Action prayer, repeated 3 times in silence
Fists clenched tight. (we hold on so tightly to what we think we need)
Hands open palms up. (it is so freeing to let go, and allow God in.)
Arms crossed over heart. (we begin to sense again, that God is with us, within us.)
In Hinduism, a sannyasi is a kind of religious ascetic, who renounces ties with all worldly things, and gives their life to prayer and devotion, in pursuit of spiritual liberation.
One evening a sannyasi was just getting ready to sleep under a tree. A man from a nearby village came running up to him, and asked that he give him a precious stone.
“What stone” the sannyasi asked?
“Lord Shiva appeared to me in a dream last night and told me that if I came to this place at dusk tonight a sannyasi would give me a precious stone that would make me unbelievably rich. “
The sannyasi rummaged in his bag for a moment and, smiling, said, Lord Shiva probably meant this one. I found it in the forest today and you can certainly have it.
The villager gazed at the precious stone in wonder. It was as large as his fist and, even in the fading light, it dazzled with luminosity. He took it and walked away.
That night the villager couldn’t sleep. He was deeply troubled. The next morning at dawn he rushed back to the sannyasi, and thrust the diamond back into his hands. “I don’t want it,” he said.
“What I want is whatever you have that makes it possible for you to give it away so easily.”
What makes for such an open heart, and willingness to let go? When a baby is in the womb, it has no worries. Their every need is met, even before they know they need something. They are warm, and fed, and safely held. They are open-hearted, and open-handed. No need to hold on tight to anything.
When we emerge from the womb, the first sign we are alive and healthy is that we cry out. Perhaps we cry out for the warmth, the feeding, the sense of safety we have known, which was interrupted by the journey through the birth canal. We come through an uncomfortable passage, and are now in a strange place. Where will we get what we need? Maybe we cry because we are confused. Maybe we cry because we are frightened.
Most often the freshly-born baby is picked up, and held close to the warm body of a care giver. When possible, the baby is placed in their mother’s arms. There is a familiar smell, an embracing warmth, a heartbeat that has been heard before. The child reconnects with its source, and calm reassurance overcomes anxiety. Love overcomes fear.
Mystics like the sannyasi make it a daily, hourly, minute by minute practice to let go of reliance upon things, upon status, upon people, and give themselves over as completely as possible to God’s loving provision. It is as if they begin to experience the whole of reality as something like the womb of God.. They are embraced and filled by love, and you can see it in them. They often glow with a more powerful luminosity than the most precious gem.
Most of us are not called to such a life of total renunciation. We see that as an extreme. We live in Canada, and for much of the year, would find the womb of the world to be fairly chilly, if we tried to live without a home, or possessions. Even so, mystics like the sannyasi offer us an important corrective to what can happen when we settle for less than real life, and real love.
We heard a story this morning about the Israelites. For generations they were slaves in Egypt. A prophet and leader named Moses roused them up, and led them out of captivity. He believed God was calling them to a new place, a promised land where they and their children could thrive in freedom.
A new nation was being born. Being born is challenging. I wonder if the baby ever feels it would be better to not come out. They might not choose to go from a safe and warm place where its needs are met, out into an unknown reality. But they need to be born, to grow to maturity.
Moses had a disquieting habit of leaving every once in a while, to climb a mountain to talk to God. The Israelites got nervous when their leader was away. They wanted something to hold on to, to soothe their fears, to provide them with a sense of safety and security. They were in those ways, not that different from newborns, or from us. The story says:
When the people realized that Moses was taking forever in coming down off the mountain, they rallied around Aaron and said, “Do something. Make gods for us who will lead us. That Moses, the man who got us out of Egypt—who knows what’s happened to him?”
2-4 So Aaron told them, “Take off the gold rings from the ears of your wives and sons and daughters and bring them to me.” They all did it; they removed the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from their hands and cast it in the form of a calf, shaping it with an engraving tool.
The people responded with enthusiasm: “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up from Egypt!”
5 Aaron, taking in the situation, built an altar before the calf. Aaron then announced, “Tomorrow is a feast day to God!”
6 Early the next morning, the people got up and offered Whole-Burnt-Offerings and brought Peace-Offerings. The people sat down to eat and drink and then began to party. It turned into a wild party!
The Israelites did what people often do when worried and afraid. They turned to things of the world to distract them from their pain and anxiety. They placed their trust in gold, a symbol of material wealth. They gorged themselves on food and drank themselves into confusion, and then reached out to each other for physical comfort, and sexual release. It really was a wild party.
This story depicts an extreme response, but we can see this dynamic at work in our own lives, and in the lives of people around us. The lure of the new and shiny thing. The desire for the bigger house, the more powerful car, the trip to an exotic vacation place. Advertising that plays on loneliness, insecurity, fear of death to get us to buy things that we know, if we are honest, will not actually make our lives better. The way that sex is used to manipulate and dehumanize people. The solace people seek in alcohol, in gambling, in over-consumption.
God spoke to Moses, “Go! Get down there! Your people whom you brought up from the land of Egypt have fallen to pieces. In no time at all they’ve turned away from the way I commanded them: They made a molten calf and worshiped it.”
Moses may have over-estimated the spiritual maturity of his people. Maybe he thought they were more ready to place their hope and trust in God. Maybe they needed him to remind them of how to live, to stay connected to the real source of love and security in their lives, so they would not grasp so tightly the distractions available to them.
Moses may have wished that they could have seen the glory of a desert sunrise, felt the fresh air fill their lungs with every breath, heard the music of the voices of their children, and been grateful for the gifts of life in God’s world.
If the Israelites had practiced gratitude, and rejoiced in the blessings God offered them, they might have felt the warmth of God’s loving embrace. They might have been able to relax their grip, and open their hearts. They might have been more aware of living in the womb of God’s love. They might have been more like the sannyasi in the story, who could so easily give away a diamond the size of his fist.
Our reading from the letter to the Phillippians offers us advice about how to grow spiritually, and to keep the connection to God open:
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Take a moment now to think of 2 or 3 of the blessings in your life. What beauty, wonder, joy, love have you witnessed? You may notice that even as you think of these, gratitude arises within you. Thank God for these blessings.
Do the same each night before you go to sleep. You may want to begin a gratitude journal, to track how your awareness of God’s provision grows, and how your sense of gratitude deepens.
Practicing gratitude is an essential part of our spiritual lives. Everything we have comes to us as a gift of God – every breath, every ability, every opportunity, every moment of life. The practice of gratitude can help us relax our greedy, selfish hold on the stuff of the world, and make more room in our hearts for God.
Fists clenched tight.
Hands open palms up.
Arms crossed over heart.
Amen. Thanks be to God