“Out of Our Minds”
Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B, December 24, 2017
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16 Luke 1:46b-55 Luke 1:26-38
First Presbyterian Church of Sandpoint, Idaho
Pastor Andy Kennaly
On the Sabbatical one of the places we visited was Innsbruck, Austria. We spent an entire day exploring and this included a picnic lunch from the top of the Austrian Alps. Using public transportation, we eventually got off a cable car at the summit of ski area overlooking the city and the entire valley. You could see the ski jump miles away used in the Olympics. Even the resort we were at claimed the steepest terrain in all of Europe; it’s ski slopes has 70 degree pitches. Falling is not an option. There was about an inch of snow that had fallen the night before, so we were above the snow line on that September day. The sun came out, the melting started, and after hiking around the summit area we headed back down into the city. Sometimes it’s nice to have that mountain top experience, to gain the big picture. But we headed back down to the valley and into the streets. No skiing for us that day, but standing at the top of a steep pitch gets you thinking about the glory days.
When Shawna and I were in college in northern Wisconsin, the winters there were harsh and long. But we were members of the downhill ski racing team! We traveled on weekends to various events throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota, and in that Midwest racing circuit, we came up against some of the most competitive athletes in the world. Since I had started skiing in eighth grade, by college on my Fischer 205’s with bright red boots and day-glow yellow buckles, I could free ski just about anything. But being on a racing course with set gates and icy ruts is an entirely different experience.
In most of these races I placed consistently in the pack, and week after week, out of over 90 racers, I was always third or fourth…to last. Third or fourth to last: I was a big loser! Those guys are amazing skiers when you put them in the gates, and the more rutted and icy the course, the faster they go. I decided I was more of a recreational racer, and rather than spandex, I sported a rag wool sweater. I thought it was just great getting off campus every weekend, hanging out with my friends, having our meals, hotels and lift tickets paid for through the activity funds. I got a new winter jacket. People thought you were cool. It was a great way to stay in shape. Our training was really good and my skiing definitely improved, as long as I wasn’t on a race course.
Competition is the name of the game for downhill ski racing, especially in the Midwest where people get bored free skiing. They want that adrenaline. Setting goals, measurable results, learning to excel, playing the game to win, getting rewarded for your merit, sticking with successful and proven methods, and above all, working hard. Individuals with ambition, material resources, and strategies to help them achieve do well when they have a drive and they strive for victory. These are qualities of champions.
And these represent the orange level quite well. The orange level, the Rational Self level of Spiral Dynamics, a system of explaining cultural evolution, how society has stages of development and what each level focuses on in terms of strengths and weaknesses. All those qualities mentioned about the Orange level, the Rational Self level are at the core of what has brought about Capitalistic Democracies, the Free Market, a Global Economy, all of which depend on Scientific Rationalism. Some of the weaknesses involve using people and the earth as a commodity to help you get what you want, so environmental degradation is a side effect. Consumerism, materialism, workaholism, and denial of the spirit are also challenges for this level.
There are other levels, such as a lower one called the Power Self, the red level which focuses on aggression, might makes right as you do and be what you want regardless of anyone else. The quest for heroic status, power, glory, rage and revenge drives people to align with power, seeking loyalty as you take what you need, have power over others, and use force to get what you want. It’s a legitimate level, part of our story. The downside is that this level also involves bullying and terrorism, and fear and phobias are driving factors which can lead to depression and anxiety. Every level has strengths and weaknesses, and we know reality is usually a mixed bag.
Each of the levels in Spiral Dynamics represents years, sometimes hundreds or even thousands of years of human development as a species. For example, moving from the level of the Instinctive Self that sought daily survival for you and your family, to a more organized tribal level that puts the clan and known entities at the center in order to defend from outsiders and threats, to even more systemic or larger empires and feudal systems; this upward journey continues into levels that provide break-throughs along the way. The Law and Order of the Rule Level brings relief to chaos and random attacks, and provides stability, direction and purpose for generations. This Rule level still is very active in our own culture. And it’s interesting to see higher levels in the spiral getting revealed from time to time, and we see this through things like the desire for human rights, an appreciation of diverse views, being open and affirming of all sorts of people. Terms that describe these higher levels in the spiral include: Holistic, compassionate, interactive, ecological, egalitarian, community, sensitive. Yet even these have their weak points or pitfalls. Rather than get confused about different levels, the main idea here is that culture is not static. Human society and our place and role in the larger creation is dynamic, and God’s purposes, grounded in divine, loving Presence, are at the core of this cosmic-level creativity.
In our own lifetime we see people and situations that represent movements along the spiral, sometimes up and sometimes down. World population includes people at every level, and our Western society reflects those levels where the majority of people in power tend to reside. It gets tricky when problems created at lower levels need solutions that can’t be found there. It seems revolutionary when breakthroughs to higher levels reveal the solutions in ways that become quite obvious.
The coach for my ski team had us use a book called, Skiing Out of Your Mind, and it’s basically about visualization. You’ve likely seen Olympic athletes preparing for their big race with headphones in, eyes closed, body moving; they’re getting in the zone! They are using their mind, picturing each part of the course, how they will navigate the turns, the changing landscape. Imagery guiding their reality.
Mind over matter, skiing out of their mind in a focused way, and not from their fears or distractions or anxieties; using that Rational Level self to help them excel. I suppose it works for those who are into that kind of thing. What we tell ourselves mentally, the thoughts we entertain and empower, can be very influential. But even this has it’s limits. Our mind eventually hits it’s own horizons and there are things in life that are beyond our understanding through that mind space. Common sense and rationalization, even the scientific method do not necessarily lead to enlightenment.
These scriptures we read this morning on this fourth Sunday of Advent take us on a journey through the spiraling creativity of God and the beauty of humanity’s invitation to dance in love with the Trinity of God. They are encouragements which bring healing and wholeness as mind, body, soul, and spirit come together, integrating our larger, True Self with the gift of the living Christ.
The spiral dynamics shine through the words of the Psalmist: “I will sing of your steadfast love, O LORD, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations. I declare that your steadfast love is established forever; your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.” We see the limitations and reversals in the story of David and the Prophet, Nathan. The King was settled and wanted to build God a Temple. The Prophet tells David, “Go, do all you have in mind, for the LORD is with you.” But the word of the LORD comes to Nathan that very night and shows the limitations of this royal ego trip, reminding them both that its God who decides what actions help express God’s purposes, and this shows the limitations of the mind, even the mind of a king, and a chosen king at that!
The passages from Luke share the story of Mary and her faithfulness, thankfulness, and holy participation in what God is doing in creation, in the birthing of Christ through Jesus. The details are counter-cultural to say the least, involving a young girl who is not yet fully married, and the town of Nazareth of all places. She is perplexed and fearful when the angel greets her, yet we read that typical, angelic phrase, “Do not be afraid” along with a reminder that God is with us.
It’s quite an image to picture all of history, all of creation both seen and unseen, heaven and earth and all the cosmos pivoting around this holy moment in which angels wait on baited breath to hear Mary say, “Yes.” “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” This is very different than Nathan’s and David’s approach. This is very different than many of the ways our world typically works. Yet her YES in that moment echoes throughout eternity in ways that are as connected, imminent, and current as the breath of God itself. Like a catalyst in a solution, her YES very quickly changes everything!
We participate in Mary’s YES. We participate in God’s purposes as co-creators. And we are invited to remember that we are servants of the LORD, that it is the word of the Lord that takes us out of the limitations of our minds and into our hearts where we find unity with the bigger picture. It’s from that unified field, the heart-mind-spirit connection in a balanced way that Mary says with integrity and humility, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord.” She claims her full humanity as one involved in the Incarnation.
Preparing our hearts for Christmas, to receive the Prince of Peace, humbly quieting our minds and disarming our fears, the God of love comes to us with promise and blessing. As we take our place, united with Mary’s YES, connected throughout history and the echoes of time, God’s eternal now invites us to take deep breaths infused with grace, justice, and love. May we discover the gift of our full humanity as we live and share the image of God. The world is blessed. Christmas joy is upon us. Do not be afraid! Thanks be to God! Amen.