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Fully Alive! – BE-Longing

Date: 30/04/2023/Speaker: Ps Pauline Ong

Fully Alive: BE-Longing
30 April 2023

This morning, I want to begin by reading Ps. 23 to you. You can choose to close your eyes and just listen, letting the words sink deep into your hearts. Or you can follow along with me on the visuals if that helps you absorb better.

23 A psalm of David (The Inclusive Bible)

1 YHWH, you are my shepherd—
I want nothing more.

2 You let me lie down in green meadows;
you lead me beside restful waters:

3 you refresh my soul. You guide me to lush pastures
for the sake of your Name.

4 Even if I’m surrounded by shadows of Death,
I fear no danger, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff—
they give me courage.

5 You spread a table for me
in the presence of my enemies,
and you anoint my head with oil—
my cup overflows!

6 Only goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in your house, YHWH,
for days without end.

Question 1 (Word Cloud)
How did you feel when you were listening to the reading of Psalm 23?

What stood out for you from this familiar psalm this time round?

What stood out for me as I was meditating on this psalm is that the points of action lie with God the Shepherd. We are called to just BE.

Psalm 23: Being Before Doing

You let me lie down in green meadows
You lead me beside restful waters
You refresh my soul
You guide me to lush pastures
You are with me
You spread a table for me
You anoint my head with oil
I will dwell in your house all the days of my life

We are called to just BE and dwell in the house of God forever.

Now I want to read to you John 10:1-11.

Psalm 23 is from the Hebrew Bible and John 10 is from the New Testament. See if you can pick out any connections or commonalities between these two Scripture passages.

John 10:1-11 (The Inclusive Bible)
“The truth of the matter is,
whoever doesn’t enter the sheepfold through the gate
but climbs in some other way is a thief and a robber.
2 The one who enters through the gate
is the shepherd of the sheep,
3 the one for whom the keeper opens the gate.
The sheep hear the shepherd’s voice;
the shepherd calls them by name and leads them out.
4 Having led them all out of the fold,
the shepherd walks in front of them and they follow
because they recognize(know) the shepherd’s voice.
5 They simply won’t follow strangers—
they’ll flee from them because they don’t recognize the voice of strangers.”
6 Even though Jesus used this metaphor with them, they didn’t grasp what he was trying to tell them.
7 He therefore said to them again: “The truth of the matter is,
I am the sheep gate.
8 All who came before me were thieves and marauders
whom the sheep didn’t heed.
9 I am the gate.
Whoever enters through me will be safe—
you’ll go in and out and find pasture.
10 The thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy.
I came that you might have life and have it to the full.
11 I am the good shepherd.
A good shepherd would die for the sheep.

Question 2 (Word Cloud)
What commonalities & differences did you see between Psalm 23 & John 10?

There are many similarities but also some differences. Like other than the good shepherd, Jesus also describes himself in John as the gate – basically the Protector: “Whoever enters through me will be safe.” But overall, there are plenty of commonalities between Psalm 23 and John 10.

Through the layering of these two passages, we come to a deeper understanding of our Shepherd who cares for us so tenderly and attentively. The one who protects and keeps us safe. The one who tends to our needs. The good shepherd who would go to the extent of dying for the sheep.

The One who desires for us to live life to the full. This promise of “life to the full” is similar to Psalm 23:6 where the psalmist says:

Only goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in your house, YHWH,
for days without end.

Jesus promises us abundant life. (John 10:10)
And Jesus makes the distinction: there is life, and then there is life to the full.
When you think about “abundant life” or “life to the full” what comes to your mind?

We sometimes think of the word “abundant” as meaning “having a lot of or more of something.” “More money,” “more sex,” “more love,” “more success” – that’s what abundance means to some people.

But when Jesus says “life to the full” he means: identity, being known, being someone’s; it is belonging, love, it is purpose, meaning, contentment, hope, joy; it is freedom, dignity, relationship. Abundant life is all the most profound things which we long and hope for.

To make it easier, I summarized it in this way:

Abundant Life = BE + Longing

To come fully alive, we need to know WHO we are and WHOSE we are.

BE-longing is made up of two components: BE (our identity) and our longings.

From Psalm 23, we understand that we must first learn being before doing.

Question 3 (Multiple Choice)
Which of these statements are truer of you currently?

What I do determines who I am.

Who I am determines what I do.

Recently we had a one-day leaders retreat for all our leaders here at FCC. We got to reflect on ourselves and share more deeply with each other using this tool called the Diversity Tree.

The Diversity Tree basically has 5 components that we use to share about ourselves so we can get to know each other on a deeper level. One of the components is your personal philosophy. Basically, this means your values and what gives you meaning and purpose in your life. So let me share with you my personal philosophy:

We are here to learn to love and be loved. I am passionate about the spiritual and emotional well-being and growth of individuals and communities, and my life work is to help people know they are beloved beyond labels.

This is my philosophy of life — this is what gives me meaning and purpose.

Question 4 (Open)
What is your personal philosophy? What gives you meaning and purpose?

I am inviting you to reflect because knowing who we are and what’s important to us forms the foundation of how we can live life to the full. Being before Doing.

But our spiritual lives do not just stop with Being. It is about getting the order and priorities right first. We need to first BE and then we DO.

We see this development from Psalm 23 to John 10. Earlier I said in Psalm 23, the points of action lay mostly with our Shepherd. In John 10, it is not only the Shepherd who cares for, tends to, and protects the sheep. We also see the sheep in action, responding to the Shepherd.

John 10: Being Before Doing
Hear the Shepherd’s voice (v.3)
Follow the Shepherd’s leading (v.4)
Know (recognize) the Shepherd’s voice (v.4)
Find pasture that is life-giving (v.9)
Have life to the full (v.10)
To come fully alive, we need to know WHO we are and WHOSE we are.
So how do you know who you belong to?
Your longings tell you who you are and to whom you belong.

Do you long to hear the Shepherd’s voice, follow the Shepherd’s leading?

Do you long to know the voice of your Shepherd, to find pasture that is life-giving, and live life to the full?

Mirabai Starr, an author and teacher of contemplative practice and inter-spiritual dialogue, wrote:

“But this is a lover who will never leave you. . . . You know only unbearable yearning. You have forgotten that the longing itself is the answer to the longing, that in the very crying out for the Holy One, the Holy One is pouring herself into you.”

One of my favourite mystics is Julian of Norwich. After a serious life-threatening illness, during which she experienced revelations of Jesus’ love, she wrote about the compassionate, mothering God she had encountered. She said: 

Christ is the one who connects us to the “great root” of our being. . .We are not simply made by God; we are made “of God.” So we encounter the energy of God in our true depths. And we will know the One from whom we have come only to the extent that we know ourselves. God is the “ground” of life. So it is to the very essence of our being that we look for God. . .

Grace is given to save our nature, not to save us from our nature. It is given to free us from the unnaturalness of what we have become and done to one another and to the earth. Grace is given “to bring nature back to that blessed point from which it came, namely God.” It is given that we may hear again the deepest sounds within us. What Julian of Norwich hears is that “we are all one.” We have come from God as one, and to God we shall return as one.

Christ’s soul and our soul are like an everlasting knot. The deeper we move in our own being, the closer we come to Christ. And the closer we come to Christ’s soul, the nearer we move to the heart of one another. The key to hearing what is at the heart of the human soul is to listen to our deepest longings, for “the desire of the soul is the desire of God.”

Of course, many of our desires have become infected or overlaid by confusions and distortions, but at the root of our being is the sacred longing for union. It is to this deepest root that Christ leads us. Our soul is made “of God,” so it is grounded in the desires of God. And at the heart of these holy desires is what Julian calls “love-longing.” It is the most sacred and the most natural of yearnings.

Do you experience what Julian of Norwich calls “love-longing,” the sacred longing for union with the Divine?

Maybe for many of us, our longings are not as dramatic or clear like Julian’s. James Finley, one of the faculty members at the Center for Action and Contemplation, clarifies that not all longings for the divine will be experienced in such a dramatic or clear way. We can also pay attention to our own dissatisfaction with “the way things are.” He writes:

Sometimes—often, in fact—the longings of prayer are diffused and muted longings that one barely feels at all. What we notice is that we tend to be entirely too indifferent and uncommitted to the spiritual path. But in looking more closely, we can discern a sense of discontent with our apparent lack of zeal.

The discontent belies a subtle desire hidden beneath the surface of an ongoing apparent lack of desire. . . . We pretend we do not care about what we, at some deep level that is hard to access, actually care about very much. It seems there is a deal that the heart makes with itself not to admit that it harbors a desire so deep it could not go on without that desire being fulfilled.

He says, “Whenever someone on the spiritual path shares with me their concerns about their lack of desire for and commitment to their path, I often sense the tender sadness in all that they share. The tenderness lies in the sincerity in which they obviously do care. For if they did not care, their perceived lack of caring would be of no concern to them. And the sadness lies in their inability to see how God loves them so, in the midst of their real and imagined lack of commitment to God.” -James Finley

Are you discontented with the way you hear, follow, and know the Shepherd’s voice? Are you dissatisfied with your ability to find pasture that is life-giving and helps you live life to the full?

Perhaps this discontent and dissatisfaction is a signal of the deeper longing in you for all of these — the longing to hear, follow, and know the Shepherd’s voice…the longing to find pasture that is life-giving and helps you live life to the full.

Discontent and disappointment are signs of our longings – our longings for our own lives as well as our longings for the well-being of the world. Sometimes, we get tired and disillusioned when we keep hearing about the injustices and brokenness in the world, and it can frankly be overwhelming. So we shut down or withdraw to avoid feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. I understand and I do that sometimes.

But I want us to remember that our discontent and disappointments regarding the world actually reflect the heart of our Shepherd. God longs for this world to be restored to wholeness. We as people of God, inherit those longings in our soul for the world to be whole. That’s why we get disillusioned and discouraged when we look at the brokenness of people’s lives and the world around us. We carry in us deep longings and the heart of God our Shepherd.

Last week, you heard Rabbi Miriam speak about tikkum olam – the repair of the world. And she told the story of the Holocaust – one of the most painful historical examples of the brokenness in our world, and the capacity of humans to hate, to stir up fear, to hurt, and to kill. And she asked, “Where was God? Could any of the sparks of God’s Presence, God’s Light, be found in those dark years of 1939-1945?

Then she said, “We can find those sparks of God in human actions – in the acts of resistance and bravery, in the gestures of human kindness extended to fellow prisoners, in the brave people we call Righteous Gentiles who risked their own lives and the lives of their families to save their friends, neighbours, or even total strangers.”

Even in the darkest of times, we carry within us longings for the well-being of others and the world. You not only carry the longings and the heart of our Shepherd, you also have the ability to let the sparks of God’s Presence, God’s Light be felt in our broken world.

Question 5 (Word Cloud)
What are some of your longings for yourself and for the world?

To come fully alive, you need to know WHO you are and WHOSE you are.

Only when you are at peace with your identity, know and own your longings, then you will experience what it means to fully BE-Long. Being and then doing. That’s when you truly and fully come alive.

“YHWH, you are our shepherd—
We want nothing more.”

May only goodness and love follow you all the days of your life.

May you dwell in the house of God and live life to the fullest, letting the sparks of God’s presence be felt in our broken world through your being and doing always.