Weight – January 24, 2021

Looking out my windows earlier this month, I was captivated by the ice which covered the trees after the ice storm.  We have many trees on our lot, and I have been surprised to see that not one of them has fallen.  Their branches have sagged greatly under the weight they have been holding.  Branches have broken or fallen to the ground.  But the trees have remained standing.  Seeing their sagging branches, knowing the strain they are under, I longed for warmer temperatures, hoping their burdens can be lifted.  Covered with ice, the trees looked beautiful.  But under that beauty there was strain holding up that weight and the constant threat of breaking completely.

Seeing those trees covered by ice, I was reminded of a concept in Jewish tradition concept called the kelipot.  What this tradition teaches is that while we all hold within us the Divine light, this light can become covered.  The kelipot are envelopes or husks that cover that light within us just as a peel hides the fruit within.  They are like shells that imprison within them the light of God.  They are spiritual obstacles that come to weigh us down.  Because it is concealed, our light becomes less bright.  Covered with these husks, the Divine essence within us become clouded, shrouded in these shadows that cover it.  But while the kelipot can alter the appearance of the light, they cannot change the essence of the light itself.  They do not extinguish the light they contain.

For some of us, these husks take the form of broken relationships, times when we have felt rejected, unwanted, unloved.  Sometimes these husks form when the hopes we had for ourselves do not come to fruition.  Others from pain which has been intentionally inflicted upon us by others.  Sometimes these husks form from living in a world in which the darkness is so pronounced, where justice seems so long in coming.  But the light which lives is at our core cannot be extinguished, cannot be snuffed out.  Just like those trees covered with ice, there is a life within which not extinquished by the weight which covers it.

To remove these husks, to overcome the darkness, we return our focus to the light which dwells within us.  To, like the ice which covered those trees, to begin to allow the weight which holds us down to fall off.  To allow the light which shines through others and from the Divine presence to unravel the husks which seek to contain our light.  Because while they can distort the light, these shells or husks can also serve a purpose.  Like the skin that surrounds a fruit to allow it to develop, these antagonistic forces can call out our greatest potentials.  I read it described as like a road test for cars.  Just as vehicles are put under the most difficult circumstances to push them to their limits and bring out their capabilities, the darkness which surrounds us can push us forward and bring out the best within us, can serve to brighten the light within us.

Thomas Merton alluded to this when he wrote that “there is in all things . . . a hidden wholeness.”  Parker Palmer writes that the wholeness which is within us can become divided.  That we begin to hide our true selves from one another when we fear that others will extinguish the light within us or that our inner darkness, those husks of kelipot, will be exposed.  We believe that we have a role that we must fulfill, an image we must project to others.  And often that role, that image, is different from who we are at our core.  It is a mask we wear to fulfill what others expect of us, what we want others to see.  Rather than our inner light shining, we can become obsessed with succeeding, or maybe just surviving.  Palmer suggests that when that happens, we lose touch with our souls and disappear into our roles.

And when we begin living these divided lives due to the weight we carry, when we become separated from our souls, our spirituality suffers.  And this divided life impacts the way we interact with the world.  We may not take action on an issue that we feel compelled to address.  We may begin to ignore our deepest convictions.  It may lead us to hide what we believe from others who might disagree with us in the hope of avoiding conflict, remain in relationships that damage our spirit.  And it impacts the way we view ourselves.  We see ourselves as acting as a fraud, we become anxious that others will find out who we truly are, we become depressed because we are denying our true selves.  We may turn to substances or diversions to numb the pain that we feel from this inner division, to lift the weight this division carries.

But when we refuse to live a divided life, when we embrace the fullness of who we are, when we do not allow our true selves to be weighed down, we can become a powerful force for change.  Acting out of our passions, out of the unique gifts we bring to the world, we are empowered to bring the full power of our true selves to the world.

I know what it is like to live the divided life.  I lived that divided life for the majority of my years.  I didn’t want to be a lawyer, but I went to law school because it was what was expected of me.  Once I got there, I thought I could heal the division which existed within me by working for social justice or public interest.  But once I did well in law school, I went to a big law firm because I was told that was what success looked like.  All the while I was pretending to be happy about my situation, that my goals had been achieved.  But inside I felt unfulfilled, anxious, and empty.

I lived a divided life spiritually as well.  I attended churches in which I disagreed with their theology, knew that what I was hearing from the pulpit was wrong.  I attended churches which discriminated against the LGBTQ community.  Churches which instilled in me a feeling that my spirituality had to be a burden, a set of rules to follow, with the ever-present threat of eternal and temporal judgment looming over me.  Communion was an exclusive affair, available only to the spiritually clean and to take it otherwise was to bring punishment on myself.  Altar calls, threats of hell, a need to be saved from the sin which was at the core of me was the focus.  And these shells came to cover the light which existed within me, caused me to want to walk away from any connection to faith never to return again.

Our spirituality can be one of the easiest places to live a divided life.  For so many people, faith is a burden.  And it becomes difficult to see it any other way.  This was true in the time of Jesus as well.  The people were burdened by the expectations placed on them by their religious leaders, by the Pharisees, by the law.   They were weighed down by the taxing demands of Rome.  But Jesus says his way is different.  That God’s empire is life giving.  That Jesus sees God’s rule as being characterized by compassion, by love rather than by judgment and rigidity.

We have a choice not to live this divided life.  We can work to bring our inner selves back into harmony with what we project into the world.  One of the best pieces of advice I have received came from my first supervisor in clinical pastoral education.  She told me in making the decisions which will determine the path of my life, I should analyze whether those situations fit one of two categories.  Is what I am considering life-giving or is it death dealing?  So often we make those choices which are death dealing, whether we recognize it as that or not.  We choose it because it is easier, because it is what others expect of us, because it may give us some immediate relief.  But as we continue down this path, it increasingly separates us from who we truly are, what we really believe, what brings us life.  And we become weighed down.

I believe there are many who live this divided life, who feel the weight of living in this manner.  Removing these husks, shedding the weight which holds us down requires a community.  We need others to see us for who we truly are and to feel accepted.  We need others to challenge us when they see us acting in a way inconsistent with who they know us to be.  We need to others to walk beside us, to lift us up when like those trees covered with ice, our spirits feel weighed down by the darkness which conceals our light.  With that support, we can learn the truth about who we are and how we relate to the world.  That we can give life in the midst of so much death

And this is what makes New Covenant such a vital part of our community.  This can be that safe place for people to be who they are, to express what they believe, without wearing a mask, without having to carry the weight of inner division.  That they can express their faith without fear of judgment, without carrying the burdens traditionally associated with “religion.”

As we heard in our reading this morning, we need a recognition that our souls are unconquerable.  That no matter what darkness seeks to conceal it, our light cannot be extinguished.  That we can live a life of wholeness, a life which thrives and continues to grow regardless of the weight which seeks to break us.  And the more we know this, the more we push to overcome whatever divisions seek destroy our wholeness, the more we tear away the husks which seek to conceal our light, the weight will start to fall away, the ice will melt.  And we will be standing, a testament to the strength which lies within us.  A light which cannot be extinguished.