Message at Durham Friends Meeting, October 27, 2019
When I think about God, or about Spirit, or the Light I quickly realize I don’t know very much. I know that many questions – important questions – are beyond me. Beyond me. They’re over my head, outside my ken, too deep for me. I don’t know why there’s pain in the world. Why who gets sick is often very unfair. Whether there is life after death. Those things are beyond me.
Sitting in a meeting last week, someone used those words, “beyond me,” and I jotted them down. They’ve stayed on my mind. What’s “me” and what’s “beyond me?”
A lot of the time I’m pretty taken with myself. I admit that. I know that. Many days, maybe most days, I can float on a river of “me-ness.” I’m in “me-land” much of the time.
It’s my concerns I’m thinking about; my needs, my wants, my worries, my hopes, my pleasures, my pains. Me Me Me Me Me Me Me. There’s a lot of me in my world.
I may be worse in this regard than most people. I don’t really know, but maybe. I certainly don’t think I’m better at getting away from me-land than most people.
Still, I do notice that most other people most of the time are wondering around in me-land.
It can be a comfortable place to be, even when I’m annoyed or unhappy about something. I’m the most important person in me-land. What I want is the most important thing. My thoughts are the ones I want to hear – and often the ones I want others to hear. My hurts, my pains are the ones that seem to most need attention.
How about you? Are you number one in your feelings and thoughts most of the time? Are you in Me-land much of the time?
There are some philosophers who think we can’t be anywhere else. Me-land is all there is. It’s the only place each of us can be. The only pain I can feel is my pain. The only pleasure I can feel is my pleasure. If I feel pain about something that’s happened to you, it’s because I’ve come to like you, and it causes me pain when something bad happens to you.
It’s always just my pain or my pleasure, these philosophers think. Empathy is just an illusion, they say. I don’t really “feel your pain.” I feel my pain, nothing more.
That’s their view. I want to say straight up, living here as I do in Me-land, I don’t agree with these philosophers, smart as they may be.
I believe I can escape from Me-land – at least some of the time. I may find myself back in Me-land. I may never escape for very long or get very far away, but I do think I can escape. There is somewhere else that is not Me-land.
That’s really why the phrase “beyond me” struck my attention last weekend and why it has stayed there.
I hope at least a few of you remember an old TV show called “The Prisoner.” It was a British show that first aired in 1967 and 1968 and starred Patrick McGoohan. McGoohan was also the prime creative force behind the show. It was just 17 episodes.
Here’s a brief synopsis. After resigning from his job, a secret agent is abducted and taken to what looks like an idyllic Village but is really a bizarre prison. There he is known only as ‘Number 6’. Those in charge of the Village demand information. He gives them nothing, but only tries to escape.” In each episode, he does try to escape. He appears to be succeeding, but each time he winds up back in this isolated, lovely village. (“No man is a number,” the Prisoner used to say each episode.)
Do any of you remember this?
For me, this is something of an allegory of what Me-land is like. Me-land is pleasant, but I don’t want to be confined there. I think it’s important to escape. I try to escape all the time. Sometimes I think I succeed for a while. It can feel exciting, even liberating. However often I fail, I have to keep trying.
I don’t believe I’ll ever fully escape Me-land, but I think I’m better for getting out as often as I can. I know I’m going to wind up back in Me-land (in the Village), but I don’t give up trying to escape.
Where’s the door? Where’s the pathway out? Where’s the secret tunnel or hidden stairway? How do I get outside of Me-land? How does anyone?
Actually, I’ve come to think there may be many ways to escape. Some work better for some people; some work better for others. (Number 6 found a different way to try in each episode of The Prisoner.) If you want to escape and are willing to try, you have to find the way or the ways that work for you.
Here’s one way that works for me – one pathway: waiting worship.
In Meeting for Worship, I try to lay down all the Me-ness. I try to quiet the voices in my head that I know are “me” voices. I try to lay aside the voices that are talking about my wants, my needs, my hopes, my concerns, and see if I can hear another voice – let’s call it the voice of God.
Is it really God’s voice? (How do I know who or what God is? I don’t know. That’s ‘beyond me.’) All I know is that sometimes I can find another voice, and it’s not mine. It’s a voice ‘beyond me.’ It’s more than me.
Making friends with that voice is important to me. Making friends with that voice settles me, makes me more aware. Makes me (I think) a better person.
It’s a voice that connects me. It connects me to ‘whoever-that-voice-is’ (call it God or Spirit or Light). But it also connects me to other people. It helps me know them better – and in a way that’s less colored by “me-ness.”
Do you have someone in your life who really knows you well? Who’s honest with you, always, but always tells you things in a really tender and loving way? I hope so. (Actually, I’m pretty sure you do.)
It’s great if that someone is another person: a partner, a child a friend. That bond of knowing you well, that connection, is love.
But there’s something else, I believe, that can know each of us really well – who loves us. That’s the voice of God I seek in worship. That’s the voice we seek together.
And the connection that voice makes with us is love. Love: that’s what’s “beyond me.”