preached by the Rev. Lowell E. Grisham, O.A., Rector
Paul's Episcopal Church, Fayetteville, Arkansas
2016; Proper 13, Year C, Track 2
Revised Common Lectionary
(Luke 12:13-21) Someone in the
crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family
inheritance with me." But he said to him, "Friend, who set me to be a
judge or arbitrator over you?" And he said to them, "Take care! Be on
your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the
abundance of possessions." Then he told them a parable: "The land of
a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, `What should I do,
for I have no place to store my crops?' Then he said, `I will do this: I will
pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain
and my goods. And I will say to my soul, `Soul, you have ample goods laid up
for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, `You fool!
This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have
prepared, whose will they be?' So it is with those who store up treasures for
themselves but are not rich toward God."
Reading this story about a conflict over an inheritance reminds
me of a story. When I was in Jackson, Mississippi, we were doing a class about
attachment and detachment. In the class was one of the beloved matriarchs of
our congregation, I'll call her Tillie because she has died and I can't ask her
permission to tell the story and because my memory is so faulty I'm not sure
I'll tell it exactly as it happened. In her 80's, Tillie had a beautiful, quick
smile, a translucent white complexion, cherubic red cheeks, snow white hair,
and twinkling blue eyes. She looked like a grandmother in a fairy tale story.
Our class was talking about how we get attached so easily to
things and to emotions. How our attachments drive us so powerfully. Tillie
spoke up in her deep Southern accent:
"Fah-tha. Mah muh-thuh had a beautiful emerald necklace. I loved
and admired it so. Sometimes she would let me barrah that necklace for a
special dress-up occasion. She promised she would give it to me when she died.
But late in her life, when she wasn't quite able to take care of things like
she used to, my sus-tuh started messin in mama's affairs. And when it came time
to read Mama's will – I've nevah been so shocked in my life – the will gave
that emerald necklace to my sus-tuh, and I got the back patio furniture. Now it
was nice furniture… but I can tell you, to this day, every time I think of my
sus-tuh wearing that emerald, it just "ticks" me off!" [I had to
clean up that last bit of Tillie's language for church.]
Somewhere in Tillie's consciousness, Tillie knew: it's just
stuff; everything passes. Her mother was long gone. Tillie and her sister's
years were numbered. Let it go. But the energy inside her memory was still very
real and powerful. And every time she thought of that emerald, the chemicals of
her emotions poured through her body. "Every time I think of my sus-tuh
wearing that emerald, it just "ticks me off!" She was still mad.
The word "emotion" comes from the Latin for
movement, agitation, stirring up. Like what happens in your guts when they are
stirred up, agitated and moving. The body holds emotions; the body preserves
the history of our emotional woundings. Our most primitive emotions dwell in
our body like chemical deposits ready to erupt with instant urgency. Emotions
are so raw and deep, they feel like truth. Like truth demanding a response.
It's important to recognize: Emotions just are. They aren't
necessarily good or bad. At their core, emotions are just energy. Chemical
energy. We don't have to do anything with them unless we truly choose to.
As human beings, we've inherited three motivational systems –
systems that have been necessary to our survival as a species. They motivate so
much of what drives us.
The first motivational system is the fight-flight-freeze
system. It is the way we react to threats. The amygdala pumps adrenaline to
tell us urgently "Fight for your life!" Or "Run!" Or "Freeze!" Our
negative memories are stored in the amygdala, and it is wired negatively, to
remember every possible or remotely possible threat. That shadow behind the tree?
Is it a sheep or a lion? The amygdala will kill a thousand sheep in order to
protect us from one shadow that might be a lion. Not good for the sheep though.
The amygdala is primitive; we share it with the reptiles. And it is fast.
Sending information almost instantly. "Fear!"
The second motivational system is the
achievement/goal-seeking system. It gives us drive, excitement, and vitality,
and it rewards us with feelings of pleasure. The chemical is dopamine, and it
comes from the basal ganglia in the forebrain. Dopamine is the chemical
secreted by a job well done, a Razorback touchdown or by crack cocaine. Pleasure
is particularly addictive, whether it is the pleasure of constructive
accomplishment or the pleasure of beating a video game. A high achieveing
workaholic and a video game addict experience a similar sense of reward.
The third motivational system is the tend-and-befriend system,
something particularly present in mammals. This emotional system gives us
feelings of contentment, safety, and connection, like when you are holding a
baby. It gives us feelings of soothing and well-being, connection with others.
The chemical is oxytocin, and it is released by the pituitary, reaching into
other parts of the neurological system. Oxytocin helps create the motivation of
But this third motivational system, the tend-and-befriend
system is easily overridden. The threat system of fight-flight-freeze is
quicker and more urgent than tend-and-befriend system. In our primitive body,
fear trumps love. To a somewhat lesser degree the achievement/goal-seeking
system also overrides our tend-and-befriend system. The drive for pleasure or
accomplishment pushes us with deep urgency.
But this is interesting: if all is quiet – no immediate
threat, no achievement drive – number 3 is where we naturally dwell – the place
of tend-and-befriend, where we feel connected, content, and safe. The place of
So many spiritual practices are designed to help us detach
from the force of the first two emotional systems in order to free us to live
where we most naturally dwell, in the place of compassion and connection. The
place of our fullest humanity. The place of love.
Coming here to worship is an opportunity shed some of our
sense of fear and threat and to place our fears into God's hands, letting go in
trust. Surrendering to the greater power and infinite love that carries us more
surely than we can carry ourselves. Coming here to worship is a way to re-order
our pleasures and desires, resting for a while in the divine presence where all
is well and all manner of things shall be well. Coming here to worship is a
return to our home of deep acceptance in God's infinite arms, where we are loved
and embraced unconditionally and knit together into the community of the
mystical Body of Christ which gathers all humanity into one. As Colossians says
today, "your life is hidden with Christ in God… clothed… with the new
self. Christ is all in all."
Prayer and contemplative practice help us release our
attachment to the disorienting stimulations of our fears and desires so we can
rest, secure in our most natural condition: safe, connected, content and
compassionate in the loving presence of God. In contemplative prayer, like
Centering Prayer, we take a little time, maybe twenty minutes, to gently
disengage from the battering of thoughts and feelings, and for a little while,
just be, naturally, in that loving, infinite presence.
The practice of Centering Prayer helps us detach from our
thoughts and feelings – detach from the chemicals that bubble up within us. One
discipline of Centering Prayer is the practice of the Four R's. I've taught it
before, but I want to do so again. When we sit down in Centering Prayer, we
gently deal with the distractions of our thoughts and feelings with the Four
R's: Resist no thought. Retain no
thought. React emotionally to no thought. Return ever-so-gently to your sacred
That same practice can help us when the adrenaline and
dopamine of our conflictive emotions and thoughts fire off within us during our
ordinary hours. We experience a threat or a compulsion: Resist not. Retain not.
React not. Return ever-so-gently to your center.
Emotions tend to dissipate if we don't add to them. They
come and go. We can merely observe emotions; we don't have to do anything about
them. We don't have to react. We can wait. We can observe rather than obey our
emotions. And they can be our teachers. Showing us our own patterns that tend
to compromise our freedom.
Always we are God's beloved children. "Your life is hidden
with Christ in God… clothed… with the new self. Christ is all in all."
That's naturally where we dwell, whenever we let go of the fear and compulsions
that seek to drive us.
Dwell contented and safe within the eternal arms as God's
beloved child, and from that place of peace, just watch. When adrenaline or
dopamine kick in: Resist not. Retain not. React not. Return ever-so-gently to
The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church is to explore and
God's infinite grace, acceptance and love.
For information about St. Paul's Episcopal Church and its life and
mission, please contact us at
P.O. Box 1190, Fayetteville, AR 72702, or call 479/442-7373
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