What happens when we take ourselves out of competition with God? I was recently asked this question and it startled me. I never thought of myself in competition with God. The questioner went on to speak of our egos being in competition with God for the center point of our lives, for the central reference point for making meaning of our lives. As one who seeks to place God – the God I know in Jesus the Christ – at the center of my being I became curious. And began to ponder…
I don’t believe that egos are necessarily “bad” or “good”. They are part of our beings. I have heard the ego described as the backbone of the soul or psyche. We need a backbone to stand up straight and walk through the world with purpose. The ego has also received a reputation from time to time as being a “bad” part of our souls or psyches. It is not good to have a “big” ego.
We have all experienced the not-so-pleasant consequences of the ego ruling a person either through hubris or lack of self-esteem. (Raise your hand if you have ever been one of those folks. I have at times.) Perhaps those experiences do illustrate the ego being in competition with God.
I am coming to understand that the ego serves its purpose within the structure of my soul when it is in its rightful place….an integrated place within the essence of who God created me to be in God’s image. Then I find my ego is no longer in competition with God’s Spirit. I discover more of the truth of who I am as a creation of and a co-creator with the Spirit of God.
Our texts for the week speak in story, song and exhortation of the discovery of self – the integration of the ego into the unique essence of being created in God’s image and called to God’s purposes in the world. The images of texts lead us through a path of recognition of putting the ego in right relationship with God. We experience the dimness of vision in the land of Israel, the poor eyesight of Eli, Israel’s primary religious leader and the consequences for Israel as Eli sells out to the greed of his son’s rather than stays true to the call of God. In contrast, Samuel is sleeping where the lamp of God is still lit and his soul is available to hear God’s call to bring Israel back to God.
Accentuating the rise of Samuel, Psalm 139 proclaims with astonishment and wonder God’s creation of each of us as unique beings beloved by God. Paul exhorts the community of Christ in I Corinthians to “make good choices” (as many of us have exhorted our children!) because now you belong to God through Jesus. You are not ego-bound to Jewish dietary laws or to the sexual practices of your Gentile culture. You belong to God so treat your whole being as a temple of God’s Spirit. Once again … integrate God as creator and co-creator into the center of your soul. Allow God to work with your ego and direct your choices. Finally in John we are confronted with Jesus who sees to the center of Nathaniel’s plain-talking soul and calls him to join in an extraordinary life with God at the center.
So I return to my original questions…what happens when we take our selves, our egos, out of competition with God? What happens when we allow God to create with us out of the wondrous stuff of our selves that God created in God’s image? Questions to ponder in this new year….
The Rev. Kate Huey ponders the questions above in her own unique ways in the UCC Sermon Seeds reflection on Psalm 139 this week, “Called and Recalled.” [i] Her reflections remind me of a story of the great Hasidic Rabbi Zusya. I first read this story in Elisa Davy Pearmain’s book, Doorways to the Soul: 52 tales from around the world. There are several tales about Rabbi Zusya at a website devoted to Martin Buber’s Tales of the Hasidim[ii].
From a Wikipedia article I learned more about Rabbi Zusya:
“Rabbi Meshulam Zusha of Hanipol or Meshulum Zusil of Anipoli (1718–1800), Reb Zusha, Reb Zushe (sometimes spelled Zusil, Zoussia, Zušya, Zushya, Zushia, Zisha of Anipoli ) was an Orthodox rabbi and an early Hasidic luminary. He was one of the great Hassidic Rebbes of the third generation and member of the academy circle of the Maggid of Mezeritch. He was a well known tzaddik and the brother of Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk. Rabbi Elimelech was about 5 years older than Rabbi Meshulam Zusha.”[iii]
The first story recorded on the Buber website is the one Kate’s reflection brought to my mind. Below is my version:
It seems that at end of his life as he was dying, Rabbi Zusya called his disciples around him. When they were all gathered they began to pray. In the midst of the prayers, however, one bold disciple spoke up with trepidation and said, “Rabbi, what are you most afraid of about dying”
The rabbi said, “I am most afraid of what I will be asked when I get to heaven.”
The disciples gasped. “What will you be asked?”
“I will not be asked, ‘Zusya, why were you not more like Moses?” replied the rabbi. “I will be asked, “Why were you not more like Zusya?”
Blessings on your story journey in this new year,
©Jane Anne Ferguson, 2018 and beyond. Photos and commentary may be reprinted with permission only. Please find and tell the stories!