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Stories Are Powerful

Cathy Zall - February 18, 2024

Lesson notes

Text: Mark 1: 9-15

Stories are powerful. They try to condense experiences to communicate insights.

I see in this story an exploration of turning points—times in our lives when something we experience or understand changes our course.

We hear little of what Jesus is doing before he goes to the Jordan

But in this story Jesus has an experience that sets him on a new course, this is where Jesus begins his ministry in earnest

What is the turning point in the story? A dove and a voice from heaven

It is not so much the dove or the voice that creates the turning point—it is what Jesus realizes.

As I read it: Jesus realizes who he is:

Child of God—You are my son


Affirmed—in whom I am well pleased

Once he knows who he really is…life unfolds in new ways:

he senses that it is time to act (the time is fulfilled),

he intensely experiences the power of God working in the world (the kingdom of God has come near),

he sees the need to turn toward this reality (repent) and

he is set even more profoundly on fire to give his heart to the good news of God’s love. (believe the good news)

We will see the unfolding of this ministry energized by his sense of who he is in the rest of the gospel.

Key question for us as we read this today—

Is it just Jesus who is a child of God, beloved and affirmed?

No—it is all of us.

Jesus is not different in kind—Jesus helps us see what is truest about all human life.

We are all children of God—literally created from the very mysterious essence of God

We are all beloved by God

We are all affirmed by God in every moment

Where we differ from Jesus, however, is that we have a hard time seeing this…believing this…living out of this reality.

But the fact that we don’t often see it…don’t live our lives consistent with this reality doesn’t make it not true.

I think this is critical.

So much of traditional theology had a focus on the fall and sin. But there is also a huge wave of thought that fits with the story we just read.

A focus on what Walter Wink calls original blessing…that at the deepest level we are all made in the image of God…all beloved and affirmed.

I appreciate that this is not always how we understand who we are

I wish a dove would descend and a voice come out of heaven and convince us that we are made in the image of God, beloved and held with love by God at all times.

But that shortcut doesn’t seem to be generally available.

And stepping into this identity is hard given years of conditioning to a very different sense of identify.

Also for it to really impact our lives we need to experience this identify at a very deep level.

Not just thinking about who we are but deeply feeling a new identify.

Not just intellectual but seen with what Paul calls “the eyes of the heart”.

Deeply Experienced from within.

Not believing or even loving God but knowing God.

Not just knowing things about God but rather a Direct, immediate, intuitive sense of God within

But reaching this place of deeply knowing ourselves as coming from God, beloved and affirmed is for me the key of the spiritual life.

Share a few thoughts on the path from a key guide for me Meister Eckhart. The Way of Paradox by Cyprian Smith. Have copies if you would like to read more.

Key insight for me—discovering our deepest truest identify is not a matter of earning, achieving something we don’t already have it is rather a matter of recognizing who we already are.

Meister Eckhart does an amazing job of laying out a process for realizing who we are:

The key for him is what he calls detachment—

From The Way of Paradox

"letting go of all that is not God, until a spark of awareness awakens in us, what Eckhart call “the birth of God in the soul”

“detach from an old, limited love and open to a newer more universal one”. Where we make a space, God’s action is to fill that space with love.

Letting go of what is not God…of whatever blocks God’s love from informing our understanding of who we are-- is the key.

What are we detaching from, letting go of? Each of us will have different and the process lasts a lifetime.

Our belief that our identify comes from:

Our accomplishments

Our power

Our money

Our network

Sacred story points to this: The temptation in the wilderness

Our feeling that we lack capacity, that we are not worthy, that we are flawed at some fundamental level. Too many people have experience beginning in childhood that make it hard for them to believe they are from God, that they are beloved, to feel affirmed.

Sacred story point to this as well: earth witnessing Buddha

For Eckhart as we let go of all these limited understanding of our identify we make space for the spark of awareness or my favorite description the birth of the word in the soul.

Detachment is a subtle concept and can say only a bit about it right now. But maybe most critically It is not indifference

From The Way of Paradox

Not shut off from the world—not indifferent. “If I am in a state of rapt ecstatic medication and a poor man needs a bowl of soup then the right thing to do is to leave my rapture and attend to the suffering fellow human being”

“Alert to the demands of the present moment which may be very different from what we would prefer or like but constantly seeking God in all we do. Trying to discern what God wants from us in a given moment and doing it promptly regardless of our personal likes and desires.

My favorite description: detachment is “concerned with trying to develop with ourselves a certain attitude which is healthy, realistic and life giving and will remain constant within us during all states of consciousness….This attitude is one of renunciation, of detached letting go, of open and relaxed receptivity to the present moment whatever it contains.

Paired with this For Eckhart detachment combined with a fiery striving after what is of God—melting and boiling.

Melting away what keeps us from knowing who we are in God.

Boiling, striving to experience of our deepest identify—from God, beloved, affirmed in every moment.

The “how” of this has many parts that we don’t have time to unpack this morning.

But, one place to start is engaging the idea that we are already from God, loved by God, held continually in God’s favor. Exploring—and working to let go of--everything that makes us believe otherwise. Setting our intention—retreat.

Clearly this is a process of a life time.

Let us set out with a blessing.



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