by Rev. Karuna Duval
Unity in Lynnwood
Get comfortable, close your eyes if you wish. Please take three breaths. With each breath you relax a little more.
I invite you to see yourself in a place of peace, serenity and warmth. This could be a forest, a garden or the beach. This place you are safe. This place you are free. As you walk in this place you are aware it is bright and warm. Let all your senses take in this place.
As you walk you come upon an old statue of a female deity, a Goddess. Her face is old and dark with time, the lines on her body worn from the touch of hands. She is simply the Mother, god as woman, the one to whom the world turns. She is Sofia, Kwan Yin, Mary, Sarah, Hagar, Fatima, White Buffalo Woman, Isis, Sita, Innanna, and Demeter. She is all the feminine faces of God, but she is more than that. She is the Divine Mother of life itself.
You find yourself sitting before her. She then comes to life. She approaches and you see the face of the ancient Divine mother become animated with feeling. Seated before her you gaze into each other's eyes. She penetrates your soul with a glance that loves you to the core of your very being. Emotions of sweetness, mercy, and loving forgiveness emanate from her, sweeping over you in waves of bliss, healing all the parts of you that are hurt, broken, and wounded. She reaches to hold you in her arms, and you are tenderly embraced. Taken onto her lap, you become like a child with its mother. You touch her hair, her face in loving affection, and feel her loving affection for you in return. You feel enveloped by unconditional love, deep peace, and you completely soften and surrender to her.
You begin to feel as if the body of the Divine mother is the gateway to the body of creation itself.... Going beyond her form, you enter into a communion with the body of the earth -- all her creatures, trees, oceans, rivers, mountains, cities, and people.... Going beyond the earth, you feel the body of the Divine mother expand into space, becoming the stars and the planets and the whirling galaxies that are spread over the universe like a mantle of bright jewels....
Held in this mystery you feel a powerful force....a Holy energy, .... the breath of all life.... the soul of the cosmos. You feel your heart beat in rhythm with the rhythm of all life itself.
As you return to yourself, still in her embrace, the Divine Mother looks at you tenderly and smiles.... without words, you both know the communion of this time is coming to an end.... She kisses you and gently releases you. She steps back and becomes the statue again. Sitting before her now in this place of warmth and peace, you continue to feel deeply the connections, awareness and gifts she has given you....
You know these gifts are always with....
You know she is always with you....
You know she IS you.
Take a breath and bring your awareness to your body.....
Take another breath and bring awareness to this sanctuary.....
Take another breath and slowly open your eyes.
April 22, 2018
Interfaith Mission of Sts. Francis and Clare of Assisi, Tulalip, WA
4th Sunday in Easter
Roman Catholic Readings
First Reading Acts 4:8-12
Second Reading 1 John 3:1-2
Gospel John 10:11-18
Jesus said: "I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them. This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd. This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father.'
Sermon - by Fr. Dan Duval
I find that if we only look at the Gospel reading for today, it looses some of it’s importance. When we read John, chapter 10 in its entirety I believe it gives us a larger perspective on what was happening and what Jesus may have been trying to say. Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees. He was trying to help them understand the difference between an inner and outer religion, or perhaps the difference between religion and spirituality.
Prior to the verses we hear in today’s gospel, Jesus is saying that if anyone tries to climb the fence and get into the sheep pen without actually going through the gate, they are cheating and not able to get the full benefit or depth of the spiritual life, or a life that unites them with the Divine. I believe Jesus is saying that you can not steal true understanding. Being a spiritual person is not the same as a religious person. We often hear today that going to church does not make one a good person, there is more to it than that.
The Pharisees were those empowered by the Romans to keep the Jewish people of the area in line. As in all times, power was equated with prestige and somehow knowledge and wisdom. The Pharisees were looked up to as interpreters of God’s law. They arbitrated disputes and were able to forgive or condemn in accordance with Jewish and Roman sanction. This is what Peter is most likely referring to in the first reading of Acts when he says that the people, (if we read this from the beginning of chapter 4 he means the people in power) want to know by whose authority they healed. The Romans gave power only to handful of Jews to keep the peace among their people. The question of whose authority do you heal by is one of, who gave you permission to decide of this person should be healed or not. It is not a question of how did you do it or who made the healing happen, it was one of who gave you permission to heal this person. Who said this person was worthy of being healed. They were the keepers of the law and only they could say who was allowed to be healed according to that law. The church leaders of that day worked in concert with Rome. Many of them made a show out of praying loudly in the temple and bringing attention to themselves as men of power, because in that time, no woman would be permitted to hold such a position. Going to temple and keeping the law to the letter was seen as the way to be close to God and be God’s favorite. Look, see I followed the rules God but Jesus didn’t when he healed on the Sabbath, ate with beggars or hung out with women. The Pharisees were trying to take a short cut to God and sound almost like the pesky sibling that was always telling on you for not following the rules.
What Jesus was trying to do, possibly in a way that would not raise to much suspicion or ire, was to let them know they were missing the point. Much like in the book, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint- Exupéry, Jesus was saying that a real relationship with God takes time. One had to work at it, as in taming sheep or as in the case of the Little Prince, a fox. As the Fox explains to the Prince, it is not a quick process and one that must be worked at. It has to be one of caring, patience and dedication. Jesus echos this when saying that if one is not invested in this relationship, such as a hired hand, as he possibly saw the Pharisees, that person would bolt at the first sign of trouble and allow the sheep or other object of taming to fend for itself. Only one who is invested in the love of another, whether it be the sheep, the fox, or God can truly know the dedication necessary to stick to the dedicated path.
In the same way, God, The Divine, Creator or whatever name you chose to give, offers us that same sort of taming. God is patient with us. God waits lovingly for us. God shows up and is there so we may get used to God’s presence. God protects us, God teaches us. God is taming us and will assist us in the taming of ourselves. As Jesus says, I am in the Father and the Father is in me. God is taming Jesus and Jesus is taming himself and others. Jesus makes no distinction of whom he gives his information to. He does not judge whether someone is worthy of God’s love, he just pours it out. He does not reserve this love for those that the law says can have it. This Love is not a gift for being good, it is sacred food for our journey and no one can deny it to anyone. This gift of taming and being tamed is the birthright of all creation.
There is a Unity prayer of Protection that I believe exemplifies this and I would like to close it.
The light of God surrounds us;
The love of God enfolds us;
The power of God protects us;
The presence of God watches over us;
Wherever we are, God is!
And All is Well!
April 8, 2019
St. Philips Episcopal Church, Marysville, WA
2nd Sunday of Easter
Divine Mercy Sunday, in the Roman Catholic Church
Readings for the Episcopal Church
First reading Acts 4:32-35
Second reading 1 John 1:1-2:2
Gospel John 20:19-31
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe." A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
Sermon – by Fr. Dan Duval
In the Roman Church today is known as Divine Mercy Sunday. The Gospel reading is the same but the rest of the readings are not, although their messages are very similar. In the Roman Church Divine Mercy Sunday is a day devoted to spiritual practices based on the Polish Saint, Faustina Kowalska who in the 1930’s had a vision of Jesus. What her vision was and what those spiritual practices are, are not of great importance for us here today, but what I find interesting about the convergence of Divine Mercy Sunday and a vision of Jesus on the 2nd Sunday of Easter is the Gospel in common to both churches. We listen to the familiar story of Thomas, who has been known through the centuries as “The Doubter.” In this Easter season we have heard about those who also had visions of the Risen Christ and who came to believe.
But in todays gospel we have Thomas, a person who was told about the resurrection of Jesus and had not yet had his own vision. Those who had had their vision were excited and wanting to share and wanting Thomas to hear and share in their vision. “Hey Thomas, let me tell you what happened to me. You won’t believe it.” And he didn’t. Thomas was clear that he was not about to believe in anyone else’s vision or story of Jesus. Did that make him a bad person? Did that mean he did not have faith? Faith in what? What did this vision of a man raised from the dead mean?
Thomas had been with the rag tag caravan that followed Jesus around the countryside for many months and although we don’t have an exact timeline we can infer that he had been with Jesus most of his three years ministry. What was he holding out for? What did he still need?
What was the harm in wanting to know things for himself? What was the harm in wanting to know what he was being asked to believe in or commit himself to? What was wrong with Thomas wanting or needing to see the Christ himself?
Through the years we have all come to know Thomas as the one we want to be less like. Blessed are those who have not seen and believed. We all want to be blessed, don’t we? Are those with blind faith actually more blessed than those who struggle for theirs? Those who need to probe their own depths to understand what is pertinent to them?
What was it that the women at the tomb and the apostles in the upper room were finding in their own visions of Jesus, The Christ? Was it Jesus that had risen or Christ that had risen? What is the difference and what difference does it make?
Theologians have debated those two questions through the ages and the first debate seems to have happened in that locked upper room we have just heard about. The question of who and what are we being asked to believe in.
What is this debate really about? Is it about a dead body coming back to life after physical death or is it about the deadness inside of people coming to life when they meet the Christ that is inside of them? In our time, we will most likely not witness a dead body getting up and walking around, unless we are talking about some rather bad Zombie movie or possibly the 1980s movie (Weekend at Bernie’s). And sif we did see one what would believing in that actually prove? Would believing in a walking corpse change the way we live? Would it change the way we think or feel or treat other people?
Thomas, like many of us I suspect, waited to find a personal vision or meaning of what Christ resurrected meant to him. Don’t we all do that? Don’t we all search for something that is meaningful to us? Don’t we all look for a way to understand Christ in our own lives? Who is this Christ within me? Within you? Who is asking something of me and what is that something that we are moved to respond to?
Thomas sought his vision in searching the wounds of Jesus. Something in him needed to ponder those wounds, to examine them in relation to himself. What did those wounds mean to Thomas personally? How many times are we asked to examine the wounds of the crucified one, to look upon the one who hangs on the cross. All last week leading up to Easter, starting with the passion on Palm Sunday we contemplated Jesus’s pain. Were we uncomfortable? Did it make us sad? Did we become angry at the treatment of Jesus? Did we feel the pain of the crucifixion? Did we turn our heads away so as not to see him suffer? Block our ears so as not to hear him scream? Did our hearts go out to his mother as she stood watching as her son was maligned and mistreated? What were your reactions?
How many times are we asked to look upon the suffering of another in some form? How does another’s suffering affect us? Do we turn away when we approach the street cornier with the homeless person, averting our eyes so as not to feel uncomfortable or struggle with ourselves about whether this person on this corner t this time should receive our money? Or do we, as Thomas did, examine the wounds in order to find our own vision of life? Just as the polish Saint mentioned above had her own vision of Jesus over a thousand years after he died, do we look for our own vision?
So I ask you was Thomas a doubter or did he need time to ponder the personal meaning of Jesus’s resurrection? Did he want just someone else story of Christ’s resurrection or was he wanting something deeper, something more personal and meaningful? Something more than another person’s story?
What about you?
January 28, 2018
St. Philips Episcopal Church, Marysville, WA
Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
Readings for the Episcopal Church
First reading Duet 18:15-20
Second reading I Cor 8:1-13
Gospel Mark 1:21-28
They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”“Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.
Sermon - by Rev. Karuna Duval
In the first book of the gospel of Mark, Jesus arrives at the Jordan river and is baptized by John. Then he calls his first disciples. Next in the story they go to Capernaum where Jesus enters the synagogue on the Sabbath and teaches. During his teaching a man with an “unclean spirit” enters asking if Jesus is here to “destroy us” and acknowledges Jesus as the “Holy one of God.” Jesus bids him to “Be silent.” The unclean spirit leaves the man’s body in dramatic fashion. Everyone is amazed by this healing. Thus begins Jesus’ fame in the region of Galilee. The rest of this first book tells the stories of other healings, and between the crowds Jesus retreats for silence for himself.
Much focus is often on the miracles and healings that Jesus did. I’d like to focus on the person he healed in this story – the man with the unclean spirit.
Who is this man, and what is the unclean spirit? Often this is read as a demon of some sort. Something that possesses the man, compelling him to fear, and interestingly through his fear, he still knows, deeply the holiness of Jesus.
This man is us.
Fear and knowing deeply….these don’t often live together very well, and if they do it’s often not for very long.
The “unclean spirit” I see as something that is limiting this man – limiting us, from the fullness of the deep knowing. It has been described as a demon, or a dragon needing to be slayed.
In more contemporary terms it is the false self. Richard Rohr describes the false self not in bad terms but as something that is a: “social and mental construct that starts us on our life journey. It is a set of agreements between us and our parents, our family, our [friends], our partner or spouse, our culture, and our religion. It is our “container.” It is largely defined in distinction from others, precisely as our separate and unique self. It is probably necessary to get started, but it becomes problematic when we stop there and spend the rest of our life promoting and protecting it.”
The false self is the part of us that likes to compare, contrast, compete and justify and defend. It is the part of us that likes to look good and feel good. That’s not bad. It is merely a beginning: our appearance, education, job, money, success, and so on. These are the trappings of ego that help us get through every day.
The reason it is called the false self is because it can pose as the truth. It pretends to be more than it is, and we often believe it. It is fearful it will be destroyed. When we identify and hold on to that false self too tightly, and experience (as we ultimately will) a shaking of our world: for instance when we grow old and we don’t look like we used to in our 20s; we retire or can’t work; or we get ill we become fearful (which is a normal human response). It is the false self that is compelling us with fear. It has done it’s job so well, that it can’t or won’t step back for fear our whole being will be destroyed.
The good news is the false self is not the end of the story. We are so much more than what we look or feel like, how we compete, what we defend and who we compare ourselves to. The false self is not the bad self, it’s just not our true self.
Our true self is that part of us that was already there when we came into being, before we knew who we were. Before we start forming the self that we present to the world. A time when we know intuitively how to give and receive love.
Our true self is always there, or rather here. It is our connection to God in whatever name or form we experience. It is the place where our loving our family resides and emanates. It is experienced in the times when we stand at the ocean shore, or hold a baby, or cry with another in grief; or when we are in silence in meditation and prayer: and for a moment, maybe just a moment – we forget our belief in our separateness from: the waves and the winds and the sand; and the baby and the tears; and all that is.
“We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness.”
– Thich Naht Hanh.
Franciscan philosopher John Duns Scotus said that “the human person is not different or separate from Being itself—not the little being that we get attached to and take too seriously, but Universal Being or as Paul said to the Athenians (Acts 17:28). ‘the One in whom we live, and move, and have our being’”
Our true self is our soul—our deepest identity; it is who we are in God and who God is in us. Only our True Self lives forever and is truly free in this world.
In our second reading today, Paul recognizes this when he says; “we all know that all of us possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge, but anyone who loves God is known by him.”
Our True Self is Life and Being and Love. Love is what we were made from and for. Love is who we are. When we can live from our true self the whole world opens up to us and we are opened up to the whole world.
The goal is not to get rid of the false self and live entirely in the true self. The goal is to not have a goal. To be, accept, acknowledge and live with whatever self we are in each moment. To awe, wonder and be still when we Know the experience of the true self. And to recognize when the false self is, at best, unhelpful, and to find compassion and forgiveness, to let go into the Knowing and into God in our true selves.
“Be still and know that I am God.” Ps 46:10
Meister Eckhart said that spirituality has more to do with subtraction than addition. The false self is fed by addition: more money, more power, earning more brownie points with our boss or even with God, attaining enlightenment, even achieving moral behavior. The true self is often realized in subtraction, by letting go.
One powerful way to enter into the practice of letting go is silence – meditation, prayer, or simply being. When we are most able to be in our true self, we are silent. When we are most near to God is in our silence. When Jesus wants to be with God, he goes into silence. In today’s gospel, Jesus doesn’t scold the man, but tells him to “be silent” and he subtracts what is in the way of the deepest knowing – his true self.
Let us take a few moments of silence now. If it feels comfortable, close your eyes and just breathe. If your mind wanders – and it will – just breathe, and if your mind wanders again, just breathe. [silence for about 30-60 seconds or so]
I leave you with a poem by Jan Richardson.
Blessing in the Chaos
To all that is chaotic
let there come silence.
Let there be
of the clamoring,
of the voices that
have laid their claim
that have made their
home in you,
that go with you
even to the
but will not
let you rest,
will not let you
hear your life
or feel the grace
that fashioned you.
Let what distracts you
Let what divides you
Let there come an end
to what diminishes
and let depart
all that keeps you
in its cage.
Let there be
into the quiet
that lies beneath
where you find
you did not think
and see what shimmers
within the storm