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The Semantics of Spirituality

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

Then Jesus called a little child to him, set him in the midst of them, and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 18:1-4

“If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” – Mark 9:35

So what does this mean? First of all, to understand the sort of servant leadership to which Jesus is referring, we have to understand the semantics of both pride and humility. Pride is defined as “self-respect and self-esteem;” which is something that is important for all of us to possess. However, this important characteristic deviates from its meaning when it becomes arrogance; or taking our self-respect and self-esteem and perverting it into a belief that we are better than or above others. Then it becomes not only a “sin,” but the cardinal sin of the seven deadliest.

This is an honest mistake for most of us because we tend to go from one extreme to the other before we make our way to the middle; where wisdom lies. For example, those of us who have had terribly low self-esteem may take any accomplishments and exaggerate them to ourselves to make us feel better. The only problem is that, in the long run, we do not feel better because we have just created a different way to separate ourselves from others. I remember the early days of my spiritual journey, when I was just learning that I had value and worth in God’s eyes. I call those days the “I’m a child of God and you’re not” days. The meaning is self-explanatory. Humility is defined as “a modest view of one’s importance.” This means I’m a child of God; and so are you. So, in essence the meaning of pride and humility are the same: healthy self-esteem with a modest view of one’s importance. That’s the way with all seeming polarities.

This brings me to another word that needs semantic clarification: “sin.” I don’t really like to use this word because it has taken on religious and dogmatic connotations. I prefer to use the meaning of the word; which is to “miss the mark.” But if we can miss the mark, what is the mark? Jesus says the mark is to “be converted and become as little children.” Obviously, we can’t literally become children again, but we can become teachable and open-minded; as little children. The mindfulness people call this “beginner’s mind.” It is of utmost importance that we remain open and teachable; and the destroyer of this open-mindedness is arrogance; because it convinces us that we have arrived and have nothing more to learn. We’re all eternal beginners in the understanding of the ways of Love.

Greek philosopher, Epictetus said, “It is impossible to begin to learn that which one thinks one already knows.” Is that ever the truth! Jesus said the same thing when he said, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle that for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” He’s not talking about worldly riches, he’s talking about being stuffed full of what we think we already know. This brings an awesome Mother Teresa quote to mind: “God cannot fill what is already full.” So this is the mark of humility; to be open-minded and teachable with healthy self-esteem and a modest opinion of one’s importance.

A Course In Miracles gave me an innovative way to look at the word “sin” in saying, “If a mind perceives without love, it perceives an empty shell and is unaware of the spirit within … Darkness is a lack of light as sin is a lack of love.” I can relate to this. As a matter of fact, something happened last week that gave me the idea for this message.

I work for a government agency and am always required to wear my identification badge while on work property. This day, I pulled in the parking lot of work, looking for a parking place, and there was only one available. However, a woman had her door open; which prevented me from parking. I rolled down my window and asked her to shut her door so I could park. She stated that she could not because she was waiting for help to come and jump her battery. I was in a hurry, so I flashed my badge at her and told her I needed to park. She responded by looking helplessly at me and saying she was sorry. I left to find another parking spot.

I am so grateful that my ego does not usually get the last word in situations. Just I drove off to look for another parking place, I heard the Spirit say to go back and apologize. It said, “as a matter of fact, go back, apologize, and jump her yourself.” I’m past the days of resisting these sorts of directions; so I went back to apologize and help. I knew it was the right move because, when I returned, she was crying. My haughtiness had made her cry. Anyway, I started trying to help her, in pouring rain, but my cables were too short. Suddenly, two men rolled up on a pick-up truck to offer help and longer cables. They had been sitting in front of the barber shop across the street, watching us, and decided to help.

This is a perfect example of being open to new information. If I wasn’t listening to God, I would have parked my car, justified my rudeness, and gone on with my day; leaving her in tears. With God’s input, we had a community experience that was quite frankly joyful. My inner experiences are always better when my ego is not the author of my attitudes and actions.

My whole spiritual journey has been about letting go of old ideas that new ones may come. I’ve been at it so long that even ideas that were once new had to eventually be released; that even newer ideas could follow. So, being willing to set aside what I think I know that I may have a new experience is what it means to make the mark. This doesn’t mean that we won’t experience momentary lacks of love for others, but it does mean that God’s grace is sufficient to adapt us to the ways of God that we may be last of all and servant to all; to know abundance in the kingdom within.

Namaste and Amen

Paige Thomas DeHart

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