EBS86: From Mourners To Masters
Eric Butterworth Speaks: Essays on Abundant Living #86
Delivered by Eric Butterworth on September 23, 1975
Life in the world today seems to some a little short of futile, to others it is an ever exciting and glorious experience. Life will always be to you what you see it as being. You live in a world of your thought. You are the creator at the very center of your world. Another fundamental is that life can be appraised on many different levels from the most base to the most absolute. What we see depends not upon the outer reality, but on the level at which we view the outer reality. To all of us at times, it seems that everyone is against us, that there is no justice, no future to look forward to. But this happens because we have narrowed our point of view. As the Psalmist says, we need to “lift up our eyes unto the hills.”
A great character of the Bible, whose life is like a Hollywood scenario, is Elijah, who was Jehovah’s champion in a hostile land where polytheism—the worship of many gods—was the accepted religion. Against overwhelming odds, he had slain some four-hundred-and-fifty prophets of Baal, understandingly bringing down upon his head the wrath of Queen Jezebel. Elijah fled for his life. Discouraged, tired, downhearted, he sat down under a juniper tree and cried out, “It is enough now, oh Jehovah, take away my life!” Well, we have all had times like this. Even Jesus had such fleeting moments, such as when he wept over the state of Jerusalem, or when he prayed, “Let this cup pass from me.” But Jesus didn’t mourn for long. Inherently he was ever master of his thought, and this mastery always took over and lifted him to new courage and optimism.
It is a problem in our lives that we build great, self-limiting walls around us. Then, we proceed to mourn our lack of freedom and to lament the darkness that ensues in our lives. Nevertheless, we keep on building them, even though they are really the basis of our limitations and of our loss of freedom. It has been said that most of us carry our own stumbling block around with us, camouflaged by our hat. Anyone who becomes a great person does so because he refuses to be a little person. He refuses to see with the narrowness of a little person or to be dammed in by the walls of limitation that are accepted by the little person. The great person refuses to be a mourner, to walk in darkness; he refuses to allow obstacles to defeat him; in short, he acts the role of the master.
In the sixty-first chapter of Isaiah is found this great bit of wisdom, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings to the meek; He hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” This has always been held to be a prophesy of the coming of Christ, and certainly Jesus read this chapter in the temple at Nazareth. He startled the worshippers by saying, “This day hath the Scripture been fulfilled.” This was taken to infer that he was the one about whom the prophecy had been made, but this is to miss the whole Biblical message and the meaning of the prophecy. The promise refers to all persons. Jesus claimed it for himself, but then went on to devote his life to helping others claim it for themselves too. Isaiah’s words are intended to enable you to see the good even in changes where something cherished has been consumed or destroyed. The oil of joy for mourning denotes joy of spirit which will enable things to run smoothly once again; the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness bespeaks the new clothing of the mind which beholds the good in people and situations rather than permitting one’s self to be borne down under the heavy weight of despair.
In total dejection under the juniper tree, Elijah’s prayer was a complete surrender to God. Then, he dropped off to sleep—he let go. We are told that an angel touched him—meaning a divine idea—and instructed him to journey on. For forty days and forty nights he traveled until he reached Mt. Horeb. There, he experienced the profound revelation that God, or true reality, is not in the wind or in the earth- quake or in the fire, but in the “still, small voice of God.” This account is one of the dynamic and dramatic experiences of the annals of man’s struggle for growth and of his search for truth. In it Elijah was brought to see and to know that regardless of how life seemed to crumble around him, he could remain strong and secure. He learned that the only reality was the “still, small voice within,” and with this he was protected and guided.
This is the great need for all of us. We are embroiled, consumed, despondent over the storms, the earthquakes, the fires, the very chaos of life, but God is within us. Whatever the conditions are, whatever the appearances, we must look at the words of the ninety-first Psalm which say, “The Lord is my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.” Become a divine optimist, reject gloomy pessimism. In the “mourning” consciousness you think of all the good experiences and the happy memories as in the past, and thus the future is to be feared. It appears bleak with nothing but the mourning habit or the garment of heaviness for today. But life goes on, and if we can just get ourselves out of the way, tremendous good can ensue. As someone said, take the “you” out-of mourning, in other words the “u”, and it becomes morning.
Here in Manhattan there is so much constant demolition of old buildings that one might think a great catastrophe had occurred. There are many who resist changes and therefore deplore the tearing down of this or that structure in order to hold on to the past. But those of us who are alert to the times know that the old is forever being replaced by the new. The rubble, the dust, the debris will disappear, and new, clean, useful buildings will rise to take their place in the city of New York.
There is in every life a great deal of demolition. People pass away, scenes change, the world moves on forever. Persons sometimes come to me in the spirit of the mourner, wearing the garment of heaviness, saying, perhaps, that they are the only one left. But God remains the still, small voice, and with every change the opportunity for a new beginning is yours, if you will accept it. I love the thought of Ella Wheeler Wilcox: “Build on resolve, and not upon regret, the structure of thy future. Do not grope among the shadows of old sins, but let thine own soul’s light shine on the path of hope and dissipate the darkness. Waste no tears upon the blotted record of lost years, but turn the leaves, and smile, oh smile to see tie fair white pages that remain for thee.”
Ours is the choice, mourners or masters. Shall we bow down and worship pain and sorrow and grief and discouragement, the rampant immorality of our times, the crime, the high cost of living, and become thus chronic mourners, wearing the garment of heaviness. Or shall we “lift up our eyes to the hills,” look beyond the circle of appearances, know that God is not to be found in these things, but in the “still, small voice,” the larger view, and know that “all this too shall pass,” and thus become a master of life? On the side of the mourner, there are many reasons to be cited for cursing God—disease, financial insecurity, loss of friends and loved ones. Or you can get on the side of the one who can “do all things through Christ who strengthens me. In all these things we are more than conquerors though him who loved us.” I value the optimism expressed by Edna St. Vincent Millay, who was a master even though she had good reason to be a mourner. She had been left penniless, and at that time she wrote to a sister and said, “Don’t worry about me. To pretend that it is no agony would be silly, but I can cope.” This spirit of willingness to be master instead of mourner is reflected in her remarkable poems, such as this: “The world stands out on either side, no wider than the heart is wide; above the world is stretched the sky, no higher than the soul is high. The heart can push the sea and land farther away on either hand; the soul can spit the sky in two, and let the face of God shine through.”
Remember that the spirit of the Lord is upon you, to comfort all that mourn, to give beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. Be a positive person, the optimistic person. Be the master of living—you can, if you will.
© 1975, by Eric Butterworth