“The Spirit of God”
Text: Luke 17: 20-21
“Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, Look, here it is! Or there it is! For in fact, the kingdom of God is within you.”
A number of you already know I’m in the process of building a house. When you build a house there are a number of tools that are nice to have, but one of those tools which I’m not sure you could do without is one of these. This is a six-foot level and this particular tool helps you to keep things straight and plumb and square. Don’t worry if those terms don’t mean anything to you, it just means the level is a way to make sure everything lines up the way it is supposed to. Builders from the ancient past used levels of all kinds to build things like the Roman Coliseum or the great cathedrals of Europe. I think something was wrong with the level when they built this tower in Pisa, so you can see how important it is.
The way a level works is very simple. Enclosed in this long straight guide is a glass tube filled with liquid that has a bubble in it. Just like when you are swimming or in the hot tub, the bubbles want to go up. In the case of the level, the bubble moves toward the high side, or up in a sense. If you want a floor, for example to be level, you can place this tool on the floor and see if there is a high side. If the floor is not level, the bubble will move to the high side. If the bubble stays in the center of your glass tube, you know things are level.
I bring this up because every one of us has the same kind of level system built into our inner ears. This system keeps the world around us level and allows us to walk or climb stairs, etc without losing our balance. There is a fluid in our inner ear that provides for us an equilibrium and keeps things in what we consider to be a normal state. This fluid, called endolymph, moves around in our ear canal and when it moves, it sends messages to our brain about the physical position of our bodies in relation to everything else. All of us have endolymph, there are no exceptions.
We all have endolymph, but we don’t all use it in the same way. Through practice and training, we can actually get our brains to react to the endolymph in certain ways. One of these reactions is what we refer to as balance. I’m just curious, how many of us in here today can ride a bike, or at least used to be able to ride a bike? Can I see your hands, OK – good, that seems to be almost everyone. When you learned how to ride a bike, you trained your brain and your body to react to the movement of the endolymph in a certain way so you could keep your balance on the bicycle. Most of us I’m guessing mastered the bicycle in a day or two – and if we got back on one today, our brain and our bodies would remember, and we would be able to ride.
One of the physical challenges of traveling in space is that once in orbit, gravity is no longer working on this fluid in our inner ears. Astronauts have to go through special weightlessness training in order to train their brains and their bodies how to react when the endolymph in their inner ears begins to float. If you have ever experienced vertigo, you might have some sense about how this feels. I’m certain it is very odd at first, but with training those who travel in outer space learn to adapt.
My point in all this is to simply demonstrate that even though we all possess similar equipment that is the same fluid in our ears; it is possible to accomplish remarkable things through the training and practice of using that equipment in a certain way. I hope you heard that, because it is extremely important for what I’m about to say next.
The scripture that I read a few minutes ago reminds us that everyone has God within. God is within each and every one of us. What we do with that Divine presence is up to us. We can practice and train with that Divine Spirit, or we can essentially ignore it, or just get by. We can stay in a pattern of just walking….or we could learn to travel in space – spiritually speaking!
I would like for you to consider a concept that has been brought out in the book, ‘The Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle, and in this book, the author talks about the value in turning off our minds and beginning to connect with that other self, that Divine self, that is within each of us. Many people feel it is nearly impossible to turn off their minds; the thoughts just keep coming and coming, one after the other.
Turning off your mind is nothing more than training. It may seem nearly impossible at first, but with practice, it can be accomplished. Just like the astronauts or learning to ride a bike.
I believe one of the reasons we find this difficult is because we are seldom asked to do it. The church for centuries, I believe, has reinforced the idea of God as an external being rather than something which resides within you. I think this point is worthy of further clarification. If you are going to be in conversation with someone, it is rather obvious your mind must be engaged to carry on the conversation. As long as God remains external, any time we pray or try to have a conversation with an external God, our minds must be engaged. Only when God becomes internalized and we focus our attention to our inner-self does the mind get in the way. We find this difficult because we have not practiced or trained. If the collective mind-set of Christianity had been to focus on the internal God for the last 2,000 years I’m thinking we would not have so much difficulty with this concept today. But, alas, we have been trained and conditioned to think of God as external – and to make the switch to an internal God will require some training and some practice.
One of the ways to practice this and to get in touch with our connection to the Divine that resides within you is to spend a few minutes each day totally focused on the now, or to say it another way, the present moment. I realize that sounds like rhetoric, so let me explain what I mean by giving you an example.
I heard a story of a woman who was fighting depression; she was in the midst of a divorce, her teenage son was in trouble with the law, she was in danger of being laid off at work and it seemed whenever she needed it the most, her car would not run. One morning the feelings of helplessness were almost overwhelming and she went to her window about to have a good cry. Instead of having a good cry as she had planned, a beautiful blue bird caught her attention. She had never seen anything quite like this particular bird; the colors were so bright and the bird seemed to be so alive. She watched as the bird picked up a sunflower seed from the bird feeder and cracked it open with its beak and enjoyed the contents. First one, and then another and another, the bird was soon joined by a few other sparrows, but the bright blue bird stayed on the feeder for quite some time. When it did fly away, it only flew a few feet to a nearby birch tree that had lost all of its leaves for the winter. The bright blue form of the bird nearly screamed out from against the white bark of the trunk of the birch tree. It stayed in the tree for a time and the woman watched it; the bird would flick its tail, look one way and then the other, it would hop from one branch to the next. Eventually, the bird flew away and the woman’s concentration was broken.
As the bird flew away, the woman continued to stand at the window for a minute or two. Then, slowly the old familiar cares of the world came back in to occupy her mind. She glanced at the clock on the kitchen wall and was stunned to realize she had been watching the bird for nearly half an hour. It was then she also realized, for the last 30 minutes her pain was gone. For the last half hour this woman had been totally focused on the present moment and had effectively turned off her mind. As a result, she was in complete connection and complete harmony with the Divine presence that was within her.
This 30-minute respite did not solve any of the problems for her. But what it did accomplish is it allowed some time away from the stress and the chaos of her daily living. In this way, when she did return to the thought patterns of the challenges that were before her, she was in a much better position to take on those challenges because of the time spent focused on the present moment. Time spent in the now is great training to help us deal with the anxieties of the future.
When Jesus said the kingdom of God is within us, the only access to that kingdom of God, or that presence of God, is through the quieting of the mind. You have to train yourself to be able to turn off the anxieties of thinking about the future and stay mindfully in the present moment. I think this is what the Psalmist meant when it was written; “Be still, and know that I am God.”
Practice the now. Develop the Divine within you. Go in peace and go with God.