Let’s take a look today at the rules we apply to our lives, most often unknowingly. Is it time for a change? What will lead to our greater good, our continuing transformation? It never hurts to step back and take a look, with hope, courage and discernment.
Speaker: Rev. Melanie Eyre
When available, a revised transcript of this week’s talk is provided below for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Prayers, readings, and songs from this week’s service are also provided below.
Community Circle Zoom Meeting/Discussion: Wednesday, October 27.
St. Therese Prayer
May today there be peace within.
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be confident knowing you are a child of God.
Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise, and love.
It is there for each and every one of us.
~ By Minnie Lou Haskins
A Prayer of New Beginnings
God of Love,
You are with us in every transition and change.
As we enter into this new era with excitement and even some anxiety,
we recall your deep compassion, presence, and abounding love.
We thank you for the gifts, talents and skills with which you have blessed us.
We thank you for the experiences that have brought us to this moment.
We thank you for the work of others that gives breadth and depth to our own work.
Be with us as we move forward, rejoicing with you and supporting one another.
Bless this day. Bless this new beginning.
We ask this in the many names of God.
~ Adapted by Joseph P. Shadle
“New Rules” by Rev. Melanie Eyre
Today I want to talk about rules – the rules we operate under, that we apply to our own lives. Our goal here is to fashion lives that lead us to thrive, unfold and awaken. It strikes me that sometimes we hold ourselves back, often unknowingly, by limitations or expectations we place on ourselves. It never hurts to step back, and take what we call a balcony view of some of the rules we apply. It may be time to be a bit of a rulebreaker, and we’ll look at a few of them.
We live according to rules of which we are not aware . . .
We live according to rules of which we are not aware they are so ingrained, that are given us by our initial authority figures – our parents, teachers, and other influential figures.
We want to know how life works, how we should fit in. These are good impulses; they enable us to build communities, commerce extending beyond our own group, art, literature, music, and much more.
Later on – in our teenage years, for example – we pick up our rules from our peers. As we enter adulthood, we find new sources in addition to our peers: society, information from the media, our job, and as we so often hear now, our tribe.
Our tribe gives us rules of belief and behavior. When we wonder how to interpret a confusing and complex world, it’s the group that gives us answers. Stay with the familiar. Watch out for those you don’t know. Don’t take risks – stay safe. Stick with what you’ve done.
Change is risky.
Change is risky. We all have rules, and we need them. We just need to be aware of what they are, and make sure they are the ones we choose to live by.
American author Wallace Stegner said, “It is the beginning of wisdom when you recognize that the best you can do is choose which rules you want to live by.” How often do you ask yourself that question, identify the rules you are living by? By taking this step, by accepting this status quo, what pattern am I reaffirming? What am I telling myself about myself by taking this action?
We know that we so often limit ourselves, step back. We long for a freedom we don’t always permit ourselves.
We as a society love rule breakers . . .
We as a society love rule breakers, don’t we? Rugged individuals who blow right by the norms we all believe are inviolable, living large and showing us it can be done.
As I move forward in my own path, I realize more and more that a happy life is living my life based according to the rules that fulfill and uplift me and those whom I touch. Part of our life journey is becoming aware of the rules under which we operate – our assumptions, judgments and behaviors.
I have lived under so many rules I just accepted. Most were designed to keep me safe, well, and protected.
But we are not here to be safe. We are here to grow, to serve, to be the true incarnation of the divine that only we are. Sometimes that requires us to step out of our established swim lanes.
History is full of those who changed history and all of us by rejecting norms and following their own rules.
So I thought about rules, and rule breakers. What compels them? History is full of those who changed history and all of us by rejecting norms and following their own rules. Jesus taught a lesson of social equality, of justice, of love in the midst of an empire of dominance and oppression. What was one of the most sacred taboos in his culture? Keeping the sabbath. He broke it, to heal and to teach. When he was called on it, called a blasphemer, what did he say? He said you have this rule wrong – the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Look at what God tells us matters – it is ourselves, each other.
The Buddha, a wealthy prince, left his palace and set off on a life of deprivation and wandering until he awoke, and devoted the remainder of his life to awakening those who could hear. He didn’t know how many he would reach – he just knew there would be some.
These men and women listened to their hearts, not the norms passed to them by others.
In more current times, who? Heroes like Martin Luther King Jr., urged to embrace the politics of power, who said no. Mohandas Gandhi, who understood and taught that the power of nonviolence and love were the only forces that could lead to the broad social change that would move us all forward. His vision still inspires and animates us today, because it calls to the best in all of us.
These men and women listened to their hearts, not the norms passed to them by others.
I am reminded of a book by Karen Armstrong, the author and religious historian who was the inspiration and moving force behind the Charter for Compassion after she won the TED prize in 2008. The book is The Spiral Staircase – My Climb Out of Darkness, and it’s a story of her personal journey from a young nun to the religious historian and self-taught theologian that she is today. At bottom, it’s a travelogue of how she found that the rules she received did not work for her, and how she came to realize she had to make her own.
She was going to find God . . .
Armstrong describes her enthusiasm at entering the religious life at age 17, sure she was going to find God, and her increasing despair as she only found any notion of the divine becoming more distant.
None of the rules that apply to the training of young religious worked for her. The silence, the arbitrary discipline, the hierarchy that was supposed to teach her her place in relationship to God. Instead of leading her closer to God, the rigors of the abbey and the demands of religious life not only drove her away from God, they drove her away from herself.
Who knew there was a connection between brain power and really bad vision?
She left the convent after seven years and embarked on a life of academia – she was good at it and people said that’s where she should focus. Haven’t you done the same? When I was in grade school, people just assumed I was more the academic type because I had glasses. Who knew there was a connection between brain power and really bad vision?
So Armstrong focused where others pointed. She failed – her doctoral thesis at Oxford was rejected. Doors closed. So she taught at a girls’ school, which she knew was not the right fit, but she thought she had no other options. Due to her undiagnosed epilepsy, she was fired from that. Her life was one failure after another. She kept trying to do what she was expected to do, and every time it was not a fit.
The rules just did not fit her . . .
She describes the trajectory of her life really from the balcony view as finding what she needed to do after she failed or got thrown out of everything else. She tried for years to follow the rules she was given but the rules just did not fit her, until finally out of a place of complete failure and darkness, her own path began to emerge.
I thought I had embarked on a mystical adventure like that of Percival and the other Knights of the Grail.
“when I entered my convent, I thought I had embarked on a mystical adventure like that of Percival and the other Knights of the Grail. But instead of finding my own path, I had to follow somebody else’s. Instead of striking out on my own, I had conformed to a way of life and modes of thought that had often seemed alien. As a result, I found myself in a wasteland, an inauthentic existence, in which I struggled mightily but fruitlessly to do what I was told. Even after I left the convent, I continued to follow goals that were not right for me, ‘desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope.’ (Quoting Shakespeare’s 29th Sonnet.) I had too clear a preconceived idea of what I was supposed to be and was not open to new possibilities.”
How often does that happen to us?
She went on.
“The great myths show that when you follow somebody else’s path, you go astray. The hero has to set off by himself, leaving the old world and the old ways behind. He must venture into the darkness of the unknown, where there is no map and no clear route. He must fight his own monsters, not somebody else’s, explore his own labyrinth, and endure his own ordeal before he can find what is missing in his life. Thus transfigured, he can bring something of value to the world that has been left behind. In the words of the old French text of the quest of the holy Grail, if the seeker wants to succeed, he must enter the forest ‘at a point that he, himself, had chosen, where it was darkest and there was no path.’”
Armstrong started to write, and learned that even though her earlier experiences had distanced her from God and from her own feelings, the tie was not broken. She still sought that connection and that transformation but had to do it on her own terms, using her own language and understanding.
Her study took her on what she described as an interior journey of understanding and increasing clarity.
The idea is not to latch on to some superhuman personality or to ‘get to heaven’ but to discover how to be fully human . . .
“In the course of my studies, I have discovered religious quest is not about discovering ‘the truth’ or ‘the meaning of life’ but about living as intensely as possible here and now. The idea is not to latch on to some superhuman personality or to ‘get to heaven’ but to discover how to be fully human – hence the images of the perfect or enlightened man, or the deified human being. God or Nirvana is not an optional extra, tacked onto our human nature. Men and women have the potential for the divine, and are not complete unless they realize it within themselves. The story goes that a passing Brahmin priest once asked the Buddha whether he was a God, spirit, or an angel. ‘None of these,’ the Buddha replied. Instead he said ‘I am awake.’ In the past, my own practice of religion had diminished me, whereas true faith, I now believe, should make you more human than before.”
Armstrong found that religion is not about what you believe. It is about what you become. She didn’t realize that truth until she stepped out of the lane she thought was hers and found her true path. How different would her life have been if she hadn’t had the courage to, as Joseph Campbell called it, ‘follow her bliss.’
Sometimes you can just hear the fingernails across the floor.
Sometimes we have to step out of our lane, with courage, and with faith that our better good is unfolding.
A scary thought, but I think a true one. Yet, so often we don’t make a move until we are forced, kicking and screaming, into a new way of living. Sometimes you can just hear the fingernails across the floor. Why? Because we’re scared. Because we don’t know how things will turn out. Even if what we’re doing now isn’t working, at least it’s familiar. It was Neal Donald Walsch who said “life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” We don’t want to leave our comfort zone.
The past nearly 2 years have shown us that we can change. With Covid, we’ve radically altered the ways we work, socialize, even worship. With these changes, we see that the sky hasn’t fallen in, and we’ve learned some things are worth keeping. Many businesses like the new remote, workers enjoy the flexibility, and communities like ours – even though we miss being in person – have expanded their outreach to those who are not local. In our morning meditation, for example, it’s common to have half the people there living out of state; we just zoom in. If we hadn’t realized the remote option, we wouldn’t even have these morning meditations, because no one’s going to drive for a fifteen or twenty-minute interaction. With Zoom, it works.
So often, we end up on the other side of a difficult choice and ask ourselves what took so long?
Every day we are invited to look at what we’re doing and ask ourselves if it’s the right thing for this moment, for us right now. How do we know? How do we answer this question? Look at your own life; when have you made changes you felt driven to make, but it was that still voice within that told you now is the time? Leaving or taking a job, beginning or ending a relationship, whatever it is: so often, we end up on the other side of a difficult choice and ask ourselves what took so long?
We need to summon the courage to listen to our hearts and trust that life unfolds as it should, even if we can’t see the full outline of what is coming, even if the journey seems uncertain, scary, and unfamiliar. It was Kurt Vonnegut who said,
“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”
We have to trust that we have wings, and they will unfold when we need them. You do, and they will.
So let’s commit to taking a look at the rules we operate under, often unknowingly, often unconsciously. Time is too precious to waste. As Mary Oliver asked in her poem The Summer Day,
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?”
About Rev. Melanie Eyre
Rev. Melanie Eyre is an ordained Interspiritual Minister and long-time student of the world’s many diverse faith traditions. She has served as One World’s Spiritual Director since 2015 and is the founder of the North Fulton Interfaith Alliance here in Georgia. Outside of One World, Rev. Melanie has a beautiful family and enjoys officiating traditional and non-traditional rituals and other special ceremonies that mark important life transitions – weddings, baby blessings, and celebrations of life.
For more about Rev. Melanie and her practice, visit her website: Memorable Services with Heart.
This service aired on October 24, 2021