Saturday, 22 November 2014

God's Work

Whenever we have a committee meeting at either of the congregations I serve, before we begin business, a member always leads us in a short devotion. Now every so often, more often than ought to happen, the person who has agreed to do so forgets. Well last Wednesday it happened again. So what happened? Well they turned to me. After four years I have grown wise to this and for the last few months I have ensured I have brought something with me. Last Wednesday, just before leaving the house, I picked up a book of short reflections “Life Tides” by Elizabeth Tarbox. So when they turned to me, instead of just thinking of a prayer and some words of wisdom, I took the book from my bag and just randomly opened it. It opened on page 8 and piece titled “God’s Work”, interesting title I thought. I then began to share it with the committee. Now before doing so I offered a few words of settlement and invited them to join together and listen in a prayerful state. Most did although one member did continue to shuffle through his papers.

Now the reading seemed to have quite an impact on those at the meeting as several offered comments, including the person who appeared not to be listening but was actually doing so carefully, while shuffling his papers. It was suggested to me that we might explore the ideas contained within it in worship, which I thought was a splendid idea. Here is the reading. I hope it speaks to you, as it spoke to us.

“God’s Work” by Elizabeth Tarbox

What is God’s work? If God is immanent and transcendent, in and out of everything, then how could it be possible not to do God’s work? Surely all work is God’s work – there is nothing which is not of God. Is there?

But that doesn’t do it, somehow. There are times when what I do is strictly for me. God or no God, I’m working for myself, even during those times when God would probably approve. Mostly what I do for myself is compatible with what I believe I would do for God.

But not always. There are times of conflict, when the prompting and urging of my desire are up against the sentinel of my conscience. They square off, these two strong voices somewhere deep in the thick of me where there is no judge, no referee, and mercifully no spectators. “Do it,” say I. “Don’t,” says God. One of them wins and the other goes grumbling away, threatening and complaining in the basement of my being like a boiler with an excess of steam. And I am left to live with my decision, to forgive or applaud, to bask in my nobility or blush in my shame. And God and I make peace once more.

Then there are times when I can’t tell which is God’s voice and which is my own. What about those times when God seems to be saying “Do it” and I am saying “No.” When God says, “This is the right thing to do,” and I, shaking with fear, confess, “I can’t, I’m just too scared.”

“I’ll be with you.”
“How do I know?”
“You can do it, be not afraid.”
“I might fail, make a fool of myself.”
“Yes you might. Do it anyway.”
“But people might not like me.”
“That’s right.”
“But how do I know this is good? How can I be sure?”
“You cannot be sure. This is a risk.”

Yes, those are the toughest times: wanting to do right without losing my safety, not knowing if I am doing God’s work, or using God to do mine. There is no superhighway named Right Way. There are no signposts, no guides, no promises, no guarantees; only the lonely voice of conscience and the cringing cry of fear wrestling each other in inner space. Those are the times of lying awake at night and staring at the detail of the day through a haze of worry, working and reworking the “oughts,” the “should,” and “yes, buts” of the thing.

And what’s to be done, but to listen to the voice that seems to be speaking a consistent truth, move through the fear to trust the moral judgements we have lived by, and pray for courage.”

It is a beautiful and rich piece I hope it inspires you to delve deeper, it certainly has done so with me. It's got me living a few more questions as I have engaged in the creative interchange that Elizabeth has inspired. I hope that the rest of this blogspot has the same impact on you...None of us know exactly what the actions we do, or do not do, will lead to in all the corners of our shared world.

So what is God’s work and how do we know if we are doing it?

Well the first question we might want to explore here is what do we mean by God? It may well mean something different to each and every person. One of the great treasures of the free religious tradition that I serve, the Unitarian faith, is that it celebrates the diversity in religious understanding and expression. When I speak of God here please translate it to that which is of greatest value in your lives, that which is your compass your guide, that which we seek for strength and inspiration, both in times of joy and difficulty and all that lies in-between. Personally I do believe that there is that which permeates all life, that is at the core of all that is and yet is more than all that is, that I can be a part of and that I can seek strength and inspiration from. When I say God I mean that power which is Greater than all and yet present in each, in everything, including all of you and even me. By the way I not only believe this I experience it in every feeling, every thought, every word and every deed, although sometimes my mind will try to deny this.

I believe that each of us carries with us the essence of God and that we can connect with that and therefore truly connect with all that is, all that has ever been and all that will ever be. That great nineteenth century Transcendentalist put it far more beautifully when he said “Let us learn the revelation of all nature and thought; that the Highest dwells within us…there is no bar or wall in the soul where we, the effect, cease, and God, the cause, begins.” Desmond Tutu in more recent times echoed this sentiment when he claimed that “Each of us carries a piece of God’s heart within us.” He believes that we are all children of God and are therefore all one, one human family. He goes further claiming that God’s dream is that everyone reaches out, cares about and laughs with one another’s hearts. And I believe that if we do so we can start to put together the puzzle of life, we can heal ourselves, our families, our communities, our world. I believe this because I too believe that we each carry a piece of God’s heart within us too. So maybe, just maybe, this is infact doing God’s work?

What do you think? Maybe, maybe not? You decide…

Two central themes of two books that have inspired my ministry these last four years have been living with both meaning and compassion. The key to which is to put something or someone else at the core of your life and not to live purely for or from yourself. The key message in both books has been to not live self-centredly. Karen Armstrong made this claim in “12 Steps to a Compassionate Life” and Viktor Frankl made similar claims in “Man’s Search for Meaning.” Bill W in his story in the book Alcoholics Anonymous made similar claims too. He stated "Simple not easy a price had to paid, it meant destruction of self-centeredness." The central message of Alcoholics Anonymous is that the sufferer needed to find a power greater than themselves that they could live by in order to recover from their self and other destructive life. What is also interesting though is that in order to find this power one did not need to search very far, that this something is already within everyone. The only real problem being that we human beings build walls that separate us not only from one another but from our true selves. I suspect that doing God’s work is about putting these pieces together, both within ourselves and our ever more divided and divisive world.

Now of course there are many who claim that actually the very people who claim to be doing God's work are usually the ones creating division in our world, they are the ones doing the breaking not the healing. It is not hard to find evidence for this view. Just turn on the news any day and you will see those reaping destruction while claiming to be doing God's work. Many claim that if we just let go of the God idea, which is seen as stupid, irrational and downright destructive that humanity would be able to live as one. Looking at our world you can see why they would think that. That said any right thinking person can see that division in humanity is not just the domain of religion, it is the domain of those who believe they are always right and that no one can argue with their view of what is right. This is not a position unique to religious thinking. Dogma is another aspect of humanity and I believe it is this that builds those walls between us.

The problem with we human beings is that we forget that we are human beings. We lack humility. It is important to remember that humanity and humility are formed from the same linguistic root, from the earth. Yes we learn more and more, but we still know so little. We certainly have not yet learnt to live in love. We still somehow fail to recognise we are all formed from the same stuff. I believe that humility is vital to the spiritual life as it opens us to our true selves, to one another and to God.

Me I’m with Desmond I believe that “Each of us carries a piece of God’s heart within us.” That we are all children of God, that there is one human family and that doing God’s work is reaching out and doing all that I can for those in need and joining in with the dance of life. Weeping with those in tears and laughing along with each others hearts. I also believe that by doing so we open our hearts fully and that piece of God we carry within us can begin to put our wounded world back together again. That said, maybe I’m just a dreamer, but I don’t think I am the only one.

What do you think? Maybe, maybe not? You decide…

The key, as Elizabeth points out, is in the struggle. The spiritual life is by no means an easy one. Answers are not always easy to find and doing the right thing is not easy. It is, I believe only really unearthed in the struggle. When I think of this struggle my mind always turns toward a passage in Genesis ( ch32 vv 22 – 32)

Here is the passage:

22 The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. 24Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me.’27So he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ 28Then the man* said, ‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel,* for you have striven with God and with humans,* and have prevailed.’ 29Then Jacob asked him, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he said, ‘Why is it that you ask my name?’ And there he blessed him. 30So Jacob called the place Peniel,* saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.’ 31The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. 32Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the hip socket, because he struck Jacob on the hip socket at the thigh muscle.

At first glance this looks like a strange passage, but there is deep meaning half hidden within it. Jacob is depicted wrestling with a mysterious man, who it turns out is probably God, although is not clear.As he wrestles with this being he is grievously hurt, but he fights on. As the night ends and dawn breaks the being tries to leave but Jacob holds on and demands it blesses him as the price for ending the struggle. The being relents and blesses Jacob by giving him a new name “Israel” meaning “one who struggles with God” or as I once heard a friend say “one with whom God struggles.”

I see this as a mythos depicting the spiritual struggle. I think it is a timeless and universal depiction of what Elizabeth is describing in her piece.

Is it we who struggle with God, or is it God who struggles with us?

What do you think? Maybe, maybe not? You decide…

This brought some other thoughts to my heart and mind, if we are a piece of the heart of God then surely it is our task to be the eyes, the ears and the hands of the holy in this world. Surely God’s work is to bind up the broken to rebind the world back together. Re-member, re-bind together that Religion, from “religiere”, means to rebind together that which has been broken apart. Each of us is a precious piece of the puzzle, while at the same time we are bound up together in the one web of life. Once we truly recognise this all our actions begin to take on real purpose and meaning, for we recognise that everything matters, Every thought, every feeling, every word and every deed, everything matters. I have learnt that if we truly believe this it allows us to truly engage with life, to struggle with what we can and cannot do and to join in the wrestling match that is life.

Now these are just my thoughts, each person must decide what God’s work is for them. Be careful of those who claim to know what that is for everyone else. We each have to engage with this ourselves.

That said increasingly I see that we are each a vital part of the puzzle. I have also discovered that in order to unearth the answers we need to engage in two ways, one private and the other corporate. One requires personal and private spiritual practise and the other requires each of us to engage with one another. The two combined bring about true religious living.

What is required is time alone to connect to that greater reality deep down within each of us, we need look no further you know. We just need to spend time in quietness so we can feel that still small voice.

I promise that everyone can hear the "language of the heart", if we listen with the “ears of our hearts” and then of course come together and share what we have uncovered, oh and then do what needs to be done. By bringing our pieces together we can can begin to create that beautiful picture puzzle.

Whatever we believe is the source of that voice is not the most important thing. What matters to me is that we learn to trust in and allow it to give us the courage to do what our world needs us to do. This to me again is God’s work.

This is what needs to be done. As Elizabeth said we need to learn to listen to that voice that has consistently spoken a truth, to move through the fear that we may get things wrong from time to time and to pray for the courage to do what is required.

“Each of us carries a piece of God’s heart within us.” We are all children of God, we are part of the one human family. Doing God’s work is reaching out and doing all that we can. Our ever more divided and dividing world certainly needs it. It is up to us to put the pieces back together, to bind up the broken, our people, our world…

What do you think? Maybe, maybe not? You decide…

I'm going to end this little blog with a final piece of wisdom by Penny Quest

“Each New Morning” by Penny Quest

Each new morning two choices are open to every one of us:
The choice to live that day in the joyfulness of Love,
Or in the darkness of Fear.

Each new day, as the sun rises,
We have another opportunity to make that choice.
The symbolism of the sunrise is the removal of shadow
And the return of Light.

Each new morning we have another chance
To rid ourselves of the burdens, sorrows and fears of the past,
To rejoice in the joy of the present,
And to look forward to a future of fulfilment
On every level of our being.

Each sunrise is a fresh opportunity to release fear,
To choose a different life-path,
To commit ourselves to joyful, light living,
To trust in ourselves and in the Universe,
To trust in the forces of Nature and in Mother Earth,
To trust God, the Creator, the all-That-Is.



  1. "Re-member, re-bind together that Religion, from “religiere”, means to rebind together that which has been broken apart."
    This struck a chord in my mind and has given me a lot to think about.
    Thank you.

  2. Thank you's amazing what comes if we would but be open to it...If the ears of our ears are awake and the eyes of our eyes are open...the language of the heart finds a way through if we listen with the ears of our hearts...Best wishes ;-)