Lotus Petals in the Translucent Soul
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, January 31, 2021
What we see today is a miracle of the highest order. Khalil Gibran defines this miracle in a line of poetry.
"The soul unfolds itself, like a lotus of countless petals."
The soul of Zacchaeus was closed. Trapped in a prison built with iron bars. Born into a family of Jewish tax collectors he had no choice but to become one himself. That was how it was in those days. Jesus learned to be a carpenter taught by his foster father St. Joseph. Zacchaeus followed in his father’s footsteps and became a tax collector for the Roman empire. Automatically, through no fault of his own, he was maligned from childhood by the Jewish community that saw him and his kind as traitors. Shame and guilt and fear followed him and to overcome all this he began to cheat and steal. Everyone knew it, I suppose, but who would dare to bring a case against him? His money (another iron bar) and position brought him the final bars for his prison: pride and power, the two things that can corrupt any leader whose soul is closed tight like an oyster.
On top of everything else, he was short and we all know what Randy Newman’s song “Short People” has to say about that! If you don’t know, ask me later.
Once again Jesus looks through this corrupt, sad, and lonely little man and finds the pearl of great price, His soul may have been closed and his heart abandoned, but they were there and the Lord saw them.
Do you remember Origen’s little metaphor about the soul? He said that the soul is a deep well and it is filled with rubbish, mud and debris. At the bottom lies the image of God buried beneath the debris, still intact, still alive, the living heart of every human being still beating and crying out to its Maker. The Psalmist wrote about this, “Out of the depths I cry unto thee, O Lord, Lord hear my voice.” It is the soul that cries from the bottom of the well. It is the true voice of the true self that many people never ever hear.
From our lowly depths to the depths of his infinite mercy, one cries out to the other, the Prodigal Son to the Father, Zacchaeus to Jesus. And since we are too weak to run to him, he runs to us, forgetting and forgiving all the sins and wrongs and mistakes that make up the heavy burden that we bear, and drawing us into his and our true home. To find our true home, we must first find our true selves.
There was something about Jesus that either awakened the soul or triggered self-defense. We see both responses in the Gospels frequently. If we look at this through the eyes of the Internal Family System, the crowd who sought to deter and humiliate Zacchaeus can be seen as all his defensive parts who feared that Zacchaeus would choose to follow Christ instead of them. After all, they had been calling the shots for his whole life. Why change horses in the middle of a stream?
But something intervened. I compare it to looking at the Milky Way on a dark night, For a moment you are astonished, No words, no thoughts, just sheer wonder. I think that must be something like Zacchaeus felt when Jesus chose him from out of the crowd. His mind must have exploded with awe, Unlike looking at the Milky Way and being distracted from it by thoughts and memories and theories, etc., etc, Zacchaeus did not stop gazing at him. He looked at Christ and Christ looked at him and they had lunch together, which is an image of the Eucharistic Supper we celebrate today. Eating with one another is one of the most socially intimate things we human beings do. If our eyes, our hearts, our souls are unfolded we will see the sacramental metaphor in every meal. Why else do we bless our food before we start to eat and end with a prayer when the meal is over. Every meal for an Orthodox Christian is bookended by Grace.
“The love of God, unutterable and perfect, flows into a pure soul the way that light rushes into a transparent object. The more love that it finds, the more it gives itself; so that, as we grow clear and open, the more complete the joy of heaven is. And the more souls who resonate together, the greater the intensity of their love, and, mirror-like, each soul reflects the other.” - Dante
It interests me that Dante saw what modern neuroscience has now discovered. Human beings are equipped with “mirror neurons” that reflect the mirror neurons in others. In other words, human beings reflect one another without even knowing it.
We simply have to acquiesce and open our hearts completely to him “who offers himself to us so completely.” (St. Symeon the New Theologian) We become mirrors of God in this world.
The Golden Gate of the soul must be re-opened so that the King of Glory may come in. It is he who wipes everything clean, who sanctifies and purifies all things, who polishes the mirror, and cleans the windows. He Who is the Servant of all has come to clean our houses.
We must let go of the burdens we bear for they mean nothing in the light of God’s love and compassion. He is not compelled to love us. He loves us because he is Love. And love believes all things and hopes all things. He sees us through the lens of a loving Father even when we act up like little children. One Orthodox saint once remarked that it is when we sin that God loves us even more. I believe that we can trust his words. Anyone that has a child knows what this means.
Origen continued saying that the Lord Jesus enters the well of the soul and begins to remove everything that blocks the image from rising and filling the heart/soul with goodness and light. Zacchaeus gave up his cheating and stealing and returned what he had stolen four-fold and gave half of his possessions to the poor. I guess it’s sort of like a garage sale. You have to pick and choose what you want to sell and what you want to keep. The more you sell, the more money you make. The more you let go, the freer and lighter you become. The will of God is only discovered through letting go.
Again from the poet Dante, "In His will is our peace: it is the sea into which all currents and all streams empty themselves, for all eternity."
When His will becomes ours, ours has become His. As the soul unfolds, in the words of Gibran, then we will be able to see that God is the only necessity for everything comes from him and nothing we have belongs to us anyway. And then the “walls come tumbling down,” and the lotus reveals its beautiful petals.