Facilitating the Process of Inner Transformation
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
United Church of Strafford, Vermont
February 4, 2018
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
Psalm 84; Malachi 3:1-4; Luke 2:22-32
We hear leaders who are working to solve major threats to our society and earth saying that we as a people need a higher level of consciousness, a different way of thinking and seeing the world. Last Sunday Mark Kutolowski showed how this was the core teaching of Christ, summed up by the Greek word metanoia. Metanoia means to change or go beyond where our heart and mind and spirit are now, it means to undergo an inner transformation, to move to a higher developmental stage and deeper spiritual state.
Metanoia, inner transformation, is the key to a sustainable way of life with justice and peace and a sufficiency for all. It is the key to the breakthroughs we need for problems that seem impossible to solve and for divides that seem impossible to bridge.
Christ wants to change the way we see reality, he wants us to see as he did that we are all one in God, because once we see our oneness we no longer will put up with society’s injustice and inequality and violence, and we will not resign ourselves to a world permanently divided into red and blue or black and white.
Christ says that the realm of God is already here within and around us. It is real, it is realer than the world we think of as real, and it is open to us here and now. It takes only an inner transformation for us to see and live in that spiritual realm and draw on its guidance and power to help us transform the material realm.
Christ is calling us as individuals and as a church to undergo that metanoia. It is urgent that we do. We live in a world teetering on the edge, and the way we each lean makes a difference. It is a thrilling moment in history—dangerous, but exciting if we respond. We each have our own deep calling, our own way to contribute in this time and place, giving our lives meaning and purpose.
This is what we were created to do, but Jesus understood that humans naturally get hung up in selfishness, in old wounds or fears, in limited world views that we need to outgrow in order to live in and from and for the realm of God, and so the fulfillment of our calling requires a lifelong pursuit of inner transformation, a practice of continuous metanoia.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday I cited a study that discovered that the tipping point that can transform the way a society thinks and acts is remarkably small, a committed minority of 10%.
So the urgent question is how can we facilitate this process of inner transformation to a higher level of consciousness in us and in the world so we reach the tipping point as soon as possible? “Facilitating the process of inner transformation” is Thomas Keating’s phrase from his book Open Mind, Open Heart. The answer he gives is Centering Prayer, a contemporary form of meditation based on two thousand years of Christian contemplative tradition.
We are blessed to have the ability to fulfill our congregational covenant and nurture contemplation here with the help of teachers like Mark and Lisa Kutolowski. I hope you will participate in the workshop next Saturday morning and the book study on Thursdays in Lent if you possibly can.
Meditation and mindfulness are not the only ways to speed transformation, though. Another is to educate ourselves about the higher developmental stages and deeper spiritual states that metanoia brings. I don’t know about you, but the churches I attended never told me that there were well defined stages and states that I could move through and that there was a clear path for making progress through them and that the higher or deeper I went the more Christ-like I would become. Why did nobody tell me this?
Churches have read Malachi’s prophecy of the refiner’s fire that would purify us. They have told us about the transformative effect that beholding the Messiah had on Simeon, who was taken to a deep level of peace and made ready to die and move on to the next stage. Churches have not told us, though, what these scriptures have to do with our transformation, other than preparing us to be vaguely righteous and then go to heaven.
Just learning in detail about the higher and deeper places we can go in this life is one of the most effective ways to speed our getting there so we can help save the world. The church needs to be a place where developmental stages and spiritual states are as well-known as the Beatitudes and 10 Commandments.
We need to be careful, though, as we strive to go higher and deeper and transcend our small, false self or ego. There is a cautionary Jewish story about a rabbi who threw himself before the altar when the congregation had gone home and beat his chest saying, “I am nothing! I am nothing!” The cantor saw him and was swept up with fervor and threw herself on her knees beside the rabbi saying “I am nothing! I am nothing!” The sexton threw down his broom and ran over beside them beating his chest and saying, “I am nothing! I am nothing!” And the rabbi turned to the cantor and said with disdain, “Look who thinks he is nothing!”
The higher or deeper we go the more we understand that lowliness and humility and self-emptying love are the marks of Christ’s mind being in us. There are no grounds for pride in being humble, though. All stages and states are necessary to pass through, all have importance, and wherever we are, we could always grow more like Christ. The higher and deeper we go the more we see our true oneness with everyone else at every stage and state. People at the highest stages like the Mahatma Gandhi or Christ himself are the opposite of elevated, the opposite of set apart, and so they help create a world where all are equal and no one is excluded.
Another way to speed our transformation is to put ourselves on the line, daring to act as Christ did, growing by doing. Several years ago in a community near here a family of beavers moved into a wetland along a town road. The beavers were building a dam that was blocking a culvert, endangering the road with a washout. The select board decided to trap and kill the beavers. Students got upset and circulated a petition to stop it. Some people were angry about killing beavers, others were angry that bleeding heart liberals cared more about a few animals than taxpayers’ pocketbooks. The select board hosted a hearing to discuss their decision.
Feelings were intense and potentially explosive. A local church had been studying nonviolence, learning to think and problem solve in ways that were based on Christ-like love. They were trying to look at the world from the highest developmental stage and deepest spiritual state. The group was practicing meditation together as well as studying ways of engaging in the community.
A retired teacher in her upper 70s was learning all this for the first time. She went to the beaver hearing. She and others from the church were helping to keep the tone of the meeting friendly and cooperative, but they were still polarized, and then suddenly inspiration came to her. Why couldn’t the town spend the same money and build a barrier that the water could get through but the beavers couldn’t, so they did not block the culvert?
Both sides were happy with her solution, and even happier to find a way to be happy together, to be a united beloved community instead of angry and divided.
Today our families, work places and towns face problems like those beavers, and our world faces problems like climate change, economic inequality, refugee resettlement, racial injustice, war, and the weakening of democracy. We need more people undergoing metanoia, transforming their hearts and minds, coming at these issues from the highest developmental level and deepest spiritual state possible. We need people at higher levels of consciousness who can access the creative, intuitive parts of the brain to discover ways forward together that we could not see when we were at lower levels. We need churches to be transforming and training the 10% we need at that level, and helping us all progress toward out next higher rung. Every person counts. You count.
And the world is counting on you.
That may feel daunting, but Jesus said strive first for the realm of God and the transformation that it brings, and everything else you need will flow from the rightness of that place. Let us pray together in silence…