ALL THAT IS LOST IS FOUNDPosted: September 15, 2013
WHAT ONCE WAS LOST NOW IS FOUND
Jesus preached his gospel to everyone: Pharisees, Sadducees, liberals, conservatives, rich and poor, saints and sinners. In a world that maintained rigid rules of social stratification Jesus’ ministry was just plain wrong. “Look at him,” whispered the scribes, “he’ll eat with anyone! He accepts anybody!”
In response Jesus told a series of stories. A small shepherd goes and looks for a lost sheep. A woman loses one of the coins from her dowry, and she lights a lamp and sweeps the house until she finds it. A prodigal son comes home and the father opens his heart to the boy. In the end all that is lost is found. An extravagant welcome brings people back home to God. Welcoming everyone is our most important message here at United Church, this morning, however, I want to take Jesus’ parables to a deeper level. I want to help us focus upon the lost parts of ourselves. Jim Norris in his internal family systems approach talks about the parts of ourselves we have sent into exile.
SHAME, GUILT, TRAUMA, SHADOW
So how do parts of ourselves get lost? Let’s look at four reasons parts of ourselves become lost: shame, guilt, trauma and our difficulty in accepting the dark side of our personalities.
First, let’s talk about shame. No one survives childhood without shame experiences. Potty training, wetting the bed, first discovery of sexuality, punishment for inappropriate behavior all can provide opportunities for shame experiences. Teasing from family members or peers is another potential reservoir of shame: braces, big feet, height, weight, skin color, ethnic origin, parentage, odd habits can all provide a plethora of opportunities for shaming. Often our families will develop a narrative for us as children that becomes embedded in our psyches – for me it was being clumsy and lazy. Shame over being considered lazy has dogged me throughout my adult life.
My response has been to live my life as a workaholic. And boy did I choose the wrong profession to go into. People love the joke about the minister who works one day a week and it takes two people to bring his salary up to him. And since congregations are never satisfied, the workaholic minister can work all the time, and some people will rate him or her as average or below. It’s a vicious cycle with which I have to struggle. For me finding my “lost part” is re-discovering that I am adequate just as I am, and I am a person of worth no matter whether other people recognize my value or not.
Trauma can create more pain than we can handle in the moment. When we are overwhelmed by pain, fear, grief our psyches will take some of those powerful emotions and bury them for a while until we can bring feelings out and examine them and resolve them. The price we often pay for suppressed emotion is depression. The body will literally become depressed over the amount of energy consumed to keep the suppressed feelings buried. And of course if something is buried long enough it becomes lost. It isn’t gone. It’s still there, just lost, leaving a generalized depression in its wake.
Zara Renander in her book Labyrinths: Journeys of Healing Stories of Grace, recounts the story of an old man who rediscovered and reconciled a part of himself that had been sent into exile during World War II:
A chill rain dampened that dark, cold November afternoon, and after the students left, I thought about closing the labyrinth and going home. That’s when he arrived, an old man bent over and walking in some pain, shuffling and dragging his feet. I’d never seen him before. He’d come in response to one of our advertisements. He asked for a few directions on how to walk a labyrinth and started out. As his feet followed the circular path, his body began to shake – it became obviously difficult for him to continue. I went to him to help him and said, “This is very hard for you, isn’t it?” He nodded by way of acknowledgement then opened his hand. In his palm he held a crumpled, tear stained piece of paper with the names of his World War II comrades. “All dead,” he murmured, “all dead.” Together we lit a candle for each of his friends and placed their names on a prayer list. Afterwards, he said, “I didn’t understand why I had come here this afternoon. Thank you, now I know.”
I never saw the old man again, but I have often thought about him and his story. I thought about how he held all his friends in his heart over the long years, perhaps wondering why he was alive and they were not. A labyrinth is a place of connection, a place where the boundaries between realities are permeable: The living and the dead are close. In this walk the old man was not alone; he walked with the “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) and in the communion of the saints. He must have attended countless Veterans Day parades and ceremonies in his long life yet it took the quiet intimacy, the heart space and prayer on the labyrinth for his tears to flow allowing him to lay down his grief.
GHOSTS OF RESPONSIBILITY
Zara’s story reminds me of my father’s story that involved a piece of guilt that became lost during the trauma of World War II. Dad was the commander of the heavy weapons company, big machine guns, mortars, bazookas, flame throwers. His regiment was holding positions in a place called Campholtz Woods. Suddenly elements of a German Panzer Division came over the ridge and began blowing men out of their fox holes with the 88’s mounted on the tanks. American Prisoners of War were tied to the front of the German tanks, and they were screaming “don’t shoot, don’t shoot!” My father had to give the order for the heavy weapons to open up to stop the German advance. It was a traumatic decision, not his fault, but the ghost of responsibility lingered for almost 50 years.
SHOT TRYING TO ESCAPE
Later Dad had to detail some of his men to take the German soldiers taken captive in the battle to go back to the Prisoner of War detainment area. The men detailed to take the prisoners behind the lines returned a short time later claiming that all of the prisoners had been shot trying to escape. They were moving forward, no time to investigate, they were in the middle of a war. But still there was the ghost of responsibility.
ALL THAT IS LOST IS FOUND
Dad didn’t talk much about the war, when I was younger, and I had always attributed that to the horrific stomach wounds he had received a short time after the action in Campholtz Woods. Some of you may remember how his Clemson Ring saved his life. But at the very end of his life, he shared with me the stories of giving orders to open fire on the tanks with the American prisoners tied to them, and the German prisoners who were “shot trying to escape.” I think in that special time of reviewing his life as he was dying, Dad recovered and in the sharing reconciled that piece of guilt from his service in World War II. Eventually all that is lost is found.
So far we have covered shame, trauma, and guilt, but there is a fourth source of feelings that can be sent into exile, the shadow side of our personalities. Jesus wrestled with his shadow during his 40 days in the wilderness. Each one of us has thoughts, feelings, appetites with which we struggle: greed, lust, anger, prejudice, desire for power or attention. Sometimes we are so afraid of our shadows or we become so tired of the effort to contain those dark urges, we exile our unwanted feelings into our unconscious, where they trouble our dreams and haunt our lives as addictions, broken relationships, depression, frustrated energy, psychosomatic illness, and neurosis.
RECLAIMING THE SHADOW – POWERFULLY ALONE
Allow me to illustrate reclaiming part of our shadow with a story from Labyrinths: Journeys of Healing Stories of Grace:
Monica was a well-to-do middle-aged woman. . . But when her third husband, who had taken good care of her, unexpectedly died, her spirits plummeted and she grieved deeply for him and for herself. During this period of mourning she also became critically ill and found out that she needed to have radical heart surgery. She was terrified. How could she face surgery on her own without the support and strength of her husband? I wasn’t a lack of confidence in her doctors or the hospital staff. . . it was the powerful sense of being completely alone for the first time in many years and having to undergo this life-or-death ordeal by herself without a man beside her.
STRENGTH AND COURAGE
. . .She was looking for spiritual strength and courage to go through her upcoming ordeal. I suggested a labyrinth walk and explained what would be involved and why she might want to do this. She agreed, but asked if she could bring something with her that belonged to her late husband, because she still could not imagine doing anything without him. She chose an old T-shirt that faintly smelled of him and clutched it close to her face as she entered the labyrinth. As Monica went deeper inside, slowly without her noticing she started to relax her grip. She carried the T-shirt gently in her hands, and as she reached the center, placed it on the ground. She emerged from the labyrinth with a rather bewildered look on her face, and said, “I left it in the middle.” Then the awareness of what she had done hit her. She realized that, along with the T-shirt, she’d left her dependency in the middle of the labyrinth and claimed her own life, identity, courage and strength! She said to me, “Oh I see, I can do this by myself now.” And she did.
Monica’s story is powerful for many reasons. It demonstrates so strongly the body/spirit connection. Monica needed to ritually lay down her grief and dependency in a physical manner in order to recover her independence and accept a new identity. . .
GOD CAN MAKE US WHOLE
Jesus promises us that all that is lost can be found, if we have the courage and faith to look into our shadows and embrace the parts of ourselves we have exiled to the unconscious. Jesus says to all of us, “Come home. No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, come home to the love of the creator.” As fragmented as we are the power of God can make us whole.