Sermon: Worry and Flow–October 7, 2018


Creation Care Sunday/ October 7, 2018

William Bradbury

Genesis 2:18-25, Psalm 148:7-14, Revelation 5:11-14, Matthew 6:25-34

Jesus says, “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” Some people get the meaning of this all wrong! They think Jesus is telling us to be passive, put our feet up, and God will fill our plates with mounds of food. Couch Potato spirituality! And since they know this is crazy, they dismiss Jesus as crazy too, or if not crazy, at least out of touch with how the real world works.

But Jesus is no fool and he is a close observer of reality. He knows that birds work hard every day to survive. They’re often in motion looking for food and water. We tells ourselves that if a bird wants to get the worm, she better be early. What Jesus is asking us to imitate, therefore, is how birds work without worry. How even in the middle of a busy day they find time to sing and ride the wind—for the sheer joy of it.

Then, Jesus goes on to say: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life”. But by itself this is not enough, because the mind doesn’t handle negatives very well: tell people not to think of a purple unicorn and what happens? So, when Momma tells us not to worry about the opinions of others that is immediately what we worry about.

We find that we cannot stop our worry by worrying about our worry.   

The best way to stop worry is to have our minds absorbed by something else. When we fill our minds with, say, watching a Sox-Yankees playoff game, we may totally forget our worry for several hours. Playing sports also works: for me playing tennis shrinks my world to this court, these players, and this yellow ball, and nothing else. In the middle of a point I’m not worrying about my finances or my health.

Some of you know how to lose yourselves in playing bridge, reading, gardening, music, playing with your pets, or watching a good movie. These activities are pleasurable because they fill our minds with joy and energy as worries drop out of view.

When we are fully involved in such things, we may enter what is called “being in flow”. Wikipedia describes “Flow” this way: “…flow, also known colloquially as being in the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus….In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one’s sense of space and time.” In flow the conscious mind with its endless list of worries falls away, and a more joyful and truer self emerges.

Birds and flowers live in a state of flow. Our pets do too. They don’t worry about having to die, but simply live their lives! The exception would be when a dog or cat is living with a person who is abusive. Then, the sickness of the person interferes with the wellness of the pet. Of course, we see this on a massive scale when human beings living outside of the state of flow abuse and corrupt the health of the planet.

Jesus lives in flow. He works hard but without worry. He takes breaks away from the crowd and their demands, to re-energize himself through prayer, silence, and solitude. Therefore, Jesus is fully in the present moment, paying attention to birds, flowers, and the people right in front of him.

The encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, in John 4, is a good example. If Jesus were like some other men, he would be so wrapped up in his mission to save the world, he would either ignore the woman or want to use her as a sex object to distract him from his worries.

Yet, Jesus connects with her profoundly to heal her life. This fact points to a central truth we must see: if we are to share his experience of flow we must first share his experience of God, who he calls Abba.

Thomas Keating, Trappist Monk and leading teaching of Centering Prayer says, “The primary attitude that Jesus suggests we [cultivate] is the realization that God is Abba: close, concerned, nurturing, bending over us with boundless protection, tenderness and love.” Manifesting God, Page 71

Jesus puts it this way: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” The Message translates this verse by saying: “Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.”

Jesus’s Abba experience is the foundation on which his life is built. And his experience of Abba, above all others, is what he wants to lead us into. In the temptation in the desert Satan tells Jesus to forget this foundation and instead deal first with the pieces of his life and they will all come together later just fine.

“Deal with your hunger, Jesus, by turning stones into bread, deal with attracting followers by jumping off the temple and landing safely, and deal with Rome by worshipping Satan and thereby having more power than Caesar.

But Jesus repeatedly says, “Seek first the presence and purposes of Abba and all these other pieces will be yours as well.”

We have been trained to think that juggling all the pieces of our lives is the only way to have a full life. Even to the point that we believe that the more things we can juggle at once the better things will work out for us.

Jesus’s witness and word to us is the opposite: enter first the flow of Abba’s presence and purposes and your fragmented life will begin to fall into place.

And when we share Christ’s flow, creation itself rejoices, because now we are living in a way that heals, rather than hurts the earth. We stop spewing toxic chemicals into earth, wind, and water. We stop wasting our resources and we recycle.

And we work hard to clean up the messes we have already made—like the Merrimack River. Paul is pointing in this direction when he writes in Romans 8: “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.”

As we live as Abba’s daughters and sons all of creation begins to get well.

Needless to say, we are not there yet, but Christ is working in each of us to develop habits that lead us into Christ’s flow: habits like being grateful for all our blessings; practices like being mindful so that when we slip into worry we can gently letting it go; like accepting and forgiving our past and being radically open to God’s future.

I think here of Dag Hammarskjold, a name a few of you will remember. Dag was the Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1953 to 1961, when he was killed in a plane crash on his way to a crisis in the Congo. After his death, his journal was discovered and then published with the title Markings. It reveals a man steeped in the writings of the Christian mystics who share the experience of Christ. One entry I’ve always loved is this two-line prayer, which I commend to you as you seek first the flow of Abba in your life.

It describes how the birds live, how Jesus lives:

The prayer goes: “For all that has been, Thanks.
For all that shall be, Yes!”