Readings: Matthew 15:32-39, Apocalypse Revealed #10 (see below)
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Many times the spiritual life is about striving, and that’s a good thing. We owe it to each other to try to be a a little bit better today than yesterday, to leave the world a little better than we came into it. Indeed, this is the heart of the New Church vision of the New Jerusalem; a transformed world made up of one transformed heart and mind at a time. Lent is part of that story, a time when we might try a little harder, and with a little more focus.
For those of us that tend toward a more anxious frame of mind, though, the healthy striving of the spiritual life can sometimes get a little twisted up. This is totally understandable because the hells, and our egos, and western culture are always deifying the hustle, tempting us to value ourselves by our achievements, calling us forward to take our place on the treadmill of “just a little more, just a little better.” When that constant drumbeat becomes the soundtrack of our brains this can a tyranny. Striving can be a good thing, but not when it become the stick that we beat ourselves up with.
So today, we are going to focus on the notion of “being enough.” At a soul level, we are always enough, for we are created in the image and likeness of God. Yes, God wants us to be happy, and so yes, God helps us to transform ourselves into loving and kind people, but God doesn’t love us “more” when we do that. And God certainly doesn’t love us more if we constantly worry about not being good enough, as if that would somehow prove how serious we are about it.
And so our text for today is the story of the miracle of the loaves and fishes, whereby Jesus transforms a small amount of bread and fish into enough to feed a multitude. Please don’t get the wrong idea. This story isn’t about asking God to multiply what we can give, what we can achieve, make us more more more. In our Swedenborg reading, we learned that the number seven represents not “more” but fullness and completeness. They began with seven loaves, and they ended up with seven baskets; the number seven—completeness—remained the same in the beginning and in the end. So from this, I hope we can rest in the idea that wherever we are in the journey, we are enough.
Now, this lesson might not be for everyone. We all need different things, for some, a message of motivation and striving is what is needed, and we do preach that a lot. But we need not fear that resting in our enough-ness will suddenly leave us complacent. In fact, psychological research has shown the opposite: higher levels of positive emotions like gratitude actually lead to more action. So, let us make space today, for knowing we are enough as we are.
I’ll invite you now to join me in a time of contemplation. I’ll begin with a reading from Tara Brach’s Trusting the Gold. And then we will hear our scriptures again, and we can sit with them for a moment, and finally we’ll end with a prayer from George Appleton. Make comfortable in your seat, take a deep breath, and close your eyes.
I could have done that better, I should have gotten more done. I wish I had been more sensitive. For many years, never enough was a chronic habit of mind, and I could run endless variations on the theme. Finally one night before going to bed, I sat down and asked myself “Okay, what would be enough? What do I have to do to be good enough?”
Over the next weeks, I started tracking what happened after I’d completed a successful weekend of teaching, or after receiving feedback about contributing to others’ wellbeing, or after being particularly kind or generous with someone. The enough feeling would last about 2.4 minutes before I’d start fixating on what else I needed to do, how I needed to prepare for the next event, how I needed to be more consistently sensitive and kind. Even the most satisfying accomplishments, upon close inspection, would seem tainted by ego, and therefore not spiritual enough. Whatever I was doing, it didn’t leave me with an enduring sense of enough.
Since that long ago evening when I faced the never-ending narrative of falling short, I have discovered that enoughness has absolutely zero to do with accomplishing, nothing to do with achieving, and is not at all about trying to be good enough. Rather, the realization of enough is right here in the fullness of presence, in the tenderness of an open heart, in the silence that is listening to this life.(1)
(Matthew 15) 32 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.” 33 His disciples answered, “Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?” 34 “How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked. “Seven,” they replied, “and a few small fish.”
Let us pause and settle in companionship with the number seven, as spoken in this text. The disciples want to know how there will be enough. What do you have? Jesus asks. Seven, they reply. Enough.
(Matthew 15) 35 He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. 36 Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. 37 They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.
Let us pause and sit with the word satisfied. Jesus gave thanks, and fed the people, and they were satisfied. Seven basketful were still left over. Enough.
…numbers in the Word symbolize properties, and “seven” symbolizes all things or all people, and so also fullness and completeness…(Apocalypse Revealed #10)
Let us pause and visit with the fullness and completeness of God. We are made in God’s image and likeness, and so share in God’s fullness and completeness at our deepest levels.
Help me, O Lord, to descend into the depths of my being, below my conscious and sub-conscious life until I discover my real self, that which is given me from you, the divine likeness in which I am made and into which I am to grow, the place where your Spirit communes with mine, the spring from which all my life arises. (George Appleton)
(1) Tara Brach, Trusting the Gold: Uncovering Your Natural Goodness, p12-13.
Matthew 15: 32-39
32 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.” 33 His disciples answered, “Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?” 34 “How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked. “Seven,” they replied, “and a few small fish.” 35 He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. 36 Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. 37 They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 38 The number of those who ate was four thousand men, besides women and children. 39 After Jesus had sent the crowd away, he got into the boat and went to the vicinity of Magadan.
Apocalypse Revealed #10
For numbers in the Word symbolize properties, and “seven” symbolizes all things or all people, and so also fullness and completeness, and it occurs in the Word where the subject is something holy, and in an opposite sense, something profane. Consequently this number involves holiness, and in an opposite sense, profanation.