I delivered this sermon in August of 2006. It is as true today as when I first delivered it. As we bask in this season of Beltane, its message of love, especially self-love seemed so potent.
I want to just say a little bit about what I call ‘the Journey.’ I have said this to some of you, because some of you have asked me questions about feeling that because things are difficult that you’ve lost your way, that you’ve somehow lost your way on the path. And I’ve said to you, “No, that’s part of the path.” You haven’t lost your way, the path includes the entire wealth of human experience. The highs, the lows, the confusions and the false clarities, all are part of the process.
Perfection is not our goal. We all know that, right? We are not trying to produce perfect people. Perfection is actually a trap; it is a distraction. The goal of your spiritual journey is for you become more of what you already are. Now, that has a trap, there is a trap in that statement. The trap is that, whatever you imagine that you are, you then carve into stone and say, “This is what I am!” – and that is not what we mean. What we mean is that you become more of what you already are … beyond your comprehension; beyond your small, narrow view of reality. It’s not to celebrate the mediocre, or to celebrate and rejoice over your own misconceptions, repressions, fears, illusions, and whatever. It’s just to point out that we’re not trying to make you into carbon copies of someone else.
Our goal and our job in each lifetime, in each incarnation, is to become what we already are in this lifetime. Some say that once you are born into this world, you spend the first half of your life figuring out why you are here. What are you here to do, what is your purpose? We are trying to speed up that process here in Reflections, but we need to also recognize that this process of coming to know who you are is part of the reason why you are here. Does that make sense? It’s not just, we figure it out and then we can do what we’re here for. Part of the reason we’re here is to figure that out. The self-discovery process is as important as the later work.
I get to hear lots of folk’s darkest thoughts, their biggest fears and their self-assessments – which very rarely have been a reflection of reality, I have to tell you that – and one of the things that always amazes me is how little we see of ourselves. It’s what keeps me humble in a very real way. We very rarely see ourselves for what we really are. And being unable to see ourselves, we very rarely see each other. (Sometimes we can have a better view of other people than we do of ourselves but our own self-blindness often obscures it through projections.)
But it is just amazing how much self-abuse we engage in, within this process. I just want you to consider that this is not a Judeo-Christian path. We’re not looking for martyrdom. The purpose of this path and this work is not to make you suffer. I say that, knowing full well that it can feel like we are using diamond dust in our efforts to get you to shine. The goal is to get you to shine, not to get you to suffer; but sometimes it hurts getting to the shiny part.
So the pain is not the goal. That’s not why you’re here. You’re not here to suffer. That’s not your job. It is not even my job. My students may believe otherwise, but my job is not actually to push you out on little rafts onto the River Styx, nor to push you off the cliff. My job is to catch you, when you do fall, and to fish you out of the deep water when you can’t swim. You’re job is not to suffer. You’re job is to grow. And part of that job is to find the joy, the beauty, the sweetness, even in the darkest moments. So, let’s stop inviting more suffering into our lives. Let’s stop holding that as a banner: I must be growing because it’s hard, or it hurts. Let’s use another measure: I must be growing, because there is such beauty around me. There is such love, such preciousness in the world.
I think I have said before that this is the sermon every black, woman minister I know shares at some point as part of her ministry. And it’s from Beloved by Toni Morrison. It is the sermon given by Baby Suggs, Holy to her people, primarily ex-slaves.
“Here,” she said, “in this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it… No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them! Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face ‘cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, you! And no, they ain’t in love with your mouth. Yonder, out there, they will see it broken and break it again. What you say out of it they will not heed…What you put into it to nourish your body they will snatch away and give leavins instead. No they don’t love your mouth. You got to love it."
"This is flesh I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms I’m telling you. And oh my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it, and hold it up. And all your inside parts that they’d just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver - love it, love it, and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet… More than your life-holding womb and your live-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize."
You’ve got to love yourself. And you’ve got love the work that you do. We have got to turn this entire world on its head; that’s says to be spiritual, to seek vocation, is about lack and scarcity. It’s not. It’s about loving yourself, loving your work, loving your hands, loving your heart, loving your feet! Because out there in the larger world it may never get appreciated by others.
This is the Journey -- love, love, love. It starts with love, it ends with love, and it is sustained by love. Never forget that.
How can you be the beauty, the star, and the beacon in this world if you can’t love yourself? It’s not possible.
This is the Journey we’re on. We are discovering ourselves; we are rediscovering ourselves; so that we can learn to love ourselves -- in all our gloriousness and all our pettiness; in all our strengths and all our weaknesses; in all of our boundless beauty and all of our limitations. It’s the work of a lifetime, and all I ask is that you take a step every chance you can.
That’s why we’re here, that’s the Journey.
Even in the midst of darkness; even in the midst of fear, sadness and grief -- love, love, love.