Breakthrough to God | August 7, 2022 by Rev. Dr. Kathryn Benton
Faith teaches us that God is love. This is a very difficult affirmation for the human spirit at times, because of the overwhelming amount of human misery and suffering by which our days are surrounded. All over the world, at this very moment, there is agony deeper than any formula of expression, the dumb inarticulate throb of which can only be sensed by a sympathy and understanding infinite and limitless in grasp.
The opening words come from Dr. Howard Thurman. He is speaking to the difficulty we often have with faith…faith in God…faith in love…faith in the future of our species and of our planet. Although Thurman died so many years ago, he was speaking to a universal truth…one that takes into account our hatred and violent natures…a humanity that can drop a bomb on Hiroshima and then drop another one on Nagasaki…a humanity that can shoot a room full of children and a lone black man…in Thurman’s time and even more so in our own…a humanity that can abuse our Mother and then wonder why she is reacting the way she is.
Thurman acknowledges the fact that in light of these realities, it is a difficult affirmation to say that God is love. He says that we can only reconcile ourselves to this truth when there exists a sympathy and understanding infinite and limitless in grasp. Is this sympathy and understanding what we call love? How strong is love? The owners of the store Sagrada Sacred Arts in Oakland, Mary and Carlo Busby, had an answer. They wrote:
Love endures even the loss of the Beloved.
Inconsolable loss breaks open the heart
so that we might come to love
in the deepest sense:
it leads us to identify
with the sorrows of the world.
“The loss of the Beloved” …this is what we all experience at some point and it may be what Thurman was eluding to in his opening quote…the reality that, at times, we even experience the loss…the death of love, of hope. Certainly, those that have experienced the atrocities of war and oppression…the violence of hatred have a reason to doubt the existence of love…of hope. Yet as Mary and Carlo point out, it is exactly this point at which we may experience “breakthrough”, that is, if the heart breaks open. And this, they say is what opens us to the possibility of a deeper love…one that opens us up to identify with the sorrows of the world. We are able to “universalize” our experience. We are able to see that what happens to us is happening to all others because we are connected…and we are connected to the Divine! This speaks to our innermost yearnings. Hear Sam Cooke!
This is something that many of us have experienced. We may have experienced the death of a Beloved. This can be the death of an actual person or people but can also encompass the death of a relationship…with another person, a community, a culture, even a habit…our Beloved can be many things. But death is universal…if we truly take on the ramifications of the loss, we may be able to begin to live…with purpose…with an understanding that life is precious and that what we do matter…on a daily, if not moment by moment basis. Of course, this means that we are also aware of the fact that we too will die. It was Howard Thurman, I think, who said that:
Everybody in some matter adjusts himself to the fact
that he is going to die…
Always there is the fact of death that is a monitor on all of life.
A monitor on all life…it is something that must be ever-present in our awareness. This is something that the poor and “disinherited” of the world have never had the luxury of forgetting. But I think that today many people try to put this fact out of their awareness…ignoring the pain…covering it up, only to have it surface again in the particulars of living. These particulars may include the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, the loss of a home, the loss of a friendship or of a pet…these are reminders that we are mortal…we do die. It seems at times easier to ignore this fact so that we do not “break open” and then there is no “breakthrough”.
Matthew Fox used the term “breakthrough” when talking about Meister Eckhart. In his writings, Eckhart stated:
In the breakthrough…where I stand free of my own will and of the will of God and of all his works and of God himself, there I am above all creatures and am neither God nor creature…there I am what I was (in the first flowing forth) and what I shall remain now and forever…for in the breakthrough I discover that I and God are one…
Here God is one with the spirit…
And it is this breakthrough that Mary and Carlo Busby were talking about…the universal experience of beginning again…or rebirth that can happen with the loss of the Beloved…including our Beloved view of life…and of God.
Back in the 1970s I remember a song written by George Harrison called Isn’t It a Pity. At the time and certainly today as well, I thought of it as an understatement…a superficial expression of feeling bad for the misfortunes of others. But I think Harrison had something different in mind.
Isn't it a pity now isn't it a shame How we break each other's hearts And cause each other pain How we take each other's love Without thinking anymore Forgetting to give back Isn't it a pity
Some things take so long but how do I explain When not too many people Can see we're all the same And because of all their tears Their eyes can't hope to see The beauty that surrounds them Isn't it a pity
Because of his own apparent spiritual awakening, I think he may have meant this song to address a much deeper sadness…a more universal experience…one that includes each of us as well…one that does not separate us out from one another.
On this weekend of the remembrance of the bombing of Hiroshima, even this may seem like a sentimental understatement…a superficial consideration of “man’s inhumanity to man”. Still, I think it is important to consider this song. Harrison goes on to say “Isn’t it a shame”. Shame, although not a good thing for a healthy personality, has its place. It means that we acquire an understanding of our part in the pain and suffering of the world…we are not set apart…we are part of the pain and suffering as well as the perpetration of these atrocities. It was our government that dropped the bombs on Japan and tragically I don’t think it is out of the realm of possibility for something this deadly to happen again…under our flag.
When we think about the bombing of Hiroshima…when we think about the shooting of so many people…when we think about the destruction that is being unleashed in the wake of our abuse of our planet. Are we ashamed? Can we admit that we have done this to each other and to the generations to come? And not only have we done this “out there” to other countries but we have and continue to do it to our own people. James Baldwin understood this:
Baldwin knew something about American psychology…White and Black. Baldwin knew what was (and is) holding us back from a “breakthrough”. He speaks of a “crutch” that we use…an alibi. This is our excuse for not living in the moment…not owning up to our “royal personhood” as Eckhart would put it…not being willing to “grow tall enough to fit the crown placed above our heads”…not being willing to allow the breaking of our hearts to lead to identify with the sorrows of the world…to truly be part of the heart of God…the place where God and I are one!