Finding God Between a Rock and a Hard Place
April 28, 2009
The title of today’s sermon came to me about two weeks ago. One of those out of the blue moments where I clearly heard the words and knew that this is what Spirit wanted me to talk about.
Yet when it came to actually write the sermon, I sat at my computer looking at a blank screen for a long time. I thought, “God, there are so many people going through such difficult times today. Loss of employment, loss of savings, loss of health. And on an even deeper level, loss of hope, of faith, of vision. God, what words can I offer? How can I give comfort to those whose situations are beyond anything that I have never experienced? Who am I to think that I am worthy enough, capable enough, heck, Godly enough to be of service to people who are hurting so?" I then thought, well, I could not do the sermon, or I could change the topic, or I could call in sick…
And you know what I was doing? I was putting myself in between a rock and a hard place. I was ready to hang a sign outside my office calling it the Hard Rock Café! My thoughts and illusions of not being good enough or worthy were starting to feel like my reality. In some faith traditions it might be said that the devil took over. And in many instances, that may very well be the truth. In metaphysics we know that the devil is a state of consciousness that is adverse to the divine good. Examples of devils we encounter are fear, anger, jealousy, and other similar traits that don’t serve our higher good. Remember comedian Flip Wilson and his catch phrase, “The devil made me do it?” Well, the devil was making my mind blank and my confidence shaky.
Our rocks and hard places can be internal or external. And, what is a rock and hard place for one person may be different for another. The commonality is that the situation is leaving us distraught, paralyzed, hopeless, and to the point where we are having a difficult time seeing, hearing, feeling, and knowing that God is with us.
Most of us are familiar with the childhood game “Rock/Paper/Scissors”. The rock loses to the paper because it becomes covered by the paper. And in our lives, we can cover our rocks and our hard places as well. With what you might be asking? With God’s love and grace—for God’s love and grace is always present, always abundant, and always available to us.
Easy to say Rev. Bonnie. But how do we find this grace and love? Glad you asked! I offer three strategies for moving through these Hard Rock times:
1. Expand our narrow thinking
2. Be open to identifying and receiving grace
3. Identify with the Inner Self not the outer circumstances
1. Expand Our Narrow Thinking-Recently, people of the Jewish faith celebrated the holiday of Passover. The holiday commemorates the freedom of the Jews from Egyptian bondage and their trip through the desert to the Promised Land. The Hebrew word for this bondage is mitzraim which translates as “a narrow place”. You see, the Israelites were enslaved not only physically, but even once they were liberated, they were still enslaved mentally. They lacked faith in God and God’s ability to deliver them to the Promised Land. Each of us has our personal mitzraim, the thoughts, perceptions, beliefs, and assumptions that keep us in bondage and unable to be open to knowing and receiving God’s love and grace. As the gospel group Mary Mary sings, “take the shackles off my feet so I can dance—I just want to praise God, I just want to praise God.” We can expand our thinking to knowing that anything other than complete mental and spiritual liberation is an illusion. It is the devil making mischief. We can expand our thinking to realize that the shackles we put on ourselves are far worse than any that can be imposed from the outside. We can expand our thinking to see the rock and hard place as an opportunity to take a breath, assess our inner shackles, and release the beliefs, thoughts, perceptions, and assumptions that just aren’t serving us. As the waves of the ocean break on the shore and wipe it clean—our expanded thinking allows us to move beyond our self-imposed limitations to the true state of our Oneness with God. Fear keeps us narrow. Love expands our Being.
2. Be open to identifying and receiving grace. In the midst of our dark night of the soul, it is hard to be aware of anything beyond our own dismal story. Our conversations with God more often than not sound like, “God this sucks. God where are you? God, do this for me just this once. God, why have you left me? God why aren’t you answering?” In this space of fear and confusion, how could we be open to identifying and receiving grace? Would we know grace if it hit us in the face? Grace is Divine good will and favor. It is always plentiful and ever flowing. At the hospital during my chaplain rounds, many times my just walking into a patient’s room is a sign to that patient that God is present with and for them. Just my walking in the room! Who would you need to walk into your room to remind you that God’s grace is present for you? What signs are we missing that God is sending to remind us that S/he is on the job? Maybe it’s an open parking space at the doctor’s office. Maybe it’s a mistake we made in calculating our checkbooks that is in our favor. Maybe it is a smile, a word, a gesture by a stranger or by a friend. God does work in mysterious ways, but, God does work. Grace has the ability to transform us and our situation. Sometimes during our Hard Rock situations we let our spiritual practices go by the wayside. If our meditation practice was usually 25 minutes a day and now it is nothing—forget the self-chastisement and sit for five minutes. Even if it feels that it is wasted time and effort, even if we are telling ourselves that the situation is too hopeless, too complicated, too difficult. Even if we feel overwhelmed or exhausted…just show up. This ‘showing up’ can look simply like listening to holy music, reading a few inspirational passages, walking into a place of worship, or breathing at a red light with intention…. Give God the opportunity to show up—and God will. We may close our fists and hearts to grace and God when we are caught in the immobilizing space of despair. Consciously we can open our heart, and say yes, ask to be led by our higher self, and walk in the space of grace.
3. Identify with the inner Self not the outer circumstances. We are not our situations. Let me repeat that—we are not our situations. I may have leukemia—and I am not spiritually ill. A person may be in debt beyond their imagination, and they are not spiritually bankrupt. Your neighbor may have lost their job, and they are not spiritually unemployed. As we know, trust, and walk in the faith that our inner Self—our God self—is perfect, whole, healthy, and complete, we can use that grounding to bring God’s peace and love to every cell of our being. Our outer world may be in chaos—and in some cases the unwinding of those circumstance may be complicated…they may seem out of our control or unjust. We do have a choice about how we want our inner world to be. Our bodies may be failing us, our finances may be failing us, our partners may be failing us, the stock market may be failing us. And—take a breath--Our Oneness with the God of our understanding will never fail us, leave us, or forsake us. It is a constant. When we bring doubt into our inner lives, we will live doubt. Or fear. Or lack. Or loneliness. God is certainty and love; abundance and comfort. Our outer circumstances do not have to be our inner realities.
So, when difficulties arise and we find ourselves feeling trapped with a sense that there is no way out, remember that we can:
1. Expand our narrow thinking—we can choose to move beyond our preconceived notions of a situation and know that we, in partnership with God, can remove the shackles off of our feet.
2. Be open to identifying and receiving grace—we can let go of pre-conceived notions of grace, and know that grace comes in all shapes and sizes; in all forms and overtures.
3. Identify with the inner Self not the outer circumstances—we are not our situation. As we remember our Oneness, as we remember the Source from which we come, as we state to the Universe that through all circumstances we are perfect, healthy, whole, and complete—we create our inner reality and are shifted from our suffering to peace. It is through that creation that we then are able to move forward full of God’s grace and love.
Now most of you know about my newest family member—my five month old Shih Tzu puppy named Lilli. She continues to teach me and expand my narrowness. She teaches me about the importance of grace and a higher power. I’m still adjusting to the differences between cats and dogs. One difference in particular that has been more, shall I say, educational, is the way they, well, the way they eliminate body wastes. I’ve pretty much accepted that Lilli will never use kitty litter and that she must be let outside. It’s what happens when it comes time for her to eliminate solid waste. Let me just cut the crap and say that when she is done squatting she turns around quickly and wants to eat it. The habit is totally and without a doubt gross—especially when she then wants to give me licky kisses afterwards. It takes the intervention of my quick and mighty hand to grab the waste up before her little mouth can get to it. I know that it is in her best interest and I will keep repeating it until she ‘gets it’ and stops the behavior. Not that I mean to compare myself with God, but it does remind me that we humans keep getting ourselves into some deep shit, and God is always there and always will be there to scoop the shit away until we ‘get it’ and change our habits to something healthier and something that is more in our self-interest. So I thank my cute Lilli dog for reminding me of God’s patience and that I can always make another choice when I feel dumped on or when things just get too smelly!
I will end my sermon by including an excerpt of Psalm 81 from the book Opening to You: Zen-Inspired Translations of the Pslams by Norman Fischer. I have taken additional liberties in the interpretation. I invite you to listen for the themes of narrowness, vision, and transformation of the rock and hard place.
I sing to you my strength
My joy I also sing
Chanting a psalm, tapping a drum
The pleasant harp and the psaltery.
At the new moon I blow the trumpet
On the feast day, the appointed day
For this is the day you’ve set forth
As a law and as an ordinance
As witness in Joseph you invoked it
When he went out over Egypt, that narrowness
And heard a language never heard before
When you removed the burden from his shoulder
And freed his hands from the carrying baskets.
All this I have done for you.
You called me in distress and I answered you
I answered you in the secret of the thunder
And proved you in the waters of the wilderness
So now I can say to you:
O you who would rise up to struggle and question—
Listen to me!
Do not give yourself to what’s limited
Do not strip your soul of its immensity
For I have brought you into the clearing
Out into the open
Out from your narrowness and dimness
Open wide your mouth
And I will fill it up with song
From me the melody unlimited
And from no other thing
And as you hear me
All opposition will revolve toward harmony
All the world will bend to the good
And time will free itself
And the finest wheat will endless grow
And out of the rock sweet honey will flow
Yes, and out of the rock, sweet honey will flow.
May all of your rocks and hard places flow with sweet honey.
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