Aloha Dear Ones,
It’s a beautiful day on Maui, sky the color of the, “Sky Blue,” crayon in your childhood box of 100 Crayola Crayons. Big, round, white clouds float above the horizon. The trade winds have been up for the last few days, tossing palms about, fanning the sea into long, peaking waves that shine silver in the sunlight. It’s a good day to explore the mystery.
Yesterday I was telling you about my experience as a Unity Church chaplain, and how the practice of evolutionary spirituality has been impacting the prayers I say in church. I shared about being asked to give the opening prayer at our Christmas Eve service, held in a larger public venue than our regular meetings, attended by widely diverse mix of people.
I was grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the sacred celebration of the birth of Jesus. Christmas Eve was the most precious night my devout, Lutheran parents spent with my older brother and me each year. Christ’s birth was proof of God’s love, manifest on earth. For our stoic, Scandinavian family, it was the sweetest emotional connection we experienced.
The prospect of giving the opening prayer at the Unity Christmas Eve service also made me feel anxious about, “getting it right.” I wanted to celebrate the Christ who was, “the Son of God,” and, “the son of man,” while honoring Unity’s belief that all paths lead to God, while being available to the emerging call of the evolutionary impulse. It makes me smile, days later, the notion of being worried about getting mysteries so beyond my intellect, “right.”
My main concern was my ego casting it’s pervasive shadow on the message, of the prayer that could be for the greatest good being distorted through the lens of my egoic conditioning. After all, this would be the biggest stage I’d been on, in the active role of chaplain. My bravely choosing to, “not hide your light under a bushel,” would, of course, not proceed with smooth purity, however pure my intention. Our human condition predicts our ego rising up with our altruism showing up.
Let me explain the way, “ego,” is meant in this spiritual context. We are not referring to the ego proposed by Freud in his three part model of human consciousness. Freud described ego as the psychic structure representing the conscious self, that mediates between the id, the unconscious, and the superego, the parental/socially-constructed conscious. In this model, the ego is our friend, helping us sort through drives and patterns of which we are unaware, and the influence of cultural expectations. When modern psychologists use the term, “ego strength,” they are speaking of a healthy self concept, a cohesive, resilient personality, able to function successfully in the world.
Ah–were it that simple. For those of you who are saying, “Well, it is,” I’m feeling you. Really. Let’s just say that functioning successfully means different things to different people at different times. Many people brilliantly successful by worldly standards long for a deeper experience of life, for meaning, for truth, for freedom, for love–for the real thing.
People wanting more of the real thing become seekers, either diving more deeply into the philosophy and religion of their family traditions, or exploring other cultural and spiritual practices. Sooner or later, seekers discover a teaching about humanity living in the illusion of separation, of being separate from the essential mystery that set life in motion, and from each other.
As seekers, we passionately want to break through that illusion, but how can we see clearly? We begin to de-construct the story that created the illusion of separation from God, from each other. All the conditioning from eons of evolution, from culture, family, religion, all the defensive patterns developed as we make our way in a challenging world–this is what spiritual teachers refer to as ego. In psychological terms, we might call this ego the false self, the conditioned personality self, automatically analyzing each moment in reference to past threats, responding with learned defenses.
Yes, we can see pieces of Freud’s three-part model of consciousness throughout the spiritual definition of ego, but let’s not make ourselves crazy. Maybe it’s time for an article in, “Psychology Today.”
O.K., back to Christmas Eve and giving the opening prayer. To be able to show up in the moment, free from patterns of less than/more than, deeply resonating with Christ consciousness, available to the Holy Spirit/evolutionary impulse, was my intention.
I remembered Craig Hamilton (IntegralEnlightenment.com), with whom I’d been studying evolutionary spirituality, saying something like, “As we become more aware of how our ego works, are able to see it kick in, and then choose to act in ways more aligned with the greater good, the ego’s hold on us lessens, with practice. But we always have to assume it’s there. We always need to be willing to see more clearly, to ask for feedback, to go forward with the humility of not knowing for sure.”
My response to this truth was mixed. It was kind of a relief to know I couldn’t know, I couldn’t guarantee clarity. I also felt overwhelmed by the scope of this inquiry, the complexity. I had to release the hold my mind was taking, to let go of trying to get it right. I said a simple prayer, “Beloved Presence, thank you for showing up on Christmas Eve for the greatest good, beyond my personality self. I give myself to you, I lay my stuff at your feet.”
For the next week, I was aware of a caring presence, most of time just holding me. Sometimes, I became aware of a phrase, a feeling, that could be a sweet, deep part of the Christmas Eve prayer–but I had a sense of being guided towards something, rather than being given the thing whole. I meditated in an open way, intending to cling to nothing, yet gratefully receiving loving grace as I awoke to it.
On Christmas Eve, I arrived at Iao Theater early (not my pattern–I really must have been motivated beyond my usual conditioning:), hugged some friends and found the seat reserved for the prayer chaplain. There was a flutter of nerves in my stomach, and a flood of visual and auditory sensation as I took in the preparations for the service, the musicians, the choir, the hula hui.
For a half hour, I sat in stillness. There was a serene, expanding aliveness, that seemed to be the nature of everything.
The service started. I knew the opening prayer was after the first carol. The woman who was platforming was also leading the carols. After the first verse, she motioned me to come up on stage. I carefully climbed the steps (yes, in heels too high), and stood beside the singing woman, thinking the carol was about to end, smiling as I joined in singing what I thought was the last phrase. We didn’t sing more than two verses of any other carol that night, but, by God, as I stood in front of 500 people, I discovered we were going to sing all four stanzas of, “Joy to the World.”
Now, who knows those last two verses? I certainly didn’t, but here I am, singing away, hoping my memory will be jogged. My spirits were bright enough through the third stanza, but my memory had not been jogged much at all, and I had faked half the words as best I could. As my partner on stage zealously began the fourth verse, I felt a sinking sensation–a decision had to be made. Was it better to stop trying to sing, would that be more authentic? If I didn’t sing, would it detract from the field that was being created, would it distract someone? Would I be less connected to everyone who was also trying to make it through that tune?
As these questions are swirling through my mind, I happen to glance down and catch the eye of the only woman in our regular congregation with whom there is an ongoing discomfort (she said something nasty about me years ago, and hasn’t accepted any reconciliatory gesture). O.K., it could have been the lens of my ego, but I could have sworn she was smirking. She was close enough to see me faking the lyrics.
I could not go there. I chose to stay with the carol, singing the words I could make out. I put my focus on the woman who was leading the carol, watching her lips, letting her words be mine. I didn’t match her all that well, but I let go of needing to get it right. As the music ended, I gazed around the room, marveling at all the souls, at the one soul, present.
My partner on the platform introduced me. I looked into the faces across the theater, took a breath, made eye contact with a few more people, and began, “Sweet Beloved Presence,”…all of a sudden, my friend on the platform decided the microphone needed adjusting. She fumbled with it, finally removing the mic and in a stage whisper, told me, “I’ll just hold it.”
It felt like the whole theater held its breath, waiting to see, well, more where the energy would go, or what the quality of it would be, rather than what would happen next.
Magically, my personality self stopped being triggered, stopped worrying, stopped needing to figure out or control anything. I gently put my hand on the mic, lifted it to me and resumed praying. I felt connected with the soul of everyone present, in that serenely alive awareness I’d experienced meditating before the service. I can’t recreate the prayer, but I would like to share my memory of it with you.
“Sweet Beloved Presence, we know that your love created all that is. We know that your love, and your grace, and your mercy, are the only true powers at work in our lives.
Beloved Presence, on this night, we celebrate the birth of your love as Christ Jesus. We know that you loved us so much, that you sent one in form to be a way show-er, to teach us how to know you more, to love you more, to teach us how to love each other more. We rejoice in that Christ light.
Yet, even as we rejoice in the birth of Jesus, we know that there are those here with a care on their hearts. We are aware of our brothers and sisters around the world who need our love now, and so, Beloved, we claim the power of your love for these dear ones, not only for ourselves. We put our awareness on the space between us, knowing that in the space between, there is a deeper, higher reality, a truer experience of your love emerging.
Sweet Dear One, we lean forward, together, into the edge of that space between us, into that pure love, knowing that in that holy space, healing is possible, transformation is possible, knowing that together, the power of that evolving love is so much stronger than any challenge we could face alone. We open ourselves to your living Presence, that we may hear with the ear of the heart, that we may truly receive your love, as we give thanks for the gift of Christ.
Beloved Presence, we release this prayer unto your deep heart–we rely not on the brilliance of our minds, nor on our conditioned personality selves. We place our trust in the perfect unfolding, on this night, in the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
And so it is. Amen.”
Love and blessings,