Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. DeeAnne Lowman, Associate Pastor

 

 

 

Living Authentically With Our Giants

August 16, 2009

 

 

1 Samuel 17:31-40


Dee

Rev. Dee Lowman

 

We are in the middle of a series of sermons in the month of August on the story of David and Goliath.  In our series so far, we have learned that the story of David and Goliath was not originally about David. It was told about another Israelite named Elhanan. It was originally the story of Elhanan and Goliath. But the Israelites so loved the story and they so loved David that as the legend of David grew the story was adapted and rewritten and expanded and became part of the legend of David. [i] We've learned about the importance that Scripture and tradition have given to older siblings – David not being one, among others.  We've talked about how important it is to know our appropriate place and role, and that we are sometimes called out of that role and place in order to change things for the better. Today we will be talking about authenticity, especially when we are living among the giants of our living – catastrophic, enormous events, actions, and circumstances, and yes, even people.

 

We know from Scripture that David is a younger brother.  As Dean talked about last week, these brothers attempted - perhaps out of jealousy - to repress David's true nature and calling.  From later writings in Ecclesiasticus, we know that David's nature was already known.  In one passage, the writer tells us that “[David] played with lions as though they were young goats, and with bears as though they were lambs of the flock.” In the text for today Samuel told David that he was too young and inexperienced to take on the likes of Goliath.  David defended his decision to take on Goliath because of his experience in tending sheep, even saving them from lions or bears by killing them with his bare hands. David was also someone who has a deep relationship with God – a God he is certain will help him win the day for his people. So Saul lets him go and fight, but Saul “put [Saul's big old] bronze helmet on his head and belted [Saul's] sword on over the armor.” The text tells us that David tried to walk but he could hardly budge. David told Saul, “I can't even move with all this stuff on me. I'm not used to this.” And he took it all off. [ii] David knew that what had worked for Saul, who was chosen to be king because (remember) he was tall and good looking, would not work for him – a young and perhaps not-tall-at-all shepherd.  He had to do this his way.  He had to figure out what he needed to do, and not use someone else's strategy or plan.  He needed to lead his way.

 

For over a year now, I've been enrolled in a Clergy Spiritual Leadership Development course at the Shalem Institute in Bethesda, Maryland.  I've had a small cohort of clergy with whom I have learned and talked and prayed with.  Early on, we were to define our reason for taking the course.  Mine was simple:  I wanted a deeper sense of myself and my relationship with God so that I could be a better pastor-leader-mother-person (not necessarily in that order all the time).  I want to continue to be someone who practices what she preaches; I want to be a faithful follower of Jesus and his teachings who lives into and out of who I really am.  Through out the last year, I've spent time reading leaders in the Spiritual Formation movement over time, like Margaret Guenther and Tilden Edwards, both visionaries in helping many discover a newfound sense of God's presence in their daily living through spiritual guidance and helping many to a deeper connection and sense of God in their lives.

 

I've tried all manner of ways to go deeper into my self with God as companion.  One of my cohorts prays for two hours every morning.  Every morning! Another spends tons of time in silence.  In silence!  Well, have ya met me? These practices just haven't work for me.   I do pray and I do keep intentional silence on occasion, but they seem to be times more for me to reflect rather than really looking for how I could be authentic and real in my pursuit of God.  I used to practice Scripture study every morning BC – before child. That doesn't seem to be something I can stick to anymore. So what would help me to live authentically as God's daughter?  What do I need to embrace and/or let go of so that I can always be truly me?

 

To learn more about ourselves and how we live and function in the world, we have lots of options.  I would suggest that perhaps David didn’t have access to these methods, so his work may have been more difficult.  Let me say on the outset that I am very much in favor of these tools that help us know more about ourselves.  Personality assessments like Myers-Briggs, Thomas & Kilmann’s conflict style assessments, spiritual gifts assessments, career assessments, and tests that validate our IQ and our scholastic abilities – all these can and do help us know more about how we “live and move and have our being.”  But working with these assessments and tests begins as an external exercise.  During my July residency this summer, Tilden Edwards talked about various ways we encounter and attempt to understand and meet God, a sensation or place he called the spiritual heart. This is the awareness of openness, oneness, allness, namaste. This is where we can live a life centered on listening and acting for God. This is not the perfect place, but a place where the perfect and imperfect can dwell together. “The God in me meets the God in you.”  This is the work of truly knowing and accepting who we are with God in Jesus.  This is what can happen in the mysteriously internal spiritual heart.

 

We need first to encounter a sense of our spiritual heart and, second, to observe what works for us that helps to sustain that center, that spiritual heart.  We can work to discover our sense of our spiritual heart in committed times of silence (ugh, but I'm getting better at it), serendipitous opportunities for prayer, or even times of action. But all of this must been done out of a sense of who WE are, not who we THINK God wants us to be.  Remember, the place of the spiritual heart is where the perfect and the imperfect dwell together.

 

I've rediscovered my practice of yoga. During my time at my last residency for Shalem, one of the other members of the course offered to lead a yoga practice a few times during the week.  I got so enthusiastic about regaining my practice that I've dusted off my mat, bought a book about yoga and a video to lead me in my practice, and I even have a daily devotional centering guide to use before or after my practice each day. And I can honestly say that my practice persistently has moments and movements of imperfection that I am working on “leaving in” for God to see.  What I've discovered is that, for me, connecting my body and my mind and my spiritual center all at the same time is the only way right now that I can be fully attentive.

 

In many yoga practices, teachers often refer to this going deeper into our spiritual center as the practice of being present. In the tradition of Kripalu yoga (Kripalu is Sanskrit for being compassionate) the practice of being present is not focused on any specific faith tradition, so this presence could be a deeper sense of self, a spiritual awareness, or – in my case – a deeper connection and presence to God.  In educational circles, they call people like me kinesthetic learner, (we learn through our bodies) and it is a practice that helps me know who I am, inside and out.  And sometimes I feel like I am indeed inside out. My hope in pursuing this practice is that it will result in a sustainable ability to face some if not most of my giants.  I appreciate that I am being invited to be compassionate during my practice – mostly to myself, and then out into the world – what can be possible from a meeting of me and God on my mat in this mysterious place of my spiritual heart.

 

To live authentically among giants – or giant things that happen – takes its toll.  It can and does change us.  Being authentic doesn't necessarily mean staying stagnant with who we are.  When the call comes that there is a spot on the x-ray, or a job is eliminated and you were already living on the edge, or when the waiting for a child becomes unbearable, or you fear your child is using drugs or alcohol, or parents and friends turn away because of beliefs you hold fast to – it can and does change us. Sometimes forever.  Giant events can cause us to become afraid or bitter, or they can create in us a need and desire to go deeper and discover that we are much more capable then we or others even imagined.  We can continue to be who we are and still be changed through our encounters with giants.  During our encounter there will be the time to be sad, disappointed, frustrated, even angry.  Those are feelings and we don't simply do away with feelings when we are closer to God.  In fact, I think that being authentic includes the total acknowledgement of all that we sense when we meet these tough, even impossible times in our lives. 

 

I want to say that I don't think this story of David defeating Goliath is supposed to be just about defeating giants for us.  Some Goliaths in our lives we just can't defeat.  We won't win all the time, no matter how much we practice our slingshot skills.  We can be authentic and genuine in the midst of giants we will never kill if we continue to stay in touch with and know who we are at the deepest core of our being.  To be real among life's giants is not easy; we all know that.  Being authentic doesn't mean we will immediately know that we should run to the battlefield and defeat them, or that we even CAN.  To be authentic we first must know who we are with God in the mystery of this spiritual center or spiritual heart.  If we don't know ourselves well enough, we rely on the perceptions and expectations of others to determine who we are and what we should be and do.  Instead, why don't we listen deeply to the one who made us and knows us inside and out, the one we know will companion us when we meet the giants. If we take on other people's lives, perceptions and practices and in the midst of troubled times, no one else may know, but we will.  And so will God.  We are all beautifully and wonderfully made to be solely and wholly ourselves.  We honor God when we honor who we are and who we are becoming.

 

 

 

 

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[i]               Dean Snyder, August 2, 2009

 

[ii]               Eugene Peterson, The Message, I Samuel 17:39.