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Presented November 24, 2013, by Jim Burns
Listen to a recording of "The Glass Ceiling of Faith"
30:56 minutes - 28.3 MB - The Glass Ceiling of Faith .mp3 file.
I want to talk about faith
I want to talk about how
All things that live bring gifts to me.
I want to talk about how the flowers
Offer their scent to me.
How the trees spread their branches
And shield the heat for me.
And then drop their leaves to let me walk
In softness on the earth.
I want to talk about faith,
While the winter wind in the trees
sinks to a whisper allowing me
To hear the beauty surrounding me
--- in silence.
Today, I want to talk about faith---
But faith slips through my fingers
As the wind now rises and the rain comes;
Disseminating my spirit and my doubtful hope.
Let this then be my small poem
As once again I raise my awareness
To the life and joy and love the surrounds me.
Let this poem then be the first prayer
That opens me again to faith.
Inspired by Irish poet, David Whyte and The Course in Miracles
When I started to prepare this talk I felt I had a good story of faith in action to tell. As I started to actually put my thought on faith to paper, I became unsure, I started to wonder if I knew as much as I thought I knew.
So, I went to the dictionary: I found most definitions to be rational, logical formulations of the word, 'faith'. I will quickly run through a few:
Faith: Confident belief in the truth, value or trustworthiness of a
person, idea or thing.
Faith: (used as a noun) A body of religious belief i.e. Catholicism, a body of approved dogma and morals.
Faith: A theologically defined belief of God and a trusting acceptance of God's will.
Faith: A conviction of the truth of certain doctrines of religion --- especially when they cannot be explained by logic or reason.
Faith: A friend that you trust
Maybe this captures it:
Faith is to believe in something or someone.
Belief is to trust in something or someone.
Trust is to have faith in something or someone with whom you feel safe and loved.
With this we go full circle: From faith - to belief - to trust, and back to faith again. (Not so helpful.)
So, I went to the famous Hebrews 11-1, for the biblical take on Faith.
King James version:
11-1----Now faith is the substance of things hoped for,
The evidence of things not seen.
English Standard Version:
11-1---Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for,
The conviction of things not seen.
New International Version:
11-1---Now faith is confidence in what we hope for
And assurance about what we do not see.
The same, yet different. It seems each time you define Faith you find another word that describes it just a little bit better, yet not quite it.
So, would you put your faith in the definition of faith? No, you might use the definition as a guide to understanding, but what faith means to you is only definable by you, and it often looks like it is more like a moving target. It shifts with new information, new understanding.
Faith is our continuous attempt to grasp truth--- to hold to it tightly, and not let it go. But truth is so much like a butterfly landing in the palm of your hand. But to hold it, to grasp it, is to crush it, to lose it.
The grasping comes from fear. Fear of loss. Fear of losing hold and being alone and adrift.
So, I named this talk "The Glass Ceiling of Faith." A strange title, indeed. It probably evokes in some of you the limitations women in the workplace have encountered, as they strive for better pay and advancement.
My meaning for Glass Ceiling is similar in that it means limitations, limitations to my faith. I encountered my glass ceiling of faith, very graphically two years ago.
From the introduction you have at least a sketch of my background; Teaching for 30 years, including John Wood and teaching a few courses at QU. What is important to this conversation is that I have been a lifelong Catholic, and in the early years I served in the Christian Brothers Religious Order for 13 years.
Two years ago, I found myself riding over to Unity Village in Lee Summit, by Kansas City, with Ron Fritts. Ron was the minister of Unity of Quincy at the time and we were heading for a spiritual retreat. As we drove over we talked about how much of a shift I had recently made in my life. Three years ago, my wife, Mary died after much illness, and I was lost in the transition, as it were. I started to take a good deep look at what I believed in.
I have taken my "faith" and my relationship to God very seriously all through my life.
My concept of faith and my relationship to the Catholic Church has always been a problem for me. It has been fraught with conflicts, situations where I would find myself on the wrong side of a moral issue, such as abortion, or my response to poverty or my stance on war. I would find that my understanding of morals and ethics did not seem to correlate with the official standing of the Church. To resolve the conflict of faith, I would often seek council. The best priestly guidance I received was to acknowledge the difference and to pray for the 'faith' to be able to believe what the Church tells me to.
This never really satisfied me but I settled back into acceptance. Recognizing the conflict just wouldn't resolve itself, I would make the best of it. What that amounted to was to just pick and choose what I could buy into and what I had to just leave on the table, unresolved. This is the case for many of my Catholic friends, and you may have heard of them being called the cafeteria Catholics - pick and choose what you want on your plate. But, for me, that did little to add any passion, or juice to my spiritual life.
So, I started to look outside the box, as it were.
I always thought you Unitarians were a good bunch. You were always friendly to me and very welcoming. But, at that same time, I was also looking at the Unity Church. Ron Fritts was there and I knew him and started talking seriously about spirituality. I was now searching for answers outside of the Catholic Church; this was big, very scary for me. But, soon my eyes were opened to a whole body of spiritual thought that had been unavailable to me in the Catholic tradition.
I saw a new way of viewing the life and the person of Jesus of Nazareth. For the first time I was grasping the idea that he had been here on earth (a man, just like me). He knew he could show us a way of life that would resurrect us from our ordinary lives, to a way of living that truly would be a life of love and compassion with all people whom I would meet.
After all of my difficulty developing a very deep spiritual life in the Catholic Church, I saw possibilities of deeper understanding here. I discovered a whole different view of the divinity and humanity of Jesus, a whole new view of my divinity and humanity, as a person like Jesus. It was exhilarating to think and feel like I could truly follow Jesus. He was approachable, not an untouchable deity, but a human person with a message for me, a way of living from within; a path, that he lived and said I could do what he was showing, and more. It really seemed possible to mirror what Jesus did in his life. He told us how to live and I was hearing his message as if it was for the first time. It was all in a new context. It really seemed possible to do what Jesus did in his life. My life too, could be miracles. I am not talking about turning water into wine, not magic tricks, but miracles. In this new way of thinking I could see the blessings that manifest to me in every day life as miracles.
But, still, I was skeptical. I needed more, more time to work it through, to get past the fear. To belive all this was exciting, but frightening. I still had feelings that if I did not stay in the Catholic Church I would lose my soul if quit. That would put me in that old category which I was aware of since childhood; of a fallen away Catholic! And in Catholic circles, that is not good!
This brings us back to me sitting in the car, two years ago, with Ron Fritts. Two years ago, this very month, 2011. We were on our way to Unity village, the spiritual headquarters of the Unity Church complex. We were going to take in a day and a half of a Retreat that was being given by Bishop John Selby Spong, a retired Episcopalian Bishop. Bishop Spong has been continuously challenging much of traditional Church doctrine for the past 30 years. This was all new and I was filled with enthusiasm for this new direction. But, the fear lingered. Was what I was doing okay with God? I tried to push those thoughts down and open my mind to what I could learn.
We got there and I quickly was into it with both feet. I was really inspired by what I was hearing. Later that night, I found it hard to settle down, but I finally got to sleep. By 4:30am I found myself awake with little promise of sleep returning. I got up and knew this was the day I had to move off the dime. I dressed and went out into the dark of the early morning. I walked over to the outside Labyrinth. I said my opening prayer and started to walk the path of the labyrinth. I could just make out the white lines on the pavement, directing me forward on the path. At some point, approaching the middle I started to speak, quietly but aloud, "I want to believe. I want to believe."
As I walked, what I wanted to believe was formulating in my mind. I knew what I wanted to believe now. I wanted to truly believe that what I was learning in Unity was the Truth. What I was hearing here would sustain me if I just let go of the old paradigm and trusted in my heart-truth. If I could release my dependence on the external authority of the Church, and believe what my heart was trying to tell me, I could walk the rest of the labyrinth, alive and free.
As I reached the center of the labyrinth,. I felt hot, though it was a cold 35 degrees. Pressure was building up in me. I felt like I was going to explode. Then, a sense of lightness came over me, I felt like I was rising. Intense pressure around my head, feeling an obstruction, a ceiling. Flash! A Whoosh!! I was through it--- lifted up and through--- shattering the glass ceiling of limitation. I was released. A chill shook my body. I opened my eyes. It was still dark. I realized I was now softly saying, "I do believe. I do believe." I sat for a while, and wiped blinding tears from my eyes.
I am not sure how long I was in that circle in the center, but I know tears were streaming down my face and I was getting louder with my call to the Source. I had shifted to, "I do believe. I do believe."
I stood up. I turned to the opening to the return path. It struck me, where are you going now? How can I go without the Catholic Church protecting me? How can I know what God/the Universe wants of me? How can I think I know better than the Catholic Church?
It came to me. All my life I have been trying to find my soul in the context of the Church. I have felt I was losing my faith in God. But, no! I have been losing my faith in the Church. I was finally seeing the difference. It was not my faith in God, or the Universe or the Source or me that I was losing; it was my faith in the Church. The Church had been acting like a filter, a glass ceiling between God and me. I had been convinced I had no salvation without the Church.
But, no more!! I can stand alone. I have everything in me to fulfill my purpose here on earth. I can talk to God directly. I can follow my heart/truth with confidence and find my way freely. My heart calmed. It was time to go. I would go, with my intention set, to believe. To believe in me; to believe that God has brought me through all I have been through up to this point, with love, and I am to walk on out of here with an open heart, free from self imposed requirements, free to meet the great Truth in my heart, and be confident in my steps along this new path.
I looked across the labyrinth. The sun was starting to bring light to the sky. A new day was breaking on the horizon. I took a step, and journey began.
The Quincy Unitarian Church Home
The list of Selected Sermons.