Let the River Carry You

Killian Noe

August 16, 2020

Text: John 8:1-11

That gospel reading is one of my favorites.

I love that Jesus did not respond immediately to the religious authorities, but knelt and began writing in the dirt with his finger. 

Perhaps he needed a minute to connect with his deepest, truest self in order to respond from that place.

Perhaps Jesus wanted to give them a minute to pause and connect with their own, truest selves.

What we know from the story is that Jesus called them to self-reflection, not as a mob, but as individuals.  He said, “Let the ONE who has not sinned be the ONE to cast the first stone.”

The mob dispersed, individuals slipped away, one by one, leaving Jesus alone with the traumatized woman.  When he spoke to her she slowly opened her eyes and realized that no one, but Jesus, remained.  Jesus asked, “Where are your accusers?  Does no one condemn you?”  She must have been too stunned to answer, so Jesus reassured her, “Neither do I condemn you. “And then he challenged her — in so many words — to stop the behaviors that create suffering for herself and others.” 

This morning I’d like to briefly remind us of three behaviors we may need to let go of if we are to live the lives we were created to live; behaviors that likely cause suffering for ourselves and others.

But first I have to tell you a story from my life which I love to tell. 

My husband, Bernie, and I were white water rafting down the Natahala River in the mountains of North Carolina.  We failed to maneuver our boat properly over a six foot drop in the river and were suddenly thrown from our boat.

We had been warned in the orientation before beginning our trip down the river about a deadly water fall two miles beyond the six- foot drop we had just gone over.

There we were in the freezing, fast rapids heading for the deadly Wesser Falls.

I was frantic.  I kept trying to stand up and kept getting knocked over by the strong currents.

I managed to catch a glimpse of Bernie’s head bobbing in the white caps.  He looked so serene, like he was actually enjoying the ride while I was becoming more terrified and exhausted.

Then I noticed that several people were running alongside the river yelling instructions:  I could barely hear them over the roar of the water, but they said, “Let the river carry you.  We will drop ropes from the overpass, two miles downriver.”

Two miles seemed too close for comfort.  But because I was exhausted, I eventually leaned back into the water and chose to trust that whatever was needed would be given.

The ropes were dropped, just before the falls, and we were rescued.

Later that day I asked Bernie, “How did you manage to be such a Zen Master when headed for a deadly waterfall?”

Bernie confessed, “I wasn’t paying attention during the orientation.  I had no idea we were headed for deadly falls.”

Until this March, some of us were not paying much attention.  Suddenly we were thrown from our boats. Now we are faced with the questions:

How do we let go, lean back into the river of Divine Love and let the river carry us, trusting that everything we need to live the lives we were created to live will be given?

First of all, we must consciously, continuously let go of the need for control. 

What is usually underneath our need for control is fear.  

When I was in the Natahala River headed for the waterfall, I was determined to get myself out of the river, to save myself. But as you in Eighth Day Community know better than most, we cannot save ourselves.  We need each other.  We belong to each other.  That is the reality whether we act as if we belong to each other or not.  There is so much more that could be said about what one writer calls America’s hedonist individualism.

But I need to move to the second behavior I wanted to highlight that we must let go of if we are to live the lives for which we were created:  Self-rejection.  Henri Nouwen wrote, ‘Humans have an endless capacity for self-rejection.’

Why bring this up now when the world is being devastated by a deadly pandemic and is reckoning with systemic racism and economic inequality?

Because when we reject ourselves — as many of us are wont to do — at some level we reject God who dwells at our core …. and we reject members of our human family with whom we are one. 

Self -rejection and rejection of others are related just as full acceptance of ourselves and full acceptance of others are related.

I love this quote Gordon shared in a sermon many years ago.

One of the most crucial dimensions of letting go is the recognition that there is no need to change another person.  We argue, "But shouldn’t we want to change a person who obviously needs changing?"  The answer is no.  We can be there, and God’s presence can be there in us and through us and that’s all we can do.

There is very little celebration and transcendence when we’re hoping to change them and “clean them up.”  I have discovered through the years that it is very heavy work to get a community cleaned up.   The task I think is to enjoy each other more.  To experience the wonder of the person, to be more open, more attentive, to learn from the person or the community, and to revel in the surprises that are given.  If the person or community changes, good.  If not, you’ve celebrated who they are.  You’ve lived in the NOW.  (Just for the record, I don’t think Gordon is saying we should not seek to change unjust systems.)

So, how do we let go of habitual self-rejection and move toward not just accepting ourselves, but toward actually experiencing the wonder of who we are which makes it possible to experience the wonder of others?  

Some of us internalized from our childhood a harsh inner critic who constantly judges and edits our responses and robs us of joy.  The inner critic tells us, “You aren’t good enough.  You haven’t done enough.  You didn’t get it right. 

How do we live a little freer from the intrusive shame, blame and fear our inner critic stirs up?

I’d like to share an acronym you likely know, but one I need to be reminded of from time to time.  It’s R-I-D-D-D…Rid with two extra d’s on the end.

When we are under attack of the self -rejecting, inner critic, set on stealing our joy, the first thing we do is simply Recognize we are under attack. Our bodies usually signal we are under attack if we listen to our bodies.  So “R” is for “recognize.”

Then it is helpful if we can Identify the source of the voice launching the attack. Is the attack rooted in early childhood criticism? Is it rooted in the voice of your Mom, Dad, sister, brother, or like in the case of the woman in the gospel story, is it the voice of some religious authority?  Identify the source of the voice if possible.  “I” is for “identify.”

Next take some action to Defend against the message.   We might employ Jesus’ words to the woman in the gospel story.  Jesus assured her, “I don’t condemn you.”  Maybe we say to the judging voice, “If Jesus doesn’t condemn me, why should I listen to you?” So “D” is for “defend against the attack.”

The next “D” is for Disengage.  The act of launching a defense, of being compassionate toward ourselves, will open up enough space to disengage and get out from under the heavy weight of the harsh, internal critic. 

Finally, disengaging allows us to Disidentify with the self-rejecting message and to return to our true identity — which is Love.

That brings me to the final thing I wanted to mention.  If we are to live lives we were created to live we must let go of the need to numb uncomfortable and painful feelings.  As a Number Nine on the Enneagram, I consider myself an expert in seeking to avoid pain.

During this moment in our nation’s history, we cannot look away from or take the edge off of our pain.  We cannot look away from the pain some of us have caused by holding onto privilege and power and accepting systems that oppress and exclude.

In a recent interview, Father Greg Boyle, Founder of Home Boy Industries, shared:

If we are honest, we can see how white supremacy has undergirded American Christianity since the inception of our country. We acknowledge our country was born of stolen land and stolen labor. Nonetheless, now is the time to move spaciously and with open and expansive hearts to be the inclusion of God in our world and to reclaim the marrow of the gospel. We can choose today, to live as though the truth were true.

When I was in my twenties, I traveled to India to volunteer in Mother Teresa’s home for the dying in what was then called Calcutta. 

As part of our orientation, we were given tours of the other Missionary of Charity missions. We visited a leper colony which was about an hour outside the city by train.

As the sister in charge walked us through the different areas of the compound, I became more and more nauseated.   The smell of the antiseptic cleaning solution they used there, still makes me gag.   But what bothered me most was my own discomfort with the suffering I was seeing.

So I slipped away from the tour planning to find a place to wait for the others.  I took a left at the end of a hall that put me right smack in the middle of a ward full of twenty men sitting on cots.  Most of the men had nubs where their hands had been and feet half eaten away by leprosy.  All of the men were blind.

 I tried to exit quickly, saving the men and myself any further discomfort.  But as I turned to leave, one man began to sing.  Another joined in, and then another until they all were singing in the most unusual, exquisite harmony I had ever heard.  They sang with their heads tilted backward and their mouths opened wide.

It was one of those moments in my life in which time stood still.

A few minutes later one of the Missionaries of Charity entered the ward.  She didn’t scold me for skipping out on the tour.  Instead she translated for me the Hindi words the blind men were singing.  They were:

“How great is your goodness to me, O God.  I will never cease thanking you for all the blessings of my life.”

As you in Eighth Day know so well, living the lives for which we were created involves living like we belong to each other; it involves not looking away from the immense suffering of others; it involves expressing heart-felt gratitude in the midst of all the pain;  and it involves actually enjoying the ride.

Thank you for letting me share.