Shared at our Urban Sanctuary Sunday Gathering on 12/10/17
We are reading Pema Chodron’s book Practicing Peace during this season of Advent. We have copies available for those of you who are interested in exploring it more. It is short book and a quick read, but profound.
In the final chapter she quotes a German political thinker Rudolph Bahro who said, “When an old culture is dying, the new culture is created by those people who are not afraid to be insecure.”
Chodron is writing about the concept of positive insecurity and what is made possible inside of us when we are willing to sit with uncomfortable emotions. In mainstream culture, is common for people to flake or what is called “ghosting” instead of having a difficult conversation or dealing with what is real. And when we look beyond the personal to the global scale, we can see the consequences of our failures, our inabilities to sit with discomfort and difference on the path to communal healing. We generally seek to avoid being unsettled or uncomfortable even when it is shortsighted.
Chodron writes, “In order to change our habits and burn up seeds of aggression, we have to develop an appetite for what I like to call positive groundlessness, or positive insecurity…we want to get away from that uncomfortable feeling…We’ve been trying the same ways of getting comfortable for as long as we can remember and yet our aggression, our anxiety, our resentfulness don’t seem to be getting any less…we need to develop an appetite for groundlessness…”
We need an appetite for positive insecurity and groundlessness.
I think that means being willing to keep in relationship with one another even when there is tension. And think with our activism, it means being willing to keep going even when the ground below us has moved.
And I think with our spiritual journeys it means being willing to avoid being drawn into the anger and pain that all of us hold and instead to let ourselves acknowledge what is real and sit with it. How do we handle groundlessness and discomfort?
It is clear that much of what is unfolding right now from fires to firings is the result of choices long ago made, of clinging to old ways and seeking comfort over truth.
As people who aim to live with a particular purpose, we have a chance, right now to practice something different, which is being intentional about what happens with our pain- Instead of avoiding our discomfort, instead of numbing it or denying its existence, what if we could sit with it? What if we could see it and release our hold on those emotions so they do not take a hold of us? What if nations could stop avoiding histories soaked in injustice, instead of numbing, or denying, what if we could see it and sit with it? What new ground might we break? What new realities could we construct among us, right here and beyond?
One of the main themes of the Christian season of Advent is preparing the way for God to break through, prepare the way of the Lord. And as we heard in the oldest Gospel, the Gospel of Mark, preparing the way for God to break through involves confession and repentance. The text says that “John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
And I wonder if this is no accident. Maybe there is a relationship between our healing and our history? Maybe trying to deny what was or what is, holds us back. Maybe our individual and collective wholeness can never be found in avoiding, or numbing, or denying. Because when we see it for real, we can decide its power, instead of giving our anger and fears the reigns by default. New ground is broken, as if new life is spoken and blessed into being.
Unlike the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, this story in the Gospel of Mark does not start the Christmas narrative by letting us spend time with the baby Jesus, instead we get this rugged preacher dressed in leather and eating locusts telling the world that One who is Powerful is coming and then he extends an invitation to get real. As one commentator put it, “Repentance and confession entail facing the truth about ourselves and changing the direction in our lives. And who wants to do either of those things? So the good news can often sound like bad news at first.”
But maybe facing the truth is only bad news if we let it be. Preparing the way for more peace and more justice invites us not be afraid of being insecure by what is real. In order to change our habits and burn up seeds of aggression, we have to develop an appetite for positive groundlessness or positive insecurity with the truth of what is. We must not fear feeling groundless by the truth of our emotions, of our circumstances, of our history.
Let us prepare the way, let us face our aggression, our anxiety, our resentfulness, our separations from our Greater Love, let us be open in this time of guided meditation to the possibility of a holy groundlessness…
Take a few breathes, breathing in deeply, breathing out your mouth, if you are comfortable, put your feet flat on the ground.
As we open our hearts and minds, we notice our breath, our heartbeat. When a thought comes, we notice it and let it go like a feather in the wind, that feeling is not the whole of you. When we cling to a thought, we become that thought.
If something comes that makes you feel uneasy, turn to curiosity, notice it and let it go. In these two minutes of silence, let us be open.
 Martin B. Copenhaver in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 1 Advent through Transfiguration