Happy Easter, friends and family!
Each of us approaches Easter in our own way and so I offer several different types of Easter resources in the hope that one or more of them will speak to your Spirit this day.
For me, Easter is finding oneself with a heart at peace in a broken world. So I want to share with you a simple teaching I have followed for several years which has enriched my relationships in ways that I did not think was possible for a man approaching his 70th birthday. My marriage of 45+ years has grown, my relationships with others in Unity is more constructive and my general outlook on life is more peaceful. The change may not rise to what we would call resurrection, but it is clearly a new birth for me.
I first learned of this teaching when I read The Anatomy of Peace in 2018. It’s an easy-to-read novel with a deceptively simple message—we are blind to what drives our heart to war by our own self-justifications and our judgements of others. While we are blind to what drives us, we do have the capacity to recognize our self-justifying and judging. The pathway to a peaceful heart begins not by fixing injustice, nor by resolving to fix our shortcomings, but rather by laying aside our justifications and judgments.
This insight was taught by Unity as early as 1914 in articles, pamphlets and correspondence school lessons: There will be no justice until we “redeem” our judgments. And it was taught in our lifetime by Eric Butterworth who often said we are not here to set the world right but to see it right, without judgment.
The message most recently came to me through four passages in Hebrew scripture known as the Servant Songs. These passages were read this past week in the worship services of about half of all churches worldwide. And they are the Hebrew scriptures read by the disciples of Jesus after he was crucified. They helped the disciples understand human suffering from a spiritual point of view. They have something important to say about injustice.
As I read them this week, my mind kept going back to the message of Unity, of Butterworth and of The Anatomy of Peace: laying aside our justifications and judgements is a pathway to eventually doing the right thing and finding oneself with a heart at peace.
The process has four steps.
We Are Born in Bondedness
First is that we are not born separately, nor are we born in sin, but rather we are born in bondedness, to one another and to God. God speaks directly to us, calling us to just relationships, to calmness and quiet, to be patient with others and to remain confident that we will eventually get things right. Here are God’s words conveyed through the prophet Isaiah in the first Servant Song,
1“Behold, my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights:
I have put my Spirit on him.
He will bring justice to the nations.
nor raise his voice,
nor cause it to be heard in the street.
3 He won’t break a bruised reed.
He won’t quench a dimly burning wick.
He will faithfully bring justice.
4 He will not fail nor be discouraged,
until he has set justice in the earth,
and the islands wait for his law.”
— Isaiah 42:1-4; World English Bible
We Open Ourselves To Others
Second, the awareness of bondedness with God and with others tugs at our heart. We become aware that we have not related to others as people, rather we have seen them too often as annoyances, as opportunities or simply as irrelevant. This awareness leads us to confess our hard-heartedness and, with confession, God calls us to not only raise-up and restore others, but to even even be a light in their life. In this second Servant Song, we find ourselves speaking about this new spiritual understanding,
Listen, you peoples, from afar:
Yahweh has called me from the womb;
from the inside of my mother, he has mentioned my name.
2 He has made my mouth like a sharp sword.
He has hidden me in the shadow of his hand.
He has made me a polished shaft.
He has kept me close in his quiver.
3 He said to me, “You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
4 But I said, “I have labored in vain.
I have spent my strength in vain for nothing;
yet surely the justice due to me is with Yahweh,
and my reward with my God.”
5 Now Yahweh, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant,
says to bring Jacob again to him,
and to gather Israel to him,
for I am honorable in Yahweh’s eyes,
and my God has become my strength.
6 Indeed, he says, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob,
and to restore the preserved of Israel.
I will also give you as a light to the nations,
that you may be my salvation to the end of the earth.”
— Isaiah 49:1-6; World English Bible
We Do the Right Thing and Live With a Heart At Peace
Our confession and God’s calling awakens in us a capacity to look beyond annoyance and opportunity, to yield to the truth of others and to accept without shame the challenge their presence may bring into our life. We are able to do this because we have God to help us. God removes our need for self-justification and protects us from accusation from others. This leads to a heart at peace. Doing the right thing and finding ourselves with a heart at peace is the message we convey in the third Servant Song,
4 The Lord Yahweh has given me the tongue of those who are taught,
that I may know how to sustain with words him who is weary.
He awakens morning by morning,
he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught.
5 The Lord Yahweh has opened my ear.
I was not rebellious.
I have not turned back.
6 I gave my back to those who beat me,
and my cheeks to those who plucked off the hair.
I didn’t hide my face from shame and spitting.
7 For the Lord Yahweh will help me.
Therefore I have not been confounded.
Therefore I have set my face like a flint,
and I know that I won’t be disappointed.
Who will bring charges against me?
Let us stand up together.
Who is my adversary?
Let him come near to me.
9 Behold, the Lord Yahweh will help me!
Who is he who will condemn me?
Behold, they will all grow old like a garment.
The moths will eat them up.
— Isaiah 50:4-9; World English Bible
Giving Others a New Way to Relate With Us
With a heart at peace, we find ourselves taking the fourth step, becoming a servant of God by bringing just relationships into the world. This will astonish many people, some who have only known us as aggressors and some who have only known us a weaklings. We give them a new way to relate with us, as equals, as human beings, as sacred beloved of God. Our relationship with others has shifted from "I-it" to "I-Thou" and we find not only ourselves at peace, but we find the world at peace. In this, the fourth Servant Song, the world conveys their astonishment of how our transformation has transformed them,
13 Behold, my servant will deal wisely.
He will be exalted and lifted up,
and will be very high.
14 Just as many were astonished at you—
his appearance was marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men—
15 so he will cleanse many nations.
Kings will shut their mouths at him;
for they will see that which had not been told them,
and they will understand that which they had not heard.
1 Who has believed our message?
To whom has Yahweh’s arm been revealed?
2 For he grew up before him as a tender plant,
and as a root out of dry ground.
He has no good looks or majesty.
When we see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.
and rejected by men,
a man of suffering
and acquainted with disease.
He was despised as one from whom men hide their face;
and we didn’t respect him.
4 Surely he has borne our sickness
and carried our suffering;
yet we considered him plagued,
struck by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions.
He was crushed for our iniquities.
The punishment that brought our peace was on him;
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray.
Everyone has turned to his own way;
and Yahweh has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
yet when he was afflicted he didn’t open his mouth.
As a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and as a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he didn’t open his mouth.
8 He was taken away by oppression and judgment.
As for his generation,
who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living
and stricken for the disobedience of my people?
9 They made his grave with the wicked,
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it pleased Yahweh to bruise him.
He has caused him to suffer.
When you make his soul an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring.
He will prolong his days
and Yahweh’s pleasure will prosper in his hand.
11 After the suffering of his soul,
he will see the light* and be satisfied.
My righteous servant will justify many by the knowledge of himself;
and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion with the great.
He will divide the plunder with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was counted with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sins of many
and made intercession for the transgressors.
— Isaiah 52:13 - 53:1-12; World English Bible
Many of you likely recognize the source of this teaching as being from Dr. C. Terry Warner, author of Bonds That Make Us Free. In 1979 Dr. Warner founded The Arbinger Institute, an organization that “helps individuals, teams, and organizations move from the default self-focus of an inward mindset to the results-focus of an outward mindset.”
The teachings of Dr. Warner and The Arbinger Institute often show up in my spiritual journey and personal development, as you can see here in this reflection of the four Servant Songs of Isaiah. Click over to the Arbinger profile page on TruthUnity and see other moments when the Arbinger teaching has helped me gain a deeper understanding of “two distinct mindsets from which people and organizations operate—a self-focused inward mindset and an others-inclusive outward mindset.”
This page was inspired by Ella Pomeroy, who contributed reflections of the four Servant Songs of Isaiah from September to December 1937. Click here to see her reflections. Ella calls to our attention that we are the beloved servant the poet in Isaiah is talking about and that the Servant Songs provide a framework for writing our own Christian credo—our individual understanding of how we relate to God, to Jesus and to the Christ Spirit that resides in each of us, in all human beings and in all creation.
Another resource I have found helpful is The Last Week by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. While most Christian commentaries on the Servant Songs focus on Jesus, I came to see that the Servant may not be so much about the person of Jesus but rather the message of Jesus. The message personified in the Servant Song passages are: we must deny ourself and take up our cross, we must humble ourself to be exalted, and we must be a servant to be counted great in the kingdom of God. These and many other insights are found in Borg and Crossan’s book.
Easter Sunday, April 9, 2023
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