Metamorphosis III | September 18, 2022 by Rev. Dr. Dorsey Blake
Blessing in the Chaos
To all that is chaotic in you, let there come silence.
Let there be a calming of the clamoring, a stilling of the voices that have laid their claim on you, that have made their home in you,
that go with you even to the holy places but will not let you rest, will not let you hear your life with wholeness or feel the grace that fashioned you.
Let what distracts you cease. Let what divides you cease. Let there come an end to what diminishes and demeans, and let depart all that keeps you in its cage.
Let there be an opening into the quiet that lies beneath the chaos, where you find the peace you did not think possible and see what shimmers within the storm.
– Jan Richardson
Last week I shared with you a great insight from chapter 16 of the Tao Te Ching:
The great truth of Nature is Tao
Jesus understood the Tao very well. Living in and into the Dao is clearly his message. When he explained what the God Movement (in the words of Clarence Jordan) was like, he compared it to the metamorphosis of a mustard seed into a big bush, big enough to host birds. Jordan explains, The mustard seed is the smallest of seeds; when it grows, it becomes a bush, big enough for birds to come and build their nests in it. The old birds probably flew over that seed many a time and didn’t even think it was worth noticing; it just wasn’t even worth pecking at. They passed it by.
What happened with the mustard seed was natural, within the laws and ordered processes of nature, life. Jordan continues: Yet it began to sprout. The seed has life resident in it. There’s a big difference between a seed and a grain of sand. You plant a grain of sand, and it doesn’t matter how much rainfall and sunshine you have; you’re not going to get an increase. But you plant a seed, and you’ll get some action.
Jesus is instructing us to trust life, trust the All-Pervading Presence, trust the Dao, for in it is life. Life itself is indeed alive and seek to fulfill itself in various patterns. It is energy waiting to morph into kinetic energy. Yin is the energy to manifest your inner life in your outward living. It is the Qi (energy) within the mustard seed that has manifested itself in the outward expression of the bush. When we trust life, we tap into what is already there, Qi or energy, – the Yin – that propels life forward and heals imbalances. The Yang is embodiment from the Yin. A most precious gift that Jesus gave those he encountered was the gift of ideas, ideas that diverged from or even supplanted notions, laws, traditions, structures, and systems that existed. It is clear to me that he understood these things as damming the flow of energy that was needed for proclaiming the new day, new realm, new beings needed by the era that was upon them, the year of the Lord.
We cannot force metamorphosis. It is something that evolves. Often, we expend so much energy adapting to current “realities” or “illusion” that we prevent metamorphosis. I think I can say that the most important things about my college education at Brown University had to do more with experiencing life – my roommates, other students, the atmosphere, the beautiful campus, the city of Providence - than what happened in the classrooms. I experienced the soul of Chaplains Baldwin and Scott, Rev. Herbert Edwards, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., so many other speakers, guest artists, and teachers. The same was true when I moved to Berkeley to attend Pacific School of Religion. The dynamic, prophetic field ministry of Rev. Cecil Williams captured my imagination. More importantly, I experience him, his thoughts, the soul, the ideas that resulted in such a powerful ministry. There was a similar connection with Rev. Hazaiah Williams. These experiences nudged me into ministry. More memorable than his words at that time was the presence of Dr. Howard Thurman. I felt the presence of the Holy in his presence. I experienced a depth of life and connection with the universe. Sometimes it was a vicarious cosmic companionship that caressed me while I searched for what he called “the grain in my own wood.” His profound words scented the great immensity and intimacy of a life transformed many years prior and still open to the moving energy of metamorphosis and gave fragrance to my budding transformation. Yet, the Tao that can be spoken is not the Eternal Tao (Chapter 1, Tao Te Ching).
Through these and other mentors I absorbed values, principles, commitment that would lay me at the feet of the Holy. And with that came a sense of invulnerability, not in the sense that nothing could harm me, or nothing could take my life, but in the sense that it did not matter. It was irrelevant. Butterflies die. That does not take the joy out of living. The fact of death enhances the butterfly’s brief encounters, its fleeting moments as it draws nectar and lays an egg for the next generation. Dr. King emphasized that it is the quality of life that is important, not the quantity.
When this energy, Qi, flows naturally, there is harmony within and without. Seeds become plants; caterpillars become butterflies. When it is disrupted, disasters follow—floods, fires, global warming. There is a reciprocal relationship between the Yin and Yang. When that interdependence is honored, all is well. But when we extract from nature, from different people and communities, there will be disruptions. And our empire extracts.
One of my great joys is teaching. Perhaps, it is a means to give back to life what life has given me. Teachers have influenced me greatly. Many have unstopped the dams in my own life or help build circuits that allowed the energy within me to flow. Each class session is important to me in terms of its potential. The same is true of class assignments. It is the meaning of the assigned material for the student that is important, not their fitting into or giving answers that fit my mindset. When their responses are not prescribed but come from authentic wrestling with the text, they speak to my own continued wrestling, not only with the assignment but with life itself, I am renewed again, transformed, metamorphosed again. When there are “breakthrough moments” as Dr. Benton mention in an earlier message, the “ah hah” moment rejoices me. It is a co-joining moment of awe that opens new realms of relationship and being. This type of teaching is consistent with Paulo Freire’s articulation and cultivation of emancipatory education: Emancipatory education is an approach that goes beyond the simple transfer of knowledge, questioning the dominant structure of socio-economic and political relations, and supporting people not only to demand a different world, but also to discuss and prepare for alternatives.
Metamorphosis should not be depressing rather it should bring joy as a new being is born. Nicodemus wanted eternal life but was afraid to undergo the metamorphosis that was prerequisite. When I was a child and someone professed their faith in Jesus Christ as their savior, they were baptized. In my tradition this meant immersion. When they would come up out of the water, others would sing about hands looking, feet also looking new, and souls being satisfied.
Metamorphosis should lead to joy and since we are to continuously metamorphosizing, we should be joyful beings. Metamorphosis is a natural process. It is something that happens automatically. In humans it is a necessity, or we die, entombing the dreams that struggled within to live. Yet, we intrude upon it by thinking and conducting ideas and actions that oppose it.
Returning to Dr. King, what an example of metamorphosis he was. From the well-trained, gifted student and pastor to a leader of a movement, a flowing, a river that became a catalyst that transformed a nation and called forth a global awakening.
Listen to portions of Amanda Gordon’s powerful poem: "Fury and Faith"
You will be told that this is not a problem,
Not your problem.
You will be told that now is not the time for change to begin;
Told that we cannot win.
But the point of protest isn't winning —
It's holding fast to the promise of freedom,
Even when fast victory is not promised,
Meaning we cannot stand up to police
If we cannot cease policing our own imagination,
Convincing our communities that this won't work
Before the work has even begun,
That this can wait,
When we've already waited out a thousand suns.
. . .
Our goal has never been revenge, just restoration;
not dominance, just dignity;
not fear, just freedom;
Whether we prevail is determined
not by all the challenges that are present
But by all the change that is possible.
. . .
We envision a land
That is liberated, not lawless;
We create a future
That is free, not flawless.
Over and over, again and again,
We will stride up every mountain side,
Magnanimous and modest.
We will be protected and served
By a force that is honored and honest.
This is more than protest —
It's a promise!
Look well to the growing edge! All around us worlds are dying and new worlds are being born; all around us life is dying and life is being born. The fruit ripens on the tree, the roots are silently at work in the darkness of the earth against a time when there shall be new leaves, fresh blossoms, green fruit. Such is the growing edge! It is the extra breath from the exhausted lung, the one more thing to try when all else has failed, the upward reach of life when weariness closes in upon all endeavor. This is the basis of hope in moments of despair, the incentive to carry on when times are out of joint and men have lost their reason, the source of confidence when worlds crash and dreams whiten into ash. The birth of the child — life’s most dramatic answer to death — this is the growing edge incarnate. Look well to the growing edge!
– Howard Thurman