“There is no ‘other:'” Full Resonant Harmony, (Sermon 3 of 3)

The Rev. Dr. Stuart Higginbotham

Proper 10, Year B

Mark 6:14-29

July 15, 2018

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There is no “other:”

Full, Resonant Harmony

Sermon 3 of 3

 

Previously on Sermons: We have explored a core quality of our existence, with the realization that, in God’s vision for life, there is no “other,” that all is held and connected within God’s embrace.  We have explored that it is our own sinful grasping onto illusory separateness that causes our suffering in the world, with own ego tendency to control.  We explored the encounter between Jesus and the ostracized woman, the “other” whom Jesus recognized as a beloved human being, and we explored how Jesus himself was seen as an “other” when his Gospel message conflicted with established customs in the synagogue.  We have delved deeply into this call from Christ to see the way we are joined, united, with God and thusly with one another—and the resistances we have to resting in that deeper realization of our nature.

So, we have continued to say, that on the level of God’s dream for us—from the Divine perspective—there is no “other.”  All is connected, all is united.  Nothing and no one is totally separate, cut off, over and against. It is our awareness that is warped.

I have loved hearing from some of  you who have reached out.  Some have been pinched, wondering “how far this goes,” this understanding of “there is no other.”  What about our basic demands and responsibilities?  How are we to understand our day-to-day lives?

And, I will repeat what I described two weeks ago: that some have pushed back against this notion of “there is no other” by suggesting that “this is the real world,” and we have to live in it.  That there may be such theological arguments, but this is the way the world is.  I will say again, from one point of view, this is right: this is the way the world seems to be; however, doesn’t that miss the point?  Isn’t the point of our practice of faith that we are called not to settle with the way the world is but to live into God’s dream for the world?  It is our call to a conscious and transformed existence that marks our lives as followers of Jesus.  We do not settle.  The way we pray shapes (should shape) the way we live in the world.  So, we will pick up here this morning.

The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 

We imagine ourselves this morning standing in the room at Herod’s grand soiree.  We find ourselves surrounded by people, courtiers and nobles, folks seeking favor within the dynamic of life at court.  We see the ambition and plotting within Herod’s family, with his wife and former sister-in-law Herodias especially.  Their daughter Herodias dances, and Herod offers her anything she wishes.

I think of times when, in jest, I would say to our daughter, “Do you want a pony?” but this goes far beyond that.  Herodias asks her mother what she should get, and her mother immediately lays out her plan: “ask for the head of John the baptizer.”

The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 

And here we see a fascinating moment in Herod’s life: on one hand, he is grieved because there was some resonance with John the baptizer.  Did you notice the text says Herod thought John “was a righteous and holy man?”  He liked to hear him.  Perhaps Herod knew he had encountered truth when he listened to John the baptizer.  Something in his heart recognized the authenticity of his words.

Yet, he is caught up in the sensationalism of the moment.

He has made public promises to impress, to garner favor, to maintain an image of power and prestige.  His strategy and political maneuvering presses in on him.  Political expectations clash with a deeper spiritual awareness.

He is torn.

It is a fascinating moment if you pause the story right there.  We see the tension in Herod, with this apparent relationship that has connected him and John the baptizer on some level.  On the level of heart awareness, Herod has encountered something that he appreciates, that he needs to hear.

Yet on the level of egoic posturing, the relationships formed there with the court are grounded in manipulation and control, in image and prestige.

John has shown him depth and perspective, yet there in that room he is trapped in the zero sum game of self-protection and greed.

The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 

In that moment when his daughter asks for John’s head, this tension between egoic grasping and heart awareness reaches its pinnacle within Herod.

And, he yields to ego, to the political grasping and sensationalism.

As clichéd as it might sound, in that moment of the story, we learn a great truth of our Christian practice: when we disconnect our mind and heart and let our ego and rational mind dominate with its tendency for grasping and control, we experience such pain and suffering.  Put bluntly, when we disconnect our mind from our heart, don’t be surprised if someone loses their head.

It seems to me that we have, in this story, an icon, an image that demonstrates a contrast in what relationships can look like.

When the contemplative tradition claims that this sense of separation between us is an illusion, that “there is no other,” we are not saying that all is reduced down to some least common denominator, that any sense of distinction between us is erased.  We are not speaking in nihilistic terms.  Our distinctive gifts are not erased—nor are our particular pains and struggles ignored.  We do not cease to be; rather, we realize that we exist—we become—in relationship with one another.

I think Herod encountered this with John the baptizer, a connection with someone who was an “other.”  The Jewish desert-dwelling prophet and the Roman-established ruler.  How can we understand the connection between these two?  How can we understand the pressure to deny the connection between these two?  These are essential questions for us to explore—and translate into our own lives—when we persist in categories of existence that contradict God’s dream for us all.

There is no “other,” because the heart of Jesus’ teaching is that we are in relationship with God and with one another.

We see the pattern, the meaning, of our own lives in the intimacy of the Trinity.  One God, understood and experienced in terms of relationship.  The three mutually-indwelling persons of God’s own being.  Our dualistic frameworks break down and we stand before the mystery of God’s being and our own existence.

If we struggle to understand this, we should not be surprised.  We have reached the limit of our rational minds.  We are not going “to get our heads around this.”  That is the struggle of our human lives.  We crave to get our heads around things, because a part of us wants to control them—or at least protect ourselves against them.  Why else ask, “How far do we have to do with this?”  Such an awareness of our mutual belonging can be only be gained—given—within our heart.

In this space of our spiritual heart, we know beyond the knowing we have known.

Many mystics and sages remind us of this deep truth of our mutual belonging, of our relationship.  In the 5th century, an anonymous sage we know only as Pseudo-Dionysius tried his best to describe this mutual belonging:

“Nothing in the world lacks it share of theOne. . . For multiplicity cannot exist without some participation in the One.  That which is many in its parts is one in its entirety.”

And further, with words that challenge us some fifteen centuries later: “For that is nothing at all lacking a share in that One which in its utterly comprehensive unity uniquely contains all and every thing before, even opposites.”[1]

This awareness of our true relationship with one another is the ground out of which our compassionate ethic grows.  It is the deep truth of Christ that tests every political and economic agenda.

Relationship.  Mutual Belonging.  Interconnectedness.  As the Buddhist Master Thich Nhat Hanh describes, Interbeing.

Yes we struggle because we are human, but the existence or even persistence of struggle does not negate the compassionate dream of God for the world.  We find ourselves here, in all our brokenness—and potential.

As John Main so beautifully says, “What the New Testament cries out to us is that the fullness of being we are summoned to, dwells within our being as it is now and is realized when our being and the being of God come into full resonant harmony.”[2]

We are called to be a people of prayer, a people whose hearts are attuned to God’s heart.

Out of this prayerful heart-groundedness, our lives are transformed and our eyes are opened to see God’s presence in the world around us, with our mutual belonging.

Out of this transformed awareness, the Spirit gives us courage to embody the compassion of Christ in every facet of our lives—without limit.

Out of this compassionate embodiment we share in the “full resonant harmony” that is God’s reconciling mission for the world.

This is what it means to be a Christian.  Nothing less.

 

[1][1] Pseudo-Dionysius, The Complete Works, translated by Colm Luibheid (New York: Paulist Press, 1987), 128.

[2] John Main, Essential Writings, introduction by Laurence Freeman (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2002), 62.

One thought on ““There is no ‘other:'” Full Resonant Harmony, (Sermon 3 of 3)

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  1. I find the phrase “Full Resonant Harmony” fascinating and am reminded (from my limited understanding) that such a state might not only be God’s desire between God and humankind, but that indeed the Creator has established the universe with a harmonious plan. What astronomy and physics have represented with numbers are the overtones of the cosmos, the “music of the spheres.”
    The heavens are telling the glory of God!

    Like

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