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EBUP35: Divine Discontent

Eric Butterworth Unity Podcast #35

Eric Butterworth Sunday Services — Divine Discontent

I want to share with you this morning some thoughts about divine discontent. It might appear to be somewhat strange that we would elevate to a divine status, a negative state of consciousness. It certainly little is more than unpleasant than to be surrounded by people who are always griping, complaining, grousing, always discontent. What is good or divine about discontentment? You might ask yourself what the word contentment means. Does it indicate peace and wellbeing? Fulfillment, and achievement, relaxation from the struggles and frustrations of life? Or, does it imply self-satisfaction, complacency, a stuffy self-centeredness isolated from reality?


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I want to share with you this morning some thoughts about divine discontent. It might appear to be somewhat strange that we would elevate to a divine status, a negative state of consciousness. It certainly little is more than unpleasant than to be surrounded by people who are always griping, complaining, grousing, always discontent. What is good or divine about discontentment? You might ask yourself what the word contentment means. Does it indicate peace and wellbeing? Fulfillment, and achievement, relaxation from the struggles and frustrations of life? Or, does it imply self-satisfaction, complacency, a stuffy self-centeredness isolated from reality?

The paradox of life is that we are forever acting as if contentment were the summum bonum of all existence, the end toward which we ceaselessly bend our efforts and shape our struggles. We say, “Oh, I’ll be so happy when ...” Or when the children are raised, or when this or when that, I’ll be so happy, so content.” The evident thing, discontent. Dissatisfaction.

On the other hand, we see to be biologically and psychologically unable to rest content, even when the circumstances permit. A person maybe forever impelled by the inquisitive instinct. We ask of him, can’t you ever be satisfied? Can’t you ever be content? The fact is, no, he can’t because there’s always a hidden urge, and restlessness, a drive. As Kipling says, “Something hidden, go and find it. Go and look beyond the ranges. Something lost behind the ranges ... lost and waiting for you. Go.” It’s that little spark of celestial fire that one my desecrate, but never quite lose.

It is that within us that forever seeks to find the meaning of life. Usually at the time of greatest discouragement we say, “What’s life all about anyway?” But the pull of the human within us says, life has no meaning. You simply live to eat, to gain strength, to work to earn money to buy the food we eat to gain strength, to eat, etc. etc.

But there’s that within us that forever says, “I am a unique individualization of God. I want to rise to the level of my uniqueness.” Yet the pull of the human presses on. You might as well face it. Being what you are is your destiny. You’re limited by your nature. You are what you are, and you might just as well accept it. Live it out in expression.

So when Paul suggests that we should be content in whatever state we find ourselves. I’m sure you would agree, this is pretty hard advice to follow. As one writer says, there’s no such thing as contentment in the present-tense. The most a person can ever say is, “I should have been happy then,” when they look back at some glorious or successful experience. Or, “I should be happy when,” looking forward to some event in the future. A person is never really able to say, “I’m contented now,” because life is not like that. At least that’s what this writer says.

It’s a kind of discontent that is built into the very fiber of our being. It’s almost a spiritual faculty. Certainly the world does not seem to be designed for contented people. There’s too much to challenge us. Too much work to be done. Too many necessary changes to be made. And human nature doesn’t seem to have been designed for contentment either. Even Paul who said he had learned how to be contented wherever he was, showed clearly in other passages how very discontented he was with himself. Paul seemed always to be goading himself onward to new growth, new overcoming. Ever striving to attain a goal which was just ahead. He said, “Not as though I had already attained.” He knew we are already perfect. But “I follow after that I may apprehend. I press on to the goal of the high calling of God.” Paul seemed forever to be driven by a discontent. And it is this that I can identify with in Paul. And I love him for this.

I wondered often why Paul said, “I have learned in whatsoever state I am therein to be content.” Searching the root meaning of words, I find that the Greek root word translated content, means to be enough. Self-sufficient. The word contentment throws us off the trail, because of the unfortunate connotation toward complacency. I’m sure you’d agree that complacent, Paul was not. He’s saying, “I have learned, no matter where I am, there I am.” In a sense, there I will be. The whole of me. No matter what the experience I’m involved in he’s saying, “I must deal with it with my whole self. The whole of me must be present.” Wherever I am, I am. Know that there’s a sufficiency within me by which I can meet it. This is not complacency or self satisfaction. It’s a reminder that I am supported by universal law. I live in the universe of constant function of principles. He says, “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”

In a deeper sense, Paul is saying, “I will be grateful, for what and where I am is the present right place for me.” We’re often disturbed by where we are. Or, if I could just find my right place. The truth is you’re in your right place now. The place that corresponds to your consciousness. Your place that is in keeping with your subtle drive for excellence, for growth. It’s not your true place, but your right place. True place is that which will come to you when you achieve the consciousness of your oneness with God, wholly and fully.

It’s important to know that life is for living and progressing. To know that wherever I am, whatever I’m experiencing, there’s more in me. There’s more for me. This is a vital point for creative living. Wherever I am, I am. Wherever I am, whatever I’m experiencing, I’m a spiritual being. I’m one with the whole of the divine law. I would remember that the problems of my experience are the result of dealing with life in part. But the point is I will stand still and remember my all sufficiency, and know that my security is always in universal law, which is ever present.

I will stand and meet all experiences head-on, in the awareness of my wholeness, versus the far cry from the kind of contentment that the world might normally imply. As I said, discontent is almost a facility, a part of our nature. It’s built into the fiber of the human person. It may well be the most distinguishing characteristic that separates man from the lower forms of life. The very reason for the advance in progress of the race since primitive times.

I was recently reading and excellent article in the National Geographic magazine, dealing with some forms of prehistoric man. I don’t know if these things fascinate you. They do me. The thing that impresses me the most about such accountings, is that primitive though the early homo sapiens was, there was obvious divine spark that pushed him onward to his amazing achievements. Certainly his achievements are amazing, just in evolving up to the point where we are. He had instincts just as the beasts around him the miatrechydons and the dinosaurs, but he had something more. Something that would eventually instinct, and separate himself from the animal kingdom. He had a mind with unlimited potentialities, and he had a divine discontent.

As we look back toward those prehistoric creatures, we see that it was Alley Oop’s inability to adapt to his environment. His lack of complacency and self-satisfaction that drove him out of the mere existence in caves, after the seemingly sophisticated 20th century of life. But because of his same ability to adapt to things as they are, the human person must climb the Mt. Everest and fly to the moon, because they’re there. So it will always be. As it has always been.

So the progressive growth of the human person continues on, and quite conceivably, future humans a few thousand years hence, will look back on today’s creatures as 20th century Alley Oops, in comparison with the more highly evolved creatures of that time. You may remember in July of 1959 when we watched in fascination as Neal Armstrong took the first step on the moon and described it as one small step for a man, on giant leap for mankind.

Emerson wrote, “God offers to every mind the choice between truth and repose. Take what you please.” You can never have both. Truth or repose, you can never have both. Take one of them. Again he says people wish to be settled, but only as far as they’re unsettled. Is there any hope for them? When you find unsettling experiences of your life, according to Emerson, there’s some hope for you.

Someone once said that every person should change jobs every seven years, or change residences every seven years. Have some major change in his life, because it is what I call, “youthing.” It challenges you to dig a little deeper into yourself, to break loose from the moorings of the limitations of consciousness, the things that hold you down, the inertial forces of life.

We cannot overlook the role of discontent has played in human growth and development, and in the collected accomplishments throughout the ages in science, and discovery, and culture. It was discontent that lead to the discovery of the wheel, when he was tired of walking. It was also discontent that led to space vehicles as he looked outward into the universe. It was discontent that opened the way for the genius of Einstein, the philosophy of Plato, the science of Pasteur, the new thought of Charles Fillmore.

It is important to note that a creative discontent is and extremely important aspect in Jesus’ teachings, because he did not come to lull people into complacency. To sit down and adjust to all their limitations. So many psychologists tell us that the most important thing in life is to adjust. This can be very misleading.

As Jesus said, “I came not to send peace, but a sword.” In other words he came to stir us up. He set time bombs within us. Tell us to get off our rear. To get moving. To get going. To get changing. To be involved. To grow. He says, “I came not to make you contented with yourself and the world you live in, but to be discontented.” That’s your sacred obligation. Never forget that you are a growing creature, made for greater things. Jesus came to change people, to make them realize their divine sentient, their divine destiny. But he knew what we must know. That to change people, you have first to make them dissatisfied with themselves. Before we can grow, we must be willing what we recognize have, now have and what we are and where we are is not good enough. There’s more in us.

Jesus came to urge us be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect. A person may say, “I don’t like myself.” I used to say, “Good.” That’s the first step toward going on to a better self. If you like yourself too much, you’re complacent. And the person who doesn’t like himself, is on the way. Obviously you could overdo this. It’s important to accept the fact that life is growth. Life is change. Life is unfoldment. Not to get to the end of the road, but to be on the road to new accomplishments.

In his book Psychology and the Promethean Will, Dr. William Sheldon says, “Somewhere in the deeper strata of human awareness, a voice persists which continually says, no, this is not good enough. There’s something better. At moments there comes to every human being the sense of the better possibility in some that are passing a momentary incredibly important mood, in some that never breaks through at all to full consciousness, but in a few minds, it becomes a dominant mood, the splendid urge is the voice of Prometheus.”

Prometheus, as you may know, was a titan, fabled to have made people out of clay. Looking on his handiwork with a passion, he longed to give them something that would bring them closer to the immortal Gods. So he gave them fire, stolen from Mt. Olympus. The fire of creativity, and love, and life, and wisdom. So the word Promethean, has the connotation of creative, vivifying, boldly original. And the Promethean voice is the inner spark and spirit by which every person may transcend his human qualities, and achieve the great heights to creativity within. It’s the voice of the universe that says, “Come up higher. Come up higher. You can do more.”

An important discovery of human growth, that you always have a choice. You can decide whether to listen to the Promethean voice, the pull of the divine discontent contained within you, or to listen to the pull of human consciousness and settle into the rut of immortality. This later is the inertial urge, which will be likened to the judicial work of the devil. The tempter of human consciousness which forever says, “Slow down. Take it easy. Why go forward.” It’s so much easier to just sit back and enjoy yourself. But there is a spirit and a spark within us that says, “No. This is not enough.”

Perhaps this tempter, the ever present Satan, spoke to Edison after hundreds of attempts to find the right filament for the electric lamp urging him to, as they say, pack it in. But his creative discontent drove him ever forward until he achieved, what? Contentment? No. He was still looking for new fields to conquer. For after he found the answer to the filament to the eclectic light bulb, he was soon working on the phonograph, motion pictures, all sorts of new, fantastic things that have made our lives sophisticated, or so we think.

William James said that even the mature mind may not have developed the functional possibilities of the mind. The problem may be in the word maturity itself. We see this word in so many lights that are kind of confusing. We’ve accepted arbitrary standards such as the peak of physical growth. The legal age of majority, or an academic achievement on graduation. We start out on the growth quest as a little child. Your enthusiasm and curiosity. We’re eager to learn, to grow up, to be accepted as mature.

Then for some reason our growth levels off. You begin to coast. We become creatures of habit, symbolized by the person whose worked on the job for a while. He says, “I’ve been on this job so long, I could do it with my eyes closed.” Little does he know what he’s saying about himself. He’s given up. He’s stopped living. That’s the time he should change jobs. He sets some sparks under himself to get a new insight into his present job.

At this time we become creatures of habit. We join churches, and political parties as Emerson says, “To save ourselves from the vexation of thinking.” I really think about it this time of the year. About age forty it’s not uncommon for this mental complacency to set in. The difference in the lives of people who in the fifth, sixth, seventh and even eighth decades of life is not one of metabolism or hard action or self function. It’s a matter of the gradual deadening of the responses to the Promethean voice that cause you to go onward instead of just growing old.

The great Harvard educator, George Elliot, once said, what is needed is continuous education, which lasts all through life. We like to feel it we’re even through school. We’re through with our education. As the school master said, we tend to think of it as a disease that we’re cured from at graduation. No, we need to think of maturity, not as a level of achievement, but as a process that continues on eternally.

We tend to call ourselves students of truth. Sometimes people like to think of themselves as metaphysicians. This is dangerous, even though it’s a matter of perspective of what we’re thinking about. The important thing is you’re always a student. There’s always more to learn. Truth is not something that you can finally get out of a book. Get a diploma that says you have it all. Truth is an ongoing process. It’s an ultimate. No one ever knows the truth, for in reaching for the truth, trying to understand the truth, to use it. You know the truth, really know it, the truth will make you forever free. Free of illness. Free from heartache. Free from discomfort. Free from death. From all of life that confuses us. You’re reaching after the truth. We never obtain, but we keep on reaching. We’re always discontent with ourselves.

I think we should congratulate ourselves, as I congratulate you, for a kind of spiritual maturity that has given rise to the courage to break out of what Emerson calls the sectarian rut. You entertain new insights of truth. For some of you this has taken a lot of courage. I had the advantage personally of growing up in a family where this new insight was always a part of our way of life. Many of you come from more traditional concepts. Those are more difficult to break through from. So I congratulate you for being here, and your interest in the quest for a greater understanding of life and of truth.

Certainly, no one ever really understands himself or life until he realizes that he always contains within himself the wherewithal to surpass himself. Think about that. You contain within yourself right now, the ability to surpass yourself. You’ll never be given anything that cannot possibly be surpassed. You never reach any goal, never achieve anything that cannot possibly be surpasses by you or someone.

But to keep reaching, and the reaching is what I call “youthing ... “ Keeps you alive. The great preacher Phillips Brooks said, “Sad will be the day for every person when he becomes absolutely content with the life he’s leading, with the thoughts he’s thinking, with the deeds he’s doing.” If there’s not beating at the doors of his soul some great desire to do something larger, which man was made to do because he is, in spite of all, a child of God.

You can’t actually accept the term, “I’m a child of God,” unless you’re willing to accept the fact that you’re a growing creature, and the end of your growth is far beyond anything that you can foresee. Keep on, and keep on, and keep on keeping on, because out of the life of what Thoreau calls “quiet desperation,” we’ve come up with the term middle age. It’s an unfortunate term, because of the implication that life identify half over. The rest is all down hill.

Contrary to common belief, we do not slow down because we are getting old, we get old because we’re slowing down. There’re thousands of mopping people that could really use strength and youthfulness, to say nothing of becoming free from aches and pains, if they would just bestir themselves in mind and body, and keep open in mind and spirit to the upward progressive sweep of life. The voice of Prometheus is always present, if we would simply listen, and give way to the pull of overcoming divine discontent.

There’s absolutely no reason why the Promethean voice should progressively fade as we accumulate years. Browning sings, “Grow old along with me.” He’s not acquiescing in the inevitability of deterioration, he’s saying go onward. Don’t just settle into the rut of old age. The full context of his thoughts, “grow old along with me, the best is yet to be. The last of life from which the first was made. The best is yet to be.” Go on. Go onward to achieve more and more.

Whatever the age we’re in a continuing process of life, and growth its what it’s all about. Life is for growing. Life is for growing. I have a book in me that has that title. It’s going to come out of me one of these days. Life is for growing. Not for getting there. Not for achieving something. Not for being rich. Not even for being healthy ... getting all the things you desire in life, being content. Life is for growing, that’s the purpose of it all.

Actually, at about the time when most of us begin entertaining the terrible paucity about life, this idea that you all get old sometime, at this time we’ve just acquired our fullest equipment for living. We’re just ready to make the best use of our powers. But instead of giving way to the pull of creative discontent that would lead us to expand our creativity and enrich our spiritual understanding, all too often we set about methodically blocking the flow with what I call “mental cholesterol”, which derives from such things as adjectives of too old, too tired, to difficult, too poor, too many obstacles.

Age 94, Charles Fillmore awakened one morning singing, imagine 94 mind you, “I firmly sizzle with zeal and enthusiasm, and I spring forward with a mighty faith to do the things that should be done by me.” We often say of an elderly person, “He’s quite alert for one of his age, isn’t he.” But Sizzling with enthusiasm at 94. It’s almost too hard to conceive, isn’t it?

I knew Charles Fillmore. His spirit was reflected in his life. He was simply too busy and too excited about going onward to get down to the business of growing old. His whole attitude about life was a perfect example of divine discontent. Get on with it. Life is for growth.

I should say here, before someone goes away from here saying, “That fella down at Unity says that the most important thing is to be discouraged and discontented and gripe about everything.” I’m not justifying all the discontent and complaining people. Those that gripe and complain, because things are not as they think they should be. People ride on the Long Island Railroad and the New Haven Railroad and say, that’s a heck of a a way to run a railroad.

See, there are two kinds of discontent in this world. The discontent that works, and the discontent that rings it’s hands. The first gets what it wants. The second loses what it has. There’s no cure for the first, but success. There’s no cure at all for the second. Think of a quality like love. On a perfectly human level of expression love, dynamic and spiritual can become something very beautiful. But it can prompt very nearly the opposite, a form of destructiveness if its misused. So discontent, when humanly expressed becomes petty and mean, complaining over little things. But on a deeper level, divine discontent becomes a part of the plan for unfoldment, and the seed of our God potential.

The discontent that Jesus taught and exemplified was not petty or human, but wonderful and divine. It actually had divine urge within every person. Divine discontent is the result of our intuitively perceived vision of what we might be, and what the world might be. To divine discontent that things within us “Good better best and would never let it rest until my good is better and my better is best.” That’s the way the Sunday school child would put it. I doubt if we could say it better. Good, better, best. I will never let it rest, until my good is better and my better is best.

So divine discontent is not a petty, complaining attitude. It’s a commitment that wherever I am, I am. Where I am the whole of me is present. Where I am I will be perceptive of better things, even to move forward into a higher level of first, thinking, and then living.

It’s certainly true that people who have been the greatest and the happiest and the most successful in history, have been possessed of this quality of divine discontent. In that great book, The Arts, by Hendrik Van Loon, there’s a passage that has long been an inspiration to me. A few years ago I wrote red lines on it when I read it, had it put on a card, set it before me on a desk, had great impact on me, hence the concept that he suggests. Michelangelo’s greatness lay in his divine discontent, not with others, but with himself. Like all the great of this earth, like Beethoven, and Rembrandt, and Johann Sebastian Bach, he was of such mighty stature that he knew the meaning of the word perfection. Like Moses, glancing longingly at the dim and hazy outlines of the promised land, he realized that it would never be given to anyone of us mere mortals to reach that which cannot possibly be surpassed. Hence that divine discontent, which is not only the beginning of all wisdom, but also the beginning and the end of all great art. I would add, of all great living.

For divine discontent, the relentless desire to strive for perfection is certainly the beginning and the end of Jesus’ teachings. The beginning and the end of the whole metaphysical study. He gave us the motto for the pilgrimage way. “Be perfect as as your Father in heaven is perfect.” From the old English, this says, you are perfect. You are perfect as your Father in heaven, Father within you, the divine process and the kingdom within you. The divine plan within you. You are perfect as this plan is perfect. By your divine discontent, you water the seed by which this greater perfection, this greater possibility within you unfolds.

Just as Paul really caught that spirit of those words, so could each one of us. If I could say with Paul, not as though I had already attained, either we’re already perfect, but I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God. A prize which is far beyond our present grasp. As the poet says, “Man’s reach should exceed his grasp, else what’s a heaven for?”

So wherever you are along life’s way, what ever your age or station or level of achievement, in the deeper strata of awareness, there’s a voice that is whispering, “Life is more than this. You an do more. You can be more.” So make a resolution today that you will break out of the shell of human consciousness, this inertial pull to settle into a static existence. That you’ll break out and walk on. That’ you’ll know that you have within you the wherewithal to surpass yourself. You become aware that that wherewithal is the healing possibility, that this medication may mature you, the healing power of nature. It’s constantly growing, unfolding. The prosperity influence that enables you to reach up and reach out and express that tremendous spiritual possibility within you, by which you can become creative and draw to yourselves the corresponding success images in terms of money, and position and so forth.

Determine that you will not rest on your past achievements. Or that you will regret that you have none. That you’ll press on in the upward progression sweep of life. That you’ll keep open and receptive and responsive to the Promethean voice. Most of all, that you’ll never let it rest, until your good is better, and your better is best.

Let’s be still for a moment.

The power of imaging is vital and helpful. Just imagine now that you see yourself first of all as that primitive character, which we find there is Alley Oop. Now I want you to picture sitting by the door of his cave surrounded by a world that is hostile, and beasts that are angry, vicious. Tempted to give in to the idea that the best thing for him is to go inside his cave and stay there. But just imagine now, that you can see this creature impelled in a way beyond understanding. Came out of his cave. Forever being influenced even by apprehension, a kind of fear, which is a respect of divine laws that he intuitively understands. To make his way in this world. And recognize that he has something that the beasts do not have. An intelligence, and intuitive awareness, most of all a divine discontent.

He cannot sit still. He can’t accept the primitive way. Despite himself he must climb the highest mountains, ford the greatest rivers, and eventually achieve conquest of outer space. Consider the fact that you, in a sense are sitting side by side with this primitive Alley Oop. That you have much in common. That you have within you that intuitive something that will not let you sit still. Keeps you ever reaching, ever aspiring, climbing your Mt. Everest, hoovering near outer space, reaching for the highest.

Then get the sense that somehow from in the depths of you intuitively is known that the important thing is be grateful. Give thanks for where you are and what you are. Rejoice and give thanks. Be grateful but not satisfied. Be grateful that you’ve come as far as you have. Be grateful that you have achieved what you have, that you’ve acquired what you have, that you’ve become what you have.

Then listen to the voice of Prometheus, the divine discontent and keep on in the quest for the greater potential of the Christ within you. Make the commitment now that all the primitive creatures somehow may, despite themselves, climb the heights of wealth and evolution, ford the streams that seem to separate you from your good, and with the power within you that enables you to do all things, go forward. In the going forward, in the pressing on, in the journey upward, you come to know who you really are. A child of God, made for growth. Life is for growing, and give thanks for that. Give thanks for the truth, that makes you free. So be it.