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John H.Kramer


By John H.Kramer

(November  11, 2012)

Suggested Reading: No. 48 from The Tao Te Ching, Mitchell translation

In the pursuit of knowledge,
every day something is added.
In the practice of the Tao,
Every day something is dropped.
Less and less do you need to force things,
Unti finally you arrive at non action.
When nothing is done,
Nothing is left undone.

True mastery can be gained
By letting things go their own way.
It can’t be gained by interfering.


I will preface the talk with a brief comment to listeners about wordplay. Those who read the teaser in the newsletter may have
stumbled over the following statement:
“Faith in G_d provides a certainty to the religiously convicted” – that was actually on purpose. As you MIGHT have guessed, it was born from “religious convictions”. Those with them are of that state – i.e. religiously convicted. The word “convictions” is a noun, but I took the poetic license to convert its root
to an adjective – those with religious convictions are religiously convicted. We usually think of convicted as the past tense of a verb meaning judged and found guilty, a bad thing – like a heretic. I meant it to mean that they have strongly held beliefs, but you could only have guessed at that by letting common English usage lapse and projecting a new contextual meaning onto the word-sounds. This obtuseness is very unfair to the casual listener who presumes that a speaker is sincerely trying to be clear, not throw them off track with misleadings. I apologize if my ego got in the way there, but I like to think I intend it to wake you to a state of active listening in which you hear double meanings and ironic reversals, whether or not they are intended. God, or HIGHER POWER is not so obvious as many claim, but ineffable, and words are only a dance around its mystery. This is why God is written G_d, to add further mystery to the unspeakable.


The inspiration for this talk was Esther, who came to our UU meeting in Douglas Flat and bravely revealed she was searching for meaning in a mixed up world of loss and alcoholic abuse. All outside connections had been stripped away by the death of a loved one. She was feeling alone and lost, trying to define a “HIGHER POWER”, to which she can submit while 12-stepping gingerly out of her self-destructive spiral. She sought us out because the HIGHER POWER touted to her was steeped in Christian mythology that violated her sense of reality.

“Your self-centered reality is the problem!”, the healers say. Submitting to a HIGHER POWER means abandoning your self-centered reality, humbling your EGO.

Esther and me, and most of you I expect, lack the conviction of belief needed to sincerely humble themselves to the supernatural Higher Powers of our Christian friends. The context for belief in God’s omniscient power, for example to create a man from clay, no longer exists in this age of understanding the facts of fossil evolution. How can a rational person’s EGO humble itself to supernatural imaginings
of long-dead strangers, who wrote their Religious Revelations on sheep skins in the desert? I agree with Thomas Paine an influential pamphleteer in revolutionary America who said:

“When I am told the Koran was written in heaven and brought to Mohammed by an angel, the account comes too near hearsay evidence and second hand authority. I did not see the angel myself and, thefefore have a right not to believe it.”

Other peoples’ Miracles and Revelations require a leap of FAITH wherein we must suspend a lifetime of experiential truths. Sincerely humbling myself to something like that is, well … delusional. I can’t believe it is truly real.

So, in the absence of faith in God as revealed through others’ testimony, and lacking personal knowledge of God, to what HIGHER POWER can a rational EGO humble himself?

Rev Barbara Merritt once wrote: “Whether or not you believe in God, you need to realize you yourself are not God. For some it takes a lifetime to achieve that realization; for others it’s a daily discipline to remember it. This may be one way to understand what is meant by the term, “spirituality” – the task of discovering, and then remembering, that we are not God.”

For Esther, and me, and you too, the search for HIGHER POWER is a battle against selfishness. Stuck inside our bodies and minds, we see everything literally through our own eyes. EGO is all there is. EGO is in charge and doing battle with things outside us, monopolizing thoughts, protecting, fretting, demanding time (EGO wants it all). But we know in our heart of hearts that reality is more than just EGO’s self-awareness.

A new 4-year old orphan asks, “Where’s Daddy?” She could be in a Pleistocene cave, or in a 21st Century Emergency Room. She is having a quintessential human realization that people go out of life. EGO fears most the future; for there … up ahead, is the end of perceptional experience, death. The end of EGO’s body-vessel.

EGO is all EGO knows and EGO is freaked by the abyss at death’s door. Looking beyond existence, EGO builds stories to reconcile itself with oblivion, imaginings to comfort the soul, beliefs of the everlasting to ensure immortality. They may be concepts of heaven, they may be poetics about reincarnation, they may be thermodynamic laws.

Unitarian Minister Scott Alexander once said “Religion is the result of self-aware beings realizing they will die.” Death and religion demand we look outside ourselves, for the truly-humbling “HIGHER POWER”. Let’s not get lost in scorn about other people’s specific religious belief and miss the path to a Higher Power. The power is not in the nuts and bolts of specific beliefs, it is in the FAITH the believers show! FAITH is the conviction. FAITH is the certainty that wraps around the belief, and deflects rational attack. FAITH in the belief makes the impossible true. Walk on Water? Redemption and resurrection? FAITH makes the miracle.

FAITH in your beliefs is the most useful of powers. No matter what words are used for the “Higher Power”. FAITH unwrapped from superstition IS the EGO-humbling Higher Power.

FAITH is certainty.
FAITH gives life to deliberate actions
FAITH channels hope in times of direst misery.
FAITH is the absence of fear.
FAITH comforted martyrs in the lions’ dens, and heretics burned at the stakes.
FAITH is both evil and good. FAITH is displayed by Taliban bombers and Pakistani schoolgirls alike.
FAITH calms the soul and opens the heart to love.
FAITH contains a reconciliation with the fact of death.
Do you have FAITH? . . .

“Well maybe. I mean like faith in what?” Faith needs an idea – faith demands a worthy belief.

Listen to the words of Max Ehrman, writing in 1927:

“Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.”
“Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the Universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And, whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the Universe is unfolding as it should.”

Do you hear the humble recognition of insignificance? The melting away of the EGO into a limitless pool of time? Can you humble yourself to believe in that? Let me repeat that last thought:

“And, whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the Universe is unfolding as it should.”

I have faith in the inevitability of the future.

Whatever our reality is, fears and doubts of the future are natural, but worrying about how bad it can get, or how much better it could be are equally off-course. There is no use in fretting too earnestly or in being too scared to act. The worst is that I will die sooner or later, and that is no surprise to anyone.

So after all this I conclude that I can humble my EGO to the HIGHER POWER of FAITH in a future that holds my personal oblivion, when EGO will be nothing.

I have FAITH that beyond my mind’s eye the Universe is unfolding as it should.