Change Your Mind
by Rev. Katherine Cates
February 18, 2018
Let us pray: We ask that God be here with us as we join our hearts and minds to a common purpose, which is to come to know ourselves and our relationship to God, and to align our hearts with the heart of God.
Today is the first Sunday in Lent. Repent! Repent! How does it feel inside when someone says that to you? I remember an illustration from decades ago where a gray, bearded man stood on the street holding up a sign that read, “The world is coming to an end! Repent!” To me, it felt like being scolded, being told I was bad and needed to feel shame and guilt. I needed to stop my evil ways or I would be punished by God.
Our first reading from Genesis addresses the story of God’s ultimate punishment for a wicked humanity: drown them all! Well, except for a good man named Noah and a few members of his family. Oh, and save a pair of every living thing so that they don’t go extinct. The earth was cleansed of its filth by turbulent waters. God then promised that he would never, ever do that again. The rainbow would be the sign to remind Him of his covenant not to destroy the earth with a flood.
In the second reading, John the Baptist, cleanser of sinners by submersing them in the river Jordan, has just baptized Jesus. After Jesus is cleansed, the Spirit descends upon him and drives Jesus into the wilderness for forty days to be tempted and tested by Satan. The angels waited on Jesus, standing by as he passed with flying colors. When Jesus came out of the wilderness, unscathed by the evil one, Jesus says, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” The kingdom of God is right here, near, yet in order to access this kingdom, we must believe in it. That is the hard part—getting beyond the limitations created by our mind.
Our church is using a Lenten Devotional called Mary Oliver and the Poetry of Lent.
On this first Sunday of Lent, the meditation section states, “In Mark’s original Greek, the word for repentance is metanoia, from meta (“change”) and noia (“mind”); today we might say, “change of heart” or “change of life.” Oliver claims that this kind of change doesn’t flow from self-defeating guilt but rather from incarnate, wild, imaginative love for the world.” Thank you, Mary Oliver, for recognizing that our species can evolve in wisdom and take a softer, more loving approach to Lent.
So, how should we work with the idea of repentance if we see it as changing our heart, changing our life, or changing our mind? First of all, repentance should not be about punishment for perceived crimes or failures. I see too many defeated people who think they aren’t good enough, worthy enough or deserving of a better life. Self-punishment is rampant and is evident in self-destructive and reckless behavior. So, I am not a fan of giving up something you enjoy for Lent.
A great place to start is with radical acceptance, a concept developed by Marsha Linehan, a respected therapist who worked to overcome her own challenge with bipolar disorder. Radical acceptance is about accepting your life as it is right now without judgment or blame. It doesn’t mean that the way things are can’t be improved, it only means that you acknowledge the reality of your circumstances. Denial has no place in radical acceptance. The Serenity Prayer, by Reinhold Niebuhr, is central to the philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous, and parallels the concept of radical acceptance. The first part is fairly well known, while the second part adds to its fullness:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
So, for myself, I accept that I am turning 60 this year and I can’t play sports the same way I could at 30. I don’t have the same stamina as I did at 40. One of my favorite people, my father, died six months ago and I have been accepting of my grief rather than scolding myself for times that I don’t keep it together. These and many other facts of life are the reality of today, so rather than lamenting them or wishing things were different, I am gentle and loving with myself. Then, I consider how to make tomorrow better, happier and healthier.
Changing your mind in the Lenten sense is deeper than merely making a different decision. It is about changing your mindset, looking at the world through a new lens. Making such a change of mind can be very difficult, uncomfortable, even painful. It has taken hundreds of thousands of years for human beings to evolve beyond just seeing the world as a place to simply physically survive. Many in the world still live from such a point of view. I have been fascinated by the stages of development described in Spiral Dynamics and Integral Theory, a combination of the research by Ken Wilber, Don Beck, and Chris Cowan. The first stage is called the instinctive self, where the goal is to find shelter, food, water, and to reproduce.
Then, about 50,000 years ago, the magical self stage became prominent. This involved tribal connections through shared rituals, keeping the spirits happy, mutual safety, magical thinking and a sense of wonder and awe at the mysterious world. About ten thousand years ago, the power self emerged. This involved having power over others, warring against and destroying the “other,” winning their territory and treasures. Courage, passion and risk-taking are the positive traits of this stage.
Then, about 5,000 years ago, the Rule Self emerged, recognizing the need for some structured order to control the chaos of barbaric thinking. The Torah with its Ten Commandments arose from this era; commandments which have become the foundation for modern civilization. Authoritarian religion, government, organized military, the defining of good and evil, discipline and impulse control are all a part of this stage. A very recent evolutionary development occurred about 300 years ago and directly led to the creation of the United States of America; the emergence of the rational self. This stage brought more scientific thinking, modern medicine, individual rights, entrepreneurship, capitalism, freedom to explore beyond the boundaries of the rule-oriented self. The challenges of this stage are moderating greed, materialism, and selfishness.
So, about 150 years ago, around the Civil War era, the sensitive self began to emerge. There was more caring for the other, such as the enslaved, rather than using them for personal economic gain. Social democracies considered ways to ease poverty. Caring for the environment and the earth became important. In our country, Teddy Roosevelt began to set aside land to protect for its natural beauty and wildlife. The Green Party arose from the sensitive self.
So where are we now? Around 50 years ago, the integral self began to awaken. Think 1960s hippies, transcendental meditation, interconnections, flexible perspective-taking, aligning head and heart, less polarization, increased spiritual intelligence. Most recently, about 30 years ago, the holistic self began to emerge with its deep experience of oneness, intuition and recognition of the power of presence.
As you may notice, when humanity evolves to the next stage, it does not mean we leave the previous stages behind. We incorporate each stage as a new layer of awareness. As a matter of fact, when we are fearful, insecure, and angry, we revert back to earlier stages. Humanity is in a major transition right now, and we could either destroy ourselves by fully reverting to the power self stage in a nuclear world or we could get through it by finding our way to interconnectedness and compassion. Our survival depends upon our successful evolution.
As individuals, what can we do? Change our minds and attitudes when we see things in our lives that are not working well. When a critical mass of individuals succeeds in raising their awareness, then society can change for the better. Don’t let fear drive you back into the dark ages. The kingdom of God is here; we just need to open our hearts to see it and make it part of our world.