Pastor Burke Owens
Life is a battle, within and without.
There is a wonderful ancient scripture in the Hindu tradition called the Bhagavat Gita. It tells the tale of Arjuna, a prince about to lead his army into battle, and of his chariot driver Govinda, who is actually the god Krishna, sent to help Arjuna learn to fight the battle of life. Arjuna wants to attack quickly and so defeat his enemy. But Govinda drives their chariot to the very head of the battle, before it begins, so that Arjuna can really see the many people about to fight. Arjuna notices families, many of who he knows, on opposite sides of the conflict; cousins against cousins, sons against fathers, grandfathers against sons. It brings him to tears, and he realizes that there is no way to fight this battle without causing great suffering. Govinda then speaks,
Do everything you have to do, but not with anger, greed, envy or ignorance. Do what you have to do with love, compassion, humility and presence.
There are two battles for us in this life, battles we have to engage in whether we want to or not.
The inner battle is one we fight constantly and nearly always on our own, for it is within. We may want to step around it or ignore it but if we do not fight and learn to overcome or control our own worst habits, fears, anger and stupidity, then we are lost. There is no hope for our future or even the present if we do not practice self-control, if we are not willing to take on the greatest battle of all.
The outer battle, with others and the world at large, is also difficult and challenging. Too often we may find ourselves dealing with a person who seems to effortlessly push our buttons, cause us to react in anger or bitterness. This can be so frustrating and irritating and it often sneaks up on us. A day is going well, things are good when all of a sudden, a person or a situation sets us off and we lose it. Perhaps for a few moments or minutes; perhaps for the whole day. It takes a great deal of patience to deal with society and the world’s demands. Between family, work, friends, strangers, and the wide variety of political, social and cultural issues we experience it is amazing we do not lose our cool more often.
These two battles are closely linked, for the one inside consistently leads to the outside edition. If we practice the inner battle, and so are able to develop our own self-control, then we realize greater strengths within us and the outer battle is not as difficult or overwhelming. The outer battle will always be a challenge but with practice, something we get a lot of whether we like it or not, it can become less irritating, less devastating. Because we begin to see that life is really what we make of it. That how we see ourselves and the world around us has an effect on our experience and of the value we assign it.
These last two weeks have shown us once again that life is not under our control, that people do crazy, awful things to each other because of their inner pain. They see no solution but “to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them?” Like Hamlet at the end of his play, there seems to be no answer but to strike out and make a statement that while futile, gives the individual the opportunity to reject the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”
It is important to note that birth and death are actions that add to life’s complex and constant change, yet life itself never stops, never dies, never retreats.
For life is the constant aspect of creation that lies at its very core. Some call it love, some call it energy, some call it life force, some maybe think of it as curiosity or creativity or intelligence. For some it is God, the spirit at the heart of life, the meaning that brings us all into being. For a time. Because we are here, in this form and this identity, for a fairly short period. We wake, blink our eyes, begin to see life in all its rich and startling possibilities, and then, before we know it, we are sliding down the other side toward the end.
So, this is one of the realities of our time here in creation. That it can change at any moment. Even though our energy and life force go on, alive and engaged in ways we do not know or understand. Life is eternal, the body temporal, the experience I have as me is momentary, the soul that lives, using my body and mind as a short-term rental, goes on forever and ever, without end. Nothing can stop this. No gunman, no war, no disease, no accident, no judgment, no hatred, no loss of ability, no end of this planet, for what we are, ultimately, is beyond body, mind or anything else we may identify as.
So take hope, take love, take wisdom in knowing that you and I are here now, but that at some point, sooner or later, we will not be. Our lives, as we know them will end but our energetic souls will continue on to new lives, forms and understandings that are beyond us today.
This gives me hope as I hope it does you too.
God created this world, this one we are all part of, for many reasons but the core one is that we realize our true selves, our best and godly self. The eternal piece of us that is divine. In order to achieve this, it is necessary for us to clarify the confusion we see around us and that we carry within us. We have to learn how to battle in this life, to wage war on ignorance, hatred, desire and greed, both within ourselves and in the world around us.
Join me, won’t you?
Pastor Burke Owens
Burke Owens is pastor at the St Helena United Methodist Church at 1310 Adams Street in St. Helena.
Sunday worship is at ten am and all are welcome. Child care is provided. Please check the church website for more information. www.sthelenaumc.org or call 1 707 963 2839.
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors
The emotional intelligence of Jesus- Love
So, we have looked at Jesus and his emotional intelligence or IQ for the last few weeks. We began with self-awareness, then we went to empathy, then to confidence, followed by optimism, then last week, we spoke about stress. By Jesus using his innate awareness, he was self-aware and so did not fool himself. For he saw, more than most of us, his strengths and weaknesses. This led to his being quite empathetic and so relating well to others. Because he did not need to be better than others, did not need to show his superiority in order to shore up his own doubts and fears, he could relate to and with others in a more transparent and generous manner. As a result of these, he had a level of confidence, of faith in his abilities and in God, that was usually high. So from these he enjoyed a powerful sense of optimism, trusting in God and his grace. Because of these, he was resistant to stress, for he knew when it was time to stop and take a break, he know how to gather strength and healing form his friends and he understood that his reliance on God, his faith, brought optimism so that he knew, that though things would look bad at one point, that invariably they would change, and that life would regain balance. He knew that taking it personally was not a good or helpful way to live his life. Offer it up to God, pray that the spirit would come in to his life, trust in the divine and so know that all will be well, in time, all will be well. So he discovered one of the great secrets of life. That love is the power of the universe. Love, curiosity, creativity, engagement in the process and relationship of being alive. You know, love.
What is love?
1 Corinthians 13
13 If I speak in tongues of human beings and of angels but I don't have love, I'm a clanging gong or a clashing cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and I know all the mysteries and everything else, and if I have such complete faith that I can move mountains but I don't have love, I'm nothing. 3 If I give away everything that I have and hand over my own body to feel good about what I've done but I don't have love, I receive no benefit whatsoever.
4 Love is patient, love is kind, it isn't jealous, it doesn't brag, it isn't arrogant, 5 it isn't rude, it doesn't seek its own advantage, it isn't irritable, it doesn't keep a record of complaints, 6 it isn't happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth.7 Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.
8 Love never fails. As for prophecies, they will be brought to an end. As for tongues, they will stop. As for knowledge, it will be brought to an end. 9 We know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, what is partial will be brought to an end. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, reason like a child, think like a child. But now that I have become a man, I've put an end to childish things. 12 Now we see a reflection in a mirror; then we will see face-to-face. Now I know partially, but then I will know completely in the same way that I have been completely known. 13 Now faith, hope, and love remain—these three things—and the greatest of these is love.
What is love to you?
“Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” M.L.K.
All the things you are-
You are the promised kiss of springtime
That makes the lonely winter seem long.
You are the breathless hush of evening
That trembles on the brink of a lovely song.
You are the angel glow that lights a star,
The dearest things I know are what you are.
Someday my happy arms will hold you,
And someday I'll know that moment divine,
When all the things you are, are mine!
Pastor Burke Owens
There are a number of ways that stress impacts us, as it has people for centuries. But there are ways, practices and techniques, to help us protect ourselves life stresses, hurts, and anxiety.
So we need to prepare the ground, till and water and feed it so that our soul and mind is ready for the word of God to be planted so that it will grow in us and bear a good harvest,
No doubt, life is difficult for many of us, but very often we make it even more difficult for ourselves. When we do not understand the real nature and character of life we make our own difficulties. I can assure you that in every man's life five percent of his difficulties are brought about by the conditions of life, and ninety-five percent are difficulties caused by himself.
Now you will ask: When the difficulties come from ourselves, where do they come from? We do not like struggle in life, we do not like strife, we only want harmony, we only want peace. It must be understood, however, that before making peace, war is necessary, and that war must be made with our self. Our worst enemy is our self: our faults, our weaknesses, our limitations. And our mind is such a traitor! What does it? It covers our faults even from our own eyes, and points out to us the reason for all our difficulties: others! So, it constantly deludes us keeping us unaware of the real enemy, and pushes us towards those others to fight them, showing them to us as our enemies.
Besides this, we must tune ourselves to God. As high we rise, so high becomes our point of view, and as high our point of view so wide becomes the horizon of our sight. When a person evolves higher and higher his point of view becomes wider and wider, and so in all he does he strikes the divine note, the note which is healing and comforting and peace-giving to all souls.
Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Art of Being; struggle and resignation
HOW TO REDUCE STRESS-
Take a break from the stressor. It may seem difficult to get away from a big work project, a crying baby or a growing credit card bill. But when you give yourself permission to step away from it, you let yourself have time to do something else, which can help you have a new perspective or practice techniques to feel less overwhelmed. It's important to not avoid your stress (those bills have to be paid sometime), but even just 20-minutes to take care of yourself is helpful.
Exercise. The research keeps growing — exercise benefits your mind just as well as your body. We keep hearing about the long-term benefits of a regular exercise routine. But even a 20-minute walk, run, swim or dance session in the midst of a stressful time can give an immediate effect.
Smile and laugh. Our brains are interconnected with our emotions and facial expressions. When people are stressed, they often hold a lot of the stress in their face. So laughs or smiles can help relieve the tension and improve the situation.
Get social support. Call a friend, send an email. When you share your concerns or feelings with another person, it does help relieve stress. But it's important that the person whom you talk to is someone whom you trust and whom you feel can understand and validate you. If your family is a stressor, for example, it may not alleviate your stress if you share your works woes with one of them.
Pray-Call on God to help deal with the issues you have. Offer it all up to God. Use your words and ask him for help, for guidance, for support in your time of need.
Meditate. Meditation and mindful prayer help the mind and body to relax and focus. Mindfulness can help people see new perspectives, develop self-compassion and forgiveness. When practicing a form of mindfulness, people can release emotions that may have been causing the body physical stress.
These are many ways that Jesus took care of stress in his own life. Here is an example from scripture...
10 Jesus said, "Have the people sit down." They sat down, about five thousand of them. 11 Then Jesus took the bread. When he had given thanks, he distributed it to those who were sitting there. He did the same with the fish, each getting as much as they wanted. 12 When they had plenty to eat, he said to his disciples, "Gather up the leftover pieces, so that nothing will be wasted." 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves that had been left over by those who had eaten.
14 When the people saw that he had done a miraculous sign, they said, "This is truly the prophet who is coming into the world." 15 Jesus understood that they were about to come and force him to be their king, so he took refuge again, alone on a mountain.
16 When evening came, Jesus' disciples went down to the lake. 17 They got into a boat and were crossing the lake to Capernaum. It was already getting dark and Jesus hadn't come to them yet. 18 The water was getting rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When the wind had driven them out for about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the water. He was approaching the boat and they were afraid. 20 He said to them, "I Am. Don't be afraid." 21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and just then the boat reached the land where they had been heading. John 6: 1-21
Pastor Burke Owens
[i] Parable of the soils,
"A farmer went out to scatter seed. 4 As he was scattering seed, some fell on the path, and birds came and ate it.5 Other seed fell on rocky ground where the soil was shallow. They sprouted immediately because the soil wasn't deep. 6 But when the sun came up, it scorched the plants, and they dried up because they had no roots. 7 Other seed fell among thorny plants. The thorny plants grew and choked them. 8 Other seed fell on good soil and bore fruit, in one case a yield of one hundred to one, in another case a yield of sixty to one, and in another case a yield of thirty to one. 9 Everyone who has ears should pay attention."
He then goes on to teach the lesson fully after a pause,
18 "Consider then the parable of the farmer. 19 Whenever people hear the word about the kingdom and don't understand it, the self centered one comes and carries off what was planted in their hearts. This is the seed that was sown on the path. 20 As for the seed that was spread on rocky ground, this refers to people who hear the word and immediately receive it joyfully. 21 Because they have no roots, they last for only a little while. When they experience stress or sorrow or suffer, they immediately fall away. 22 As for the seed that was spread among thorny plants, this refers to those who hear the word, but the worries of this life and the false appeal of wealth choke the word, and it bears no fruit. 23 As for what was planted on good soil, this refers to those who hear and understand, and bear fruit and produce—in one case a yield of one hundred to one, in another case a yield of sixty to one, and in another case a yield of thirty to one."
[ii] Needless Worry
"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life" (Matt 6:25-27)
Anxiety and Fear
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." (Phil 4:6)
Love God, Not Things
"The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure that somebody hid in a field, which someone else found and covered up. Full of joy, the finder sold everything and bought that field.
45 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. 46 When he found one very precious pearl, he went and sold all that he owned and bought it.
Matthew 13: 44-46
Offer it up to God and feel your spirit rise
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matt 11:28-30).
7-12 If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious power around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives; the spirit from God We've been surrounded and confused at times but not depressed. We are harassed but we are not abandoned. Knocked down but not knocked out. For we know that God knows what to do; we've been terrorized at times, but God hasn't left our side; we've been thrown down, but we haven't broken. What they did to Jesus, they do to us—trial and torture, mockery and murder; what Jesus did among them, he does in us—he heals, he unites, he lives!
16-18 So we're not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There's far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can't see now will last forever.
2 Corinthians 4: 7-18
Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! Let your kindness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near. 6 Don't be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. 7 Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in his grace and abiding love. Philippians 4: 4-7
Optimism is a God given gift, one that all of us have the opportunity to embrace and enjoy. For optimism is another way of seeing God’s all embracing, giving nature, of experiencing the abundance of spirit and creativity at the heart of creation.
Optimism is the spontaneous flow of love; optimism also represents trust in love. This shows that love trusting love is optimism. Jesus speaks about optimism in his teachings, especially when he tells of God’s abundance in creation. [i]
For Jesus was completely open and present to God’s care of him and of all creation. In Jesus, there was no limit to what God can and will do. He realized that one of the real problems in life, one of the agents of decay and evil, is fear. Fear in all its various forms, but especially that fear which tells us that we have to be fearful in order to protect ourselves from danger, from hurt, from lack of resources, from starving. Often fear comes from disappointment, from hurt, from loss. Optimism gives a hopeful attitude to life, while with pessimism one sees darkness on one’s journey. No doubt, pessimism can show care, and caution and even cleverness, and it can show experience too, But these tools, such as caution and care, will never overcome the difficulties one meets in one’s life; ultimately it is trust in God, the developing of optimism and faith in God’s love and abundance, that solves life’s problems. Pessimism comes naturally to some of us and it is easy to be pessimistic in this crazy and relentless world of ours. But pessimism is another way for us to deny God’s love and grace, for it tends to be distrustful, doubting and cynical in our outlook. The assumption for one who tends to pessimism is that life is hopeless and that our chance of success is slim to none. Pessimism encourages a ‘me first’ attitude for pessimism is the heart of the ego, that part of our personality and identity which doubts and even denies God’s work in this world. And that means that it is a call of death rather than a call of life.
Even when we have troubles that seem insurmountable, that appear impossible, still there is a chance that we can learn how to overcome it, that we may find an opening that we could not see before. Sometimes it is simply a question of our bearing with it and letting it transform us. Today there is a challenge facing our church, a challenge that we did not ask for but which has to be dealt with. This is what life does to us and with us. It asks more of us than we think we can deal with, but more often than not we are wrong. For when it comes to it, we can deal with it, we can bear up, we can rise up to meet the challenge we face and so become something more, greater even, than we were before. The psychological effect of optimism is such that it helps to bring success, for it is by the spirit of optimism that God created the world. Optimism comes from God and pessimism comes from humanity and its limited view of life. For what is life? Life is an opportunity, and to the optimistic person this opportunity is a promise, while for the pessimistic person, the opportunity is often lost. It is not that God causes man to lose it, it is man himself who fails to seize the opportunity, often from fear or suspicion or too much caution. [ii]
Our life of limitation in the world, the nature of this world’s comforts and pleasures which are so changeable and unreliable, and the falseness that one finds in so much of life- if one complained about it, a whole lifetime would be too short to complain about it fully; every moment would be needed to cover all the complaints we have. But the way out is to look at the cheerful side of it, the bright side. Especially for those of us who are religious or spiritual, for those who seek for God and for meaning in life. We need not worry about how bad someone is, for how wrong they are or for how awful life is. For if we simply look into the heart of God, which is behind all we see and hear and feel and think, how can we really think that there is no hope. For when we look into what is really at work, behind the scenes, we cannot help but see God’s actions and creativity and miracles, there in justice, in love, in grace and in hope.
By looking at life with hope yet realistically, we can continue to grow and become more spirit filled in our lives. For it is not by being happy all the time that we become optimistic, it is by being honest about our lives and its challenges while at the same time allowing God’s grace to inform us and let the hope and joy that grace brings us, inform our response to life’s challenges. This is what Jesus did all the time. [iii]
Pastor Burke Owens
[i]“Therefore, I say to you, don’t worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 23 There is more to life than food and more to the body than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither plant nor harvest, they have no silo or barn, yet God feeds them. You are worth so much more than birds! 25 Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life?[d] 26 If you can’t do such a small thing, why worry about the rest? 27 Notice how the lilies grow. They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth. But I say to you that even Solomon in all his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these. 28 If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, how much more will God do for you, you people of weak faith! 29 Don’t chase after what you will eat and what you will drink. Stop worrying. 30 All the nations of the world long for these things. Your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, desire his kingdom and these things will be given to you as well.
32 “Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights in giving you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to those in need. Make for yourselves wallets that don’t wear out—a treasure in heaven that never runs out. No thief comes near there, and no moth destroys. 34 Where your treasure is, there your heart will be too. Luke 12: 22-34
[ii] 7 “Ask, and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks, receives. Whoever seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door is opened. 9 Who among you will give your children a stone when they ask for bread? 10 Or give them a snake when they ask for fish? 11 If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him. 12 Therefore, you should treat people in the same way that you want people to treat you; this is the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7: 7-12
[iii] ‘I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you 45 so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.’ Matthew 5: 44-48