Daily Devotional: Freed For Wholeness, Freed for Life

lords prayer 6I continue looking at prayers that have both pulled me and others through personal trials and struggles.   In the last several posts I have looked at the Lord’s Prayer itself.

 

Here are the words of the Lord’s Prayer, as included in my United Church of Christ Book of Worship:

 

“Our Father,

Who art in heaven,

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come.

Thy will be done

On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our sins,

As we forgive those who sin against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil.

For this is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.”

 

As I continue to reflect on the Lord’s Prayer and our own lives, I am struck again by the prayer “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil”.

temptation of jesusI find this prayer interesting because of how my understanding of temptation has evolved over the years. For Christians, the symbol for temptation we have is Jesus’ temptation at the beginning of his public life as minister, activist, healer, and (for Christians at least) embodiment of the Sacred and the Sacred path.

All Gospels but the youngest one, John, tell a version of the same story.   The earliest Gospel, Mark, describes Jesus going out to the wilderness, living among the wild beasts, and being tempted  for forty days, but without getting into details about the temptation itself.   The later Gospels of Luke and Matthew don’t mention the wild beasts but do give a very detailed description of what Jesus’ experience of temptation looks like: he is confronted by a personal being,  Satan (literally “ha Satan”  or “adversary”).   This adversary raises up common, ordinary human desires – for food, for power, for importance.  This adversary invites Jesus to embrace these desires in ways that go against what Jesus knows to be the Sacred path to which he is called and which he later invites us to join.   In addition to not dangling the sort of glamorous seductive pursuits we connect with temptation in front of Jesus but instead our common ordinary basic desires, this adversary actually uses what in Jesus day would have been considered basic guidance for goodness – the Scriptures themselves – to justify these choices.

Jesus sees through these temptations, digs deep into himself, finds his truth, and responds by speaking and acting out of this truth. He chooses to live into the truth that he has found in his own life, not buying into what masquerades as truth in order to justify parting ways with the path laid out before him.

Devil_vs_JesusAt first glance at this story, it can appear as if it is a warning of the powers outside of ourselves which can lead us astray. After all, it is a powerful spiritual being that Jesus confronts, Satan, right?  This is some monster of temptation, masquerading as a guide. No wonder we pray for something outside of ourselves – God – to no lead us into temptation!

But other answers appear as we look at the full picture.   James 1 warns people on a spiritual path, “No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. 14 But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; 15 then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved.”

James warns us that a crass literalism which looks for the things outside of ourselves that will lead us astray fails to recognize that ultimately when we are led astray, it is by our own desires. It is parts of ourselves which we choose to listen to and cultivate in ways that are harmful to the rest of who we are, to others, to God’s earth.

Alot of the imagery we are given in our specific faiths – in my case, the Christian faith – can be seen as really not best understood literally: as literally angels, devils, and skies splitting open at second comings. So much of this way of talking about the spiritual life makes much more sense to me as a symbolic way of describing our inner worlds and our inner journeys.  Read in this way, the language of a Satan or monsters confronting Jesus or us can be a metaphoric way of looking at our own inner world — a way of making more personal to us the very desires James 1 talks about.

peaceable kingdomThese desires, like the things that tempt Jesus, are not evil on the face of it. We need food to eat. Caring for others by feeding or nurturing them some other way is not bad and often good. Being in charge, sure, can be an opportunity to abuse and exploit but also an option to serve. Power can be channeled as well to good as bad.

Those are just the temptations Jesus faces. But even less benign temptations like those we often paint as evil – to drink to much, to sleep around, to be greedy, for instance – have at their root natural and healthy desires. We desire to unwind, to relax, to put aside the stress of the day, in our drinking. In the right context, that can be a good.   At the root of irresponsible sexual choices is often a desire for connection.  Though connection can occur without sex, most of us are wired to need some of the connection we have to occur at times in a romantic, sensual way.   On its own, that can be good and a healthy desire, even if irresponsible sex ultimately does not meet the deep needs for connection which sexuality expressed with real deep connection, authenticity, and fidelity can bring. And though to get resources at the exploitation of others through greed is bad, the desire to put aside for yourself and your family is not bad on its own.  At the root of each of these temptations are desires which, in their right context, can be fulfilled in a healthy, life-giving way.

For me, when I read the story of the temptation, the threatening figures – the wild animals of Mark; the Enemy of our souls in Luke and Matthew – all can be seen as symbolic ways of talking about the wild and unexplored sides of who we are. We each have the sides of ourselves we know very well, but also have sides we don’t face, don’t explore, that feel like wild beasts in the wilderness and even at times as adversaries of our souls. Jung called these our shadow sides.

For some of us sexual temptation is so vexing not because sex or sexuality is bad, but because we have pushed aside our sexuality or centered on our sexuality in such a way that instead of having made a peace and understanding with who we are in that department, what otherwise could be natural healthy desires can become like a monster that pounces us from behind the bush or like a fast-talking salesmen which hoodwinks us out of our best selves.   When we remain unconscious and unaware of that side of who we are, it gains a power over us that can be vexing.

Similarly our anger or our despair can be like this for us.   When we fear a strong emotion, we can try to push it down, to ignore it when it comes up, thinking that such action removes its power over us. But in actual fact, our emotions – like our sexuality – are all just another side of who we are.   When we push them aside or try to reject them, they take on a life of their own within us and we can find ourselves even more powerless against them.

To me the model Jesus gives in going to the desert, led by Spirit, and living among the wild beasts, even facing the Tempting “Enemy” of our souls, is that Jesus chooses to take time to become aware of his own shadow side and model for us our need to do the same. He chooses to befriend the parts of himself which could be viewed as monsters – lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my! — so that they become more tame and will not sabotage his path jung 1on his journey but instead be helpers on the path.   He chooses even to hear fully the sales pitch of Satan, this personification of the ways in which our society teaches us to justify choosing the good in a way that becomes bad.   In doing so, he becomes acquainted with those sides of himself which can trip him up. To me it mirrors the words of an Eminem and Rihanna song:

 

“The Monster”

(feat. Rihanna)

 

[Hook – Rihanna:]

I’m friends with the monster that’s under my bed

Get along with the voices inside of my head

You’re trying to save me, stop holding your breath

And you think I’m crazy, yeah, you think I’m crazy

 

[Verse 1 – Eminem:]

I wanted the fame, but not the cover of Newsweek

Oh, well, guess beggars can’t be choosey

Wanted to receive attention for my music

Wanted to be left alone in public. Excuse me

For wanting my cake and eat it too, and wanting it both ways

Fame made me a balloon ’cause my ego inflated

When I blew; see, but it was confusing

‘Cause all I wanted to do is be the Bruce Lee of loose leaf

Abused ink, used it as a tool when I blew steam (wooh!)

Hit the lottery, oh wee

But with what I gave up to get it was bittersweet

It was like winning a used mink

Ironic ’cause I think I’m getting so huge I need a shrink

I’m beginning to lose sleep: one sheep, two sheep

Going cuckoo and cooky as Kool Keith

But I’m actually weirder than you think

‘Cause I’m

 

[Hook – Rihanna:]

I’m friends with the monster that’s under my bed

Get along with the voices inside of my head

You’re trying to save me, stop holding your breath

And you think I’m crazy, yeah, you think I’m crazy

 

Well, that’s nothing

Well, that’s nothing

 

[Verse 2 – Eminem:]

Now, I ain’t much of a poet but I know somebody once told me

To seize the moment and don’t squander it

‘Cause you never know when it all could be over tomorrow

So I keep conjuring, sometimes I wonder where these thoughts spawn from

(Yeah, pondering’ll do you wonders.

No wonder you’re losing your mind the way it wanders.)

Yoda-loda-le-hee-hoo

I think it went wandering off down yonder

And stumbled on ‘ta Jeff VanVonderen

‘Cause I need an interventionist

To intervene between me and this monster

And save me from myself and all this conflict

‘Cause the very thing that I love’s killing me and I can’t conquer it

My OCD’s conking me in the head

Keep knocking, nobody’s home, I’m sleepwalking

I’m just relaying what the voice in my head’s saying

Don’t shoot the messenger, I’m just friends with the

 

[Hook – Rihanna:]

I’m friends with the monster that’s under my bed

Get along with the voices inside of my head

You’re trying to save me, stop holding your breath

And you think I’m crazy, yeah, you think I’m crazy

 

Well, that’s nothing

Well, that’s nothing

 

[Verse 3 – Eminem:]

Call me crazy but I have this vision

One day that I’d walk amongst you a regular civilian

But until then drums get killed and I’m coming straight at

MC’s, blood get spilled and I’ll

Take you back to the days that I’d get on a Dre track

Give every kid who got played that

Pumped up feeling and shit to say back

To the kids who played him

I ain’t here to save the fucking children

But if one kid out of a hundred million

Who are going through a struggle feels it and then relates that’s great

It’s payback, Russell Wilson falling way back

In the draft, turn nothing into something, still can make that

Straw into gold chump, I will spin Rumpelstiltskin in a haystack

Maybe I need a straightjacket, face facts

I am nuts for real, but I’m okay with that

It’s nothing, I’m still friends with the

 

[Hook – Rihanna:]

I’m friends with the monster that’s under my bed

Get along with the voices inside of my head

You’re trying to save me, stop holding your breath

And you think I’m crazy, yeah, you think I’m crazy

[2x]

 

Well, that’s nothing

Well, that’s nothing

 

You see, the reality is that as we learn to befriend these sides of ourselves which we view as negative: our pain, our heartache, our loneliness, our fear, or even parts of ourselves we think as “evil” (such as our anger, our sexuality), we not only find greater peace but can learn to listen to the truth that side of ourselves teach us.  In learning to hear the lessons they teach us, we can meet our own needs better while also regaining a sense of power over drives that otherwise might sabotage our journey as well.

jung 2We feel temptation to express our sexuality in healthy ways in part because we have romantic or sensual needs we have not learned to address, or we have self-image issues we think we can resolve that way.

We feel anger because of feeling disrespected or needy in areas of our lives we either don’t know how to or haven’t the time to address. Anger is a sign of a pain, a loss, or a need we need to take care of in ourselves.

Ultimately a part of why practices like meditation and journaling, as well fostering relationships with  friends and mentors who hold us accountable, are so important on the spiritual journey is they are things which open us up to really more clearly seeing and understanding such parts of ourselves. As we do so we can embrace these things which, pursued in the wrong context as destructive, embraced appropriately are life-giving.

Ultimately the prayer to deliver us from temptation is, then, not just a prayer to have strength to resist temptation, but also a prayer that God help guide us on a journey to wholeness, where the many pieces of who we are can be woven again more intimately into a oneness. This oneness is the holiness that Jesus embodied, so much so that in his life the Sacred we call God and the secular, earthiness we call human are seen as one. It is the same enlightenment, truth, wisdom that the great spiritual masters have pointed to in their various messages and examples.

It is a path worth striving toward, and ultimately not one of going without at all but rather of discovering and embracing the greatest good and joy available to us. Let us walk that golden path together.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

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