Divided and Undivided – The Circle and The Mobius Strip
Mapping the Constellation of the Inner Life & Building a Cosmos of Resilience – Part Two
Genesis 32:22-31, Psalm 138, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Luke 5:1-11
Sunday, February 10, 2019 — The Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany
Knox-Metropolitan United Church — Regina, SK — Treaty 4 Territory
Afraid that our inner light will be extinguished or our inner darkness exposed, we hide our true identities from each other. In the process we become separated from our own souls. We end up living divided lives, so far removed from the truth we hold within that we cannot know the “integrity that comes from being what you are.”
My knowledge of the divided life comes from personal experience: I yearn to be whole, but dividedness often seems the easier choice. A “still, small voice” speaks the truth about me, my work or the world. I hear it and yet act as if I did not. I withhold a personal gift that might serve a good end or commit myself to a project that I do not really believe in. I keep silent on an issue I should address or actively break faith with one of my own convictions. I deny inner darkness, giving it more power over me, or I project it onto other people, creating “enemies” where none exist. (A Hidden Wholeness, pg. 4-5)
I wonder if these words, from Parker Palmer, or maybe part of them, resonate with you?
This is our second week in a series of 4 in which we are pondering the inner life, you can find the first part on our website if interested, we hope that today’s reflection both stands on its own, and may provoke interest for those who have not heard or read last week’s words.
Last week we spoke about the idea of soul, not as a incorporeal part of the human that lives on after death, but as that aspect of each of us that offers sureness about who we are, how we are to be, and what we are to do.
I wonder if that idea of soul resonates?
We mentioned phrases like “well they’ve certainly come into their own” as if we sense when others are connected to truth within. Perhaps we might not call it soul, maybe identity or integrity feel more comfortable as titles — but we seem to get the sense when someone is rooted in their own self.
Conversely, I wonder if we’re familiar with phrases like — “Don’t wear your heart on your sleeve” or “Play your cards close to your chest”?
Maybe we’ve used them — or heard them — or thought them.
If last week’s reflection was about naming what Parker Palmer calls a Hidden Wholeness within each of us. This week is about pondering the challenge of living whole-heartedly, in such a way that inner reality is not divided from outward life.
Our reading from Modern Wisdom this morning, a Blessing for One who is Exhausted from the late John O’Donahue touched on this in poetic words:
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken in the rush of days.
You have travelled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.
I wonder what you make of these image laden words, receive the self, and your soul has come to take you back.
In his book Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation Parker Palmer writes of vocation, or calling, or integrity of identity, “not as a goal to be achieved but as a gift to be received” (Let Your Life Speak pg. 10)
All of this, I believe is reflected in our reading from the Book of Genesis, which offers up an integral moment in the story of Jacob, who will become known as Israel.
Jacob wrestles an unnamed figure (often portrayed in art to be an angel) by the river Jabbok — until that figure will consent to bless him. Before he will blessed though he must identify himself.
What is your name he is asked.
Jacob he replies.
Now we need to be familiar with Jacob’s backstory to understand how extraordinary it is that Jacob has replied as such.
The reading began with Jacob having just sent away his family and all his possessions that he might be alone, and while we do not grasp it from the portion we have read he is exhausted for he has been on the run for many years. On the run from his older brother.
Jacob and his twin brother Esau were born to Rebekah who was married to Isaac, the child of Abraham. In their story, Esau is born first with Jacob following immediately grasping tightly to Esau’s heel — we’ll consult with birth workers here about the potential accuracy of this detail!
Jacob actually means one who grasps at the heel a Hebrew euphemism for deception.
Esau is big, tough and hairy, Jacob is not.
Esau loves to hunt, Jacob prefers the tents — this is the context of the nomadic norms of Hebrew life is also a delineation between the world of menfolk, and the world of womenfolk.
Esau, as the first born, holds the birthright in the family — both physical inheritance but also a position of leadership within the family.
He returns home from hunting one day exclaiming that he is so hungry that he could die, and Jacob happens to have been cooking some red lentil stew. Esau asks for a bowl, Jacob offers him one, in exchange for Esau’s birthright.
Then later in their story, when Isaac is close to the end of his life, his eyesight failing, Jacob takes the skin of an animal to mimic his hairy brother, and goes into the tent of their father and asks for the blessing of the firstborn.
In this moment, when Jacob enters the tent, his father asks him who has come near, to which Jacob replies: ‘I am Esau your firstborn’, Jacob then receives the blessing meant for Esau.
Esau is furious, wants to kill Jacob and so the household is fractured as Jacob flees.
This is the backstory that makes this morning’s reading so poignant.
Once again Jacob seeks a blessing, but this time, he is able to seek it as himself, not another.
Jacob’s story is one that is full of difficult details, and cultural assumptions and norms that make the modern reader cringe, but the core imagery is powerful, the challenge of showing up in life as oneself, not the false self one wishes to project, and the personal and communal tragedy that comes from being unable or unwilling to do so.
Parker Palmer outlines what he refers to as the “cost” of living divided between soul and role, a cost born by our own selves, the people around us, and even the world…
- We sense that something is missing in our lives and search the world for it, not understanding that what is missing is us.
- We feel fraudulent, even invisible, because we are not in the world as who we really are.
- The light within us cannot illuminate the world’s darkness.
- The darkness that is within us cannot be illuminated by the world’s light.
- We project our inner darkness on others, making “enemies” of them and making the world a more dangerous place.
- Our inauthenticity and projections make real relationships impossible, leading to loneliness.
- Our contributions to the world – especially through the work we do – are tainted by duplicity and deprived of the life-giving energies of true self.” (A Hidden Wholeness, pg. 16)
Palmer writes of what it is like to perceive inauthenticity in one another, how this feels unsafe, uncertain.
How then does one move from divided to undivided, from wall or circle to life on the mobius strip?
“The soul is like a wild animal—tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient and yet exceedingly shy. If we want to see a wild animal, the last thing we should do is to go crashing through the woods, shouting for the creature to come out. But if we are willing to walk quietly into the woods and sit silently for an hour or two at the base of a tree, the creature we are waiting for may well emerge, and out of the corner of an eye we will catch a glimpse of the precious wildness we seek.” (Let Your Life Speak pg. 8)
First comes the conviction that there is within that sureness, that wholeness that can be found – this is central to many spiritual teachings.
There is the assurance that to struggle in this is very human.
There is the conviction that community, rightly formed, offers the space in which the soul can emerge, can reveal itself.
So if we begin with the belief that there is trueness, sureness, integrity (as in wholeness) within, recognize the tendency to live in alienation, or divided from this, but that the self, the spark of divine, the soul, yearns to express itself, but needs the space and attention on our part…
Then we move from here to pondering what sorts of postures and practices might allow for this.
We also, taking a hint from Jacob’s wrestling, and O’Donahue’s diagnosis of exhaustion, recognize that perhaps it will be experiences of pain, challenge, and struggle, that will point us along the way.
Palmer calls this Shadow Work — which sounds like a rad martial art, and could be seen as such.
This is where the name of this series comes to life, for it is in the mapping of the constellations of the inner life, the courageous confrontations of limitation, disappointment, failure, of our tendency to project our internal challenges, anxieties, fears onto others that we might avoid responsibility…that it is only doing this that we build the resilience to show up more whole-heartedly.
These will be our subjects as we continue…
For in life, in death, in life beyond death. God is with us. We are not Alone. Thanks be to God.
A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Towards an Undivided Life
Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation
Both by Parker Palmer