Not Hidden From You
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18; John 1:43-51 and Reflections from Meister Eckhart
Welcome to this Second Sunday after the Epiphany on this weekend of celebration and remembrance of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr!
As we come to this time in our gathering, I invite you to take a deep breath and let yourself be here as fully as you are able, arriving to a place of openness, to receive whatever word there is for you today. So, as you are so moved, I invite you to join me in a spirit of prayer and centering from Psalm 19. God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
“We know so many things, but we don't know ourselves!” These words from the mystic Meister Eckhart speak to the truth of our tendency to seek outside ourselves first. We would rather map the stars and seek distant light than explore the shadows and light within ourselves. Whether it is about racism, or what is wrong, I have observed it is easier for us to focus on everything and everyone “out there.” Of course there is a lot that isn’t right in the world, but one of the core tasks of discipleship, it seems to me, is getting into and getting right, in our inner life.
For a long time Christianity has focused on beliefs and has been presented as a philosophy, instead of a set of practices and actions rooted in core values. But I think part of the wreckage which surrounds us right now comes from a failure to dive in and know the Self, a failure to value, to explore and to examine what is hidden beyond the surface, beyond our own lack of understanding and fears.
Even before this moment where blood has been shed and more lies are being spread, Steven Nadler wrote in 2017 that, “One of the scariest aspects of this presidency – beyond his many flawed policy proposals – is that he is ignorant of his own ignorance. His lack of self-awareness speaks to an epistemological arrogance that we tolerate in children, but do not expect to find in educated adults, especially those holding high office.”
Aristotle wrote that “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” What if part of our faith journey is daring to take seriously the journey within, the call to know our light and our shadows? Daring to embark upon the lifelong effort that can be excruciating and extraordinary, is being willing to explore the depths of our feelings, responses, needs, dreams, to integrate our disruptions, which leads us to expansions. It is being willing to be critically self-aware, to learn and grow, modify and still marvel at what is.
It is a commitment to sit in silence or prayer or meditation or centering or movement to connect to Flow, which can be cycling or gardening or exploring the labyrinth, or creative expression where the Muse arrives, or times where the subconscious mind, the depths of the soul are ventured, whatever name we give It, we do this, in order that we might hear beyond our own egos, that we might disentangle from our own way of thinking.
The journey within, is the courage to hold paradoxes and to live into spaces that are beyond binaries, to be okay with competing truths and unanswered questions, to be challenged and changed; it is a willingness to not turn away from sorrows and shadows so they don’t darken our hearts or the hearts of others. “We know so many things, but we don't know ourselves!”
And not knowing ourselves as we are seeing from high places has consequences. As one writer put it, “A lack of self-knowledge leaves us open to accident and mistaken ambitions.” It causes us to repeat unhealthy patterns from our history. It can disconnect us from deep relationships and replicate harmful dynamics. It can cause pain in the world because unexamined actions lead to being angry, defending and protecting, instead of opening and connecting.
Here’s the other thing: Not knowing ourselves, our tendencies, our triggers, our biases, our fears and our failures, means that sometimes we actually miss something awesome, something spectacular, something that could even be called God. We are so blinded that we miss the very face of Jesus!
In the story we heard today in the Gospel of John, Jesus returns home to the place of his childhood, which was the town of Nazareth in the region of Galilee. And Nathaniel says to Jesus directly in the face, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Can anything good possibly come from there, from that, from them, from you?
He said to Jesus in front of everyone, you aren’t good enough and you don’t come from the right place and you aren’t the one that is expected. You aren’t it and you are wrong and that is that. They made the mistake of assuming origin explains all of who we are. They made the mistake of letting their biases block them. They made the mistake of staying on the surface and so they missed the sacred gift right there in front of them.
As Leslie Hoppe writes of this story, “Jesus’ opponents never accept him because they are unwilling to see beyond appearances.” And it isn’t just Jesus’ opponents, it is Jesus’ people, his community, this is the place where he grew up. Can anything good come from there, from that, from them, from him?
Our preconceived ideas of others and of God and of what is possible and of the activity of the Spirit, whatever name we give It, can prevent us from authentic experiences, can block us from powerful encounters, can deny us the joy and meaning and love that each of us and the world so desperately need.
This week I found myself thinking of all of the suffering being caused right now by those living unexamined lives, in the Capitol and beyond. I have been pondering how Spirit is blocked when are unwilling to see beyond appearances, when we connect someone’s worthiness for the moment, to someplace beyond now, when we refuse to let our egos release the reins. Not knowing ourselves, our tendencies, our triggers, our fears and our failures causes pain.
In The Trial and Death of Socrates (Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Phaedo) Plato wrote that, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”
Perhaps part of why he said this is that the unexamined can cause internal and external hurt, that ripples out in waves. Anger, defensiveness, the need to be right, the need to put others down and to blame.
As one writer put it, “Once we relinquish our egos, and loosen ourselves from the grip of our primitive defensive and aggressive thought-processes, we are free to consider humanity in a much more benign light. We might even, at an extreme…feel that we could love everyone, that no human could be outside the circle of our sympathy.”
That’s just it- to dare to know ourselves is to be able to love more fully and freely and this means we are not just metaphorically but physically adding goodness and hope into the world. In an article written by David Brooks last month, he asserted that it has been proven that “teaching people to be good is based on the illusion that you can change people’s behaviors by presenting them with new information and new thoughts.”
Transformation for any of us isn’t about new information. It is examination and action, alone and together, probing and pondering our lives as if to the depths of the earth's very core. What a privilege to have this luxury and this invitation- the live the examined, unhidden life- the commitment to truth and love.
You heard from the Psalmist, “My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.”
And if who we are isn’t hidden from the Holy, perhaps we are invited to let who we are, not be hidden from ourselves. Maybe this is the very path to healing all that is wrong with everything and everyone “out there,” it begins in here.
On this weekend we celebrate the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who said, “"I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality." And our call is about the unarmed truth and unconditional love. Part of that work is uncovering our worlds within. Meister Eckhart’s words- “We know so many things, but we don't know ourselves!” Speak to us in this moment. So let us live examined lives, let us see beyond appearances, let us never believe that worthiness is tied to origin, let us refuse to allow our egos to have the reins, let us not be ignorant of our own ignorance, let our preconceived ideas be disengaged!
Then we will be sure to not miss the face of the Holy in others and surprising things will happen, and God-sized dreams will unfold, and new stories will be allowed to be told. Because truth and love will have the final word because we dare to be unhidden. Let us go into our own ground. Can anything good come from there? Come and see.