Friday, May 15, 2020

Making An Apology

Poem/Reflection for VI Easter                       St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, Nags Head, N.C.
May 17, 2020                                                 Thomas E. Wilson, Supply Clergy
Making An Apology

In the first lesson for today from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, Paul is engaged in a debate in Athens at the Areopagus. The Areopagus is a Hill in Athens named for the God of War, Ares. The Romans would call it Mars Hill. It was filled with altars to the different Gods. In fact, Paul will note that there is even one altar which has no idol, just to be on the safe side. The Greeks took their religion seriously and the debate were taken so seriously that they were almost a blood sport.. It was here, Plato and Xenophon said that Socrates delivered his last address, an Apology. The Greek word, “ἀπολογία”, (apologia) did not mean saying one was sorry, but it was a stating of one's position, literally “words for something”. Debates could turn into trials, and Socrates was tried here and sentenced to death because of the way he debated. He was accused of being impious toward the gods and in his dialogues with the Youth of Athens of undermining their religion their respect for the heritage of the elders.

When I was an Undergraduate at UNC- Chapel Hill, I was a member of the Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies. Established in 1795, DiPhi is the oldest student organization at UNC. They are a literary and debate society dedicated to upholding ideals of rational thought, the free interchange of ideas, and the study of the history of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. My mother, when she was an undergraduate in 1939-41 was a member, and its President for a year, and she urged me to join. She had been raised a good Presbyterian girl, but going to college and travel in prewar Europe had broadened her mind. She loved intellectual debate and gave as good as she got. I tended to be ruled by emotion and feelings in debates and she thought that DiPhi would be a good training ground to give reasoned thought a chance rather than settle for emotional tirades.
She had met my father at Carolina but he was not in DiPhi, for with the mind of an engineer, he had no interest in, or time for, debates. Raised a good Roman Catholic he respected authority. There certain things like truths, like 1+1=2 that were not debatable, and duties which one accepted, most of the rest were prejudices or habits of culture that civilized people could outgrow or put up with. He thought that organizations like DiPhi were training grounds for facile cleverness of future politicians and pre-law students; neither of which were high on his approval charts.

I remember one time in my Freshman year, when I was home for Christmas vacation in December of 1964. and my older brother, Paul, was on leave from his first six months in the Marines. I was about to turn 18 and was to sign up for my draft card. Across the dinner table, Paul and I debated the increasing Vietnam war. I was suggesting that it would be wrong for me to kill another human being and Paul talked about the need to go in and (in his words) “clean up the place and waste some gooks.” My father, who had been a Major in the Marine Corps, seeing combat in the South Pacific in World War II, stopped the debate, Pointing at me he said: “If you don't want to kill someone aim high. But you owe your country your life.” Pointing at Paul, he said, “But not your mind.” Almost 2 years later when my father was in a coma at a hospital and neither Paul or I could deal with the advent of my father's death, out of our fears we continued that debate- wasting a heck of a lot of time when my mother needed us. This debate had been about frightened egos and not a search for the truth.

I see frightened egos at work all the time when people project all sorts of things on others. When A person who seemingly can't help but lie, starts to accuse others of telling falsehoods and hoaxes. When governing bodies spend so much time on debates of mutual blaming instead of working on problems. When organizations, even churches, forget why they have formed and only major in the minors clinging to the dead past.

The Apostle Paul came to Athens and wandered up to the Areopagus to join the debates. The Apostle had a choice. He did not need to feed his ego but he wanted to help people by listening and then sharing his vision of the truth as he started his Apologia. Born and raised as a good Pharisee, Paul had a choice to continue in the vein that he had followed for most of his life and attacked. I am sure he felt tempted to thunder out, throwing the fear of God into his opponents and quote scripture from the 20th chapter of Exodus, the first two commandments:
And God spake all these words, saying, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
However, he had born anew on the Road to Damascus and no longer had any reason to try to win God's approval, for he had come to know that he was surrounded by God love by grace alone. He begins by helping to find common ground in the altar to the Unknown God. He paid attention and gave credit to the poets and philosophers who had shaped the Athenian mind. He tells them that he has met this Unknown God, the Risen Christ who had changed his life on a road to Damascus. Yes he believed in the 2nd Commandment no allowing a graven image of God, but it was not the rules that were important: “For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. There are three gifts that Paul has; he knows God, he knows himself and he knows with whom he is having a dance of faith.

When I was in the process of doing dream study, one of the guest instructors was Kathleen Wiley, a woman of deep faith, an author and a Jungian Analyst, practicing in Davidson, N.C. She writes an occasional meditation on line which I devour as soon as it comes. In March her offering was based on John 18: 28-38, Facing our Killer Fears. She presents Pilate as a person who wants Jesus to answer questions which he will not listen to and he is furious with the religious leaders who are afraid of Jesus, but Pilate feels trapped by his own fear that things may get out of hand. Fear is what happens when our consciousness is raised. Kathleen then starts calling Pilate- “Pilot”P-I-L-O-T, for fear is Piloting him. She writes:
The story is symbolic of an inner movement that often happens automatically in our psyches. We feel the presence of an unknown part of our soul coming into consciousness and we get scared. We want to maintain control (an illusion) by holding onto our perceptions of who we think we are. We resist acknowledging feelings and impulses that contradiction our notion of who we are.
We may feel afraid to embody, to act on, and to integrate the new energies that emerge from our larger Self or God Within. The larger Self is the totality of our psyche/soul.  Our little self or ego is always less than the wholeness of our soul/psyche. We forget this. We get attached to our ego ideal. We resist incarnating the largess of our soul as it means the ego changes.

To incarnate means to embody. To embody means to integrate into our personality and physical being. This means experiencing and using the energies in service of life. We embody as we relate, respond, and give the new consciousness it’s rightful place. We choose to invite the new to inform our inner and outer actions. Our soul becomes the ruling authority.

When we follow the soul’s lead, our thoughts, feelings, and movements reflect the realities of our truer nature. We no longer bow down to the internalized legalisms of shoulds, musts, and ought tos. , Our soul’s energies become the ruling principles, guiding impulses, and originator of our actions. We live in soul’s knowing and truth. We break our allegiance to the internalized authority that reflects the voice of the outside collective norms.
The Epistle lesson for today from 1st Peter says that we will always need to share our faith. “Always be ready to make your defense (Greek: ἀπολογίαν) to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” We are in a frightening new time in our existence with the Pandemic and we respond to it, not by debating, but by telling the truth and sharing our Spiritual Journey about being open to God, neighbor and our true self.

Making An Apology
Wanted you to tell me where I'm going
because I was unsure  I knew the way,
give me the places where I can stay,
and not have to wander to and fro-ing.
I wanted the party lines I can parrot,
one creed after another under my belt,
so won't need to play the cards I'm dealt,
wrapping faith as something to inherit.
The journey is a hard path still to take,
from one disappointment to a big win,
given me both, now able to grow within,
deeper in the dance with God to make.
Let me be still now, so I will listen
as grace shines on my soul to glisten.

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