keep growing and moving forward.
4. See, that is, visualize your Good as being possible and being available to you.
But it may take some effort to even get to the point where we can do those four things. Sure we can pray continuously once we start praying…but how do we start if we’re in the midst of heartache and confusion?
Sure can change our attitude once we break the habit of holding onto all the fears and regrets and pessimism that have formed our current attitude, but how do we break those debilitating habits? Sure we can stretch ourselves once we become unfrozen or unstuck from our emotional or spiritual paralysis. And sure we can see possibilities and start to believe we can make the most of them once we stop being so terrorized by the conditions or thought patterns that have us currently trapped. But how do we break free of these negative trappings, or at least loosen the psychic restraints enough that we can start inching toward hope and healing in our lives. For that, Jesus offers us a lesson.
In the gospel story, a retelling of the miracle of a widow’s son being brought back to live, this time with Jesus being imagined as the protagonist, Jesus speaks to the situation. Jesus says, “Young man, rise!” We can always speak to the situation:
Lack and limitation, you are not God’s will for my life and you cannot have the last word in my life!
Fear and heartache, divine Love can heal you and cast you from me, and I allow it to do so starting right now!
Dis-ease and despair, you can’t occupy the same place as joy and joy is a gift of God’s spirit. I invite joy into my heart right now!
Speak to the situation. Confront the fears. Stand up to the regrets. Take authority over pessimism. Speak to the psychological demons, demanding they exit your consciousness never to return.
And in that moment of relief that will follow, then you can start working Elijah’s plan: pray, work on your attitude, stretch yourself, and imagine good possibilities. But to even get there, you may simply need to speak to the situation.
And if you just don’t know what to say to the situation, then speak to yourself, encourage yourself, and if you still don’t know what to say, then borrow these words from the psalmist:
“Find rest in God, O my soul; I can always be hopeful because of God. God is my strength and my help, my safe place, and in God I am secure.” (62.5-6)
We all need to be renewed sometimes. We need to get back up, believe in ourselves again, begin to expect the best from life again. We deserve that, and we can have that. Prayer, attitude adjustment, stretching ourselves, and visualization are the steps that can get us there. And we if need help even getting to where we can work those steps, we can speak to the situation or speak to our selves, affirming our right to experience hope, peace, and joy, no matter what is happening around or even to us. Renewal is possible. And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2013
I have hope because of God.
God is my strength and my help.
God is my safe place.
In God I am secure.
And so it is!