May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our Redeemer.
This past week was a significant week for me personally. In the midst of a pandemic that is fast approaching 2 years, which has meant a lot of time alone on the 18th floor of my apartment, observing the world around me far more than interacting, I celebrated 3 years of sobriety. For those of you that may not know, three years ago on August 14th at 10am in the morning I had my last drink, a sickly sweet white wine truth be told and probably a good sign of addiction as it was all that was available at the time. That same day some friends came over and took me to HSC’s medical detox center. After a nine day stint in detox it was on to Addictions Foundation of Manitoba for a 28 day program. A program that honestly I was deeply afraid of at the time, mainly because it included a wide range of society (being a free rehab program). From former gang members, to indigenous people, to a political speech writer, comedian, the residents of that program were varied. We had group sessions where we were asked to share our story of addiction and what you found was that there were commonalities amongst all the stories that were shared. While there were stories shared that would be placed into the bucket of Dr. Seuss’ “You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are”, there was an underlying current of unresolved loss, trauma and stress. As is the case with most life altering events, it changed the way that I look at the world.
The commonality that I referred to earlier, I came to know as a sickness of spirit. Everyone in those rooms was attempting to avoid dealing with the hurts and slings of the past, whether real or imagined, by medicating them away to dull the pain. Often times it was a means of dealing with the physical world around us at the expense of the hidden world that is life. The salient points that I came to understand about sickness of spirit, is that it arises from a) the erroneous belief that you can control the world around you, b) attempting to do that by yourself without the aid of community, c) is progressive and reinforcing to the point of debilitation and ultimate demise and final is the work of the master of lies, the deceiver, the devil.
It was therefore fairly significant when I was reading and meditating on the readings for this week in that the readings spoke somewhat towards both the hidden world in which life truly exists and where the battle against evil occurs and the importance of a central place of prayer and community.
In the first reading from 1 Kings, it is the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem that was built by Solomon. Solomon built this house of the Lord, a symbol of God’s presences among the people. A place, not unlike St. Andrew’s, where people come together in prayer both individually and corporately. This centralized place is not so much where God dwells, as Solomon says “Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you (God), much less the house I have built!”, but it is kind of like God’s earthly postal address. Needless to say, God has more postal addresses than anyone else in this world. The request that is made in this dedication ceremony is that God’s eyes will ever be on the Temple and hear the prayers and supplications of his servants there. It is also supposed to be a place that is open to all, “likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name…then hear in heaven your dwelling-place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you”.
This is the kind of inclusivity that we are called to provide. It is inclusivity of opportunity, all souls are equal in the eyes of God, and free to worship when they hear his name and seek him out. It is not inclusivity of religion and the culture that arises from false gods (whether secular gods or those of other religions), but rather inclusivity to all those that hear then name of the one true God and approach him in prayer. This is the same thing with people that seek out 12 step groups, it is inclusive of everyone that comes seeking but it doesn’t seek to change the content or seek to modify the program to fit individual beliefs. An aspect of which some people have a problem with due to one of the steps being belief in a higher power (God) and submitting yourself to the will God.
A church is a place where we come together and it provides the support and more importantly the help to deal with the problems we all face within the outside world. An important part of the journey for people sick in spirit is to gather together to share with one another in a central place with others. For it is only through that sharing and the empathy, understanding and wisdom of others that forgiveness can be received, or we can have the strength to accept that forgiveness. So we are bolstered in places of worship, to see that our uniqueness of personality lends itself to commonality of spirit and purpose.
In the Gospel of John today, as in so many places during Christ’s ministry hear on earth, we must guard ourselves against the literal words said and focus more on the meaning. Christ often speaks pointedly to those in authority, often times the words expressed have a deeper meaning for those that truly listen. Now those that took offense to the words of Jesus concerning “those of you eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me” may not have fully understood the words that he was speaking. If you heard this, would you think that he was speaking of cannibalism?
Jesus then equates himself as bread from heaven, not like the manna that was provided in the Old Testament which people ate to sustain their bodies in the desert and yet still eventually died, but food for our spirits that will sustain our true lives. This is reinforced after he notices that some are taking offence when he says “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”
At the ending of the reading, it says that some turned away and would not follow him any longer because of what he said. However, he asks the question “do you also wish to go away?” which is an invitation and signals the choice that we all must face. Do we turn and go away when words are spoken that we don’t want to accept? Or can we see the truth in the Word and be like Simon Peter and see that there is no other choice but to follow Christ.
For those that are sick in spirit, and that goes beyond those that face addiction but includes anyone that has grieved their heart of love, it is always a choice if one can still see the option that is repeatedly presented to you. You can continue to believe that life consists of the earthly constructs of mankind and attempt to control that world around you (like conventional bread it might sustain your body, but eventually you will die), or you can come to see that true life is contained within your spirit and that can only be fed through Jesus Christ for eternity. In many ways, looking back on my time as a practicing alcoholic I was presented numerous opportunities to accept help and seek a different path including the healing of my spirit. The alcohol was slowly killing my body, but my spirit was being crushed as well, and eventually I was presented with an option for help and felt as Simon Peter that there was no option but to follow that path of healing and reconciliation of my spirit with God.
The new testament reading is from Ephesians and is one that is of utmost importance to me, as it speaks to the presence of evil and the constant vigilance that is required to defend against such evil. It speaks to the true nature of the battle against evil, as it is not “our struggle against enemies of flesh and blood” but against cosmic powers and spiritual forces of evil. It is of utmost importance that we come to understand that at various times in our lives, through no fault of our own, we will become susceptible to the powers of darkness. It can stem from a death in the family, abuse from others, hurt (whether real or perceived), or countless other traumas. For me, the devil came around when I was stressed at work, he had knowledge of the hurt I felt at school being ostracized (at least that was my perception) and unresolved issues from my father’s death. He came to me, offered me a drink and told me it would numb the pain. The deception is that it dulls the pain for awhile, but only masks it, and feeds the need to dull it more as time goes on until the physical body can’t function without it (despite the fact that it is crushing your spirit). Only with the help of others, was I able to see the choice that lay before me and it is through surrendering to the will of God, following Jesus Christ that my spirit was restored. Having restored my spirit, it becomes important that vigilance be maintained.
We can talk about all the various vestments that we are to put on in defence against evil, as they are symbolic vestments of truth, righteousness, proclamation of the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and the Spirit (which is the Word of God). However, only by remaining steadfast to the teachings of Jesus Christ, feeding ourselves with his body and blood so that he abides in us, seeking forgiveness for our sins, and proclaiming his Gospel can we guard ourselves against evil.
At the end of all meetings of most 12 step groups, there is a prayer that reminds every there of the level of control that we have on the world around us and what we do have power to do. To end off our time today, as I couldn’t find a suitable poem (as is my traditional way), I would like to share this prayer with you:
God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference, living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time, taking this world as it is and not as we would have it; trusting that you will make all things right if we surrender to Your will; so that we may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen – Reinhold Niebuhr