Underneath are the everlasting arms
Posted on 05 October 2020, 12:09
Since 1953, when I became an Anglican clergyman, I have conducted a great many funeral services. Most times I have read St Paul’s fist letter to the people of Corinth, Chapter 15, verse 43, where he writes about our physical bodies when they are buried, are like seeds, which when sown give rise to something new, in this case, a spiritual body.
Whether this is true or not, it has been shown by afterlife research and for us in a materialist world, this is very important to know.
In Paul’s words that follow we have a key statement of faith and spirituality:
For I also read, Romans 8:38 “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Here are similar statements of fait: “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” Deuteronomy 33
“Underneath are the everlasting arms” Those words are not the subject of afterlife research. They are a matter of spirituality. How it is between us and Spirit.
Those arms are always there, as the Prodigal Son was amazed to find, when, after having made a complete mess of his life, on coming home, he was amazed to see his father running towards him, with open arms.
It goes without saying, that we are all fallible, and seem regularly to fall from grace. Every time this happens we need to pick ourselves up, and like trustful children, return to those arms.
In his book, “Breathing under Water”, Franciscan monk, Fr. Richard Rohr calls our character faults, “addictions”. We are addicted to anger, fear, judgmentalism, whatever. And no amount of our personal efforts changes this.
Like alcoholics often report, we need to hit “rock bottom”, confess our powerlessness, and surrender to those “everlasting arms.” Then there is a possibility of healing.
Jesus attacked the Pharisees for teaching that we please God though obedience not only to the Ten Commandments but 812 other laws. Pass or fail on obedience to all this. He told the story of the man who boasted to God about his obedience, and the man who stood at the back of the synagogue, saying, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” Such a man was closer to the Everlasting arms.
Far from being a Pharisee, In Matthew 7:1 Jesus says “Judge not, that ye be not judged”.
2 “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again”.
3 “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”
In spirituality we are always tempted to be judgmental Pharisees, yet we need to be open to the fact that “the Good Shepherd”, aka “Everlasting Arms” is leading on a predestined path designed to purify our souls. We probably know hymns like, “Guide me O thou ‘Great Redeemer’, “Lead ‘kindly Light’”, “’God’ is working his purpose out as year succeeds to year.”
One of the reasons why I have been telling stories of synchronicity, is to demonstrate that guidance along a spiritual path is a reality, and that we should be alert that all of us may be following in the footsteps of the “Good Shepherd. (Another reason is that these events were part and parcel with the teaching of our “St Stephen the Martyr”)
The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous expands on what can follow is surrender to this God of love. Courageous step are often needed. For the alcoholic, he has to hit “rock bottom” and confess his powerlessness to control his drinking. But hitting rock bottom is not death but rather safety.
I am reminded of an experience my father and mother had when they were young. They were out picking blackberries in gold mining country. The danger was that there were scores of metres deep shafts amongst the blackberries, and to fall into one would mean injury or death. In spite of his being careful my father slipped into a hole. With nothing to grab hold of, he screamed “Goodbye Molly!” and fell one metre.
I tell this story because I vividly remember surrendering at a deep level to God – and it did feel a bit like a death. Instead though, I had a new perception of reality. Surrendering to those everlasting arms leads us into a reality, a personal reality, that can only be pointed to in the language of poetry and fable. . And thus they plumb the depths, and reach the heights of spiritual awareness. (Psalm 139 ‘Where shall I go from Spirit … if I go to the depths of the ocean thou are there…) Spirit has produced a predictable material reality, explored by science But Spirit is also very much the realm of imagination and the heart. We humans are thus in the image of God.
It is said that we live in a holographic universe, with each small part providing a fuzzy image of the whole.
As a footnote: as an openminded Anglican priest, my mind is saturated with the stories and songs of my church, many of which of course are shared by many other Christian denominations.Some readers will have other backgrounds, other traditions. The very name “Islam means “submission” or “Surrender to spirit”
When I was much younger man I belonged to an Indonesian based Islamic group called Subud. It professed to have no dogma, no picture pf Gpd. Instead we were to be open, submissive to whateveer we felt Spirit was leading us to do, laugh, cry, dance, prostrate ourselves, cry out, whatever, we were perhaps pretending to be God’s puppets. At other times we would ask questions of God and “receive” answers. Some others of us would ask the same question and “check receive” answers. These “receiving” were often enlightening..
I found twoyears of membership of this group most helpful, and similar exercises might be helpful who don’t feel at ome in the Christian trtadition.
The Spirit I found therre was the Spirit of Love. Surrender to Love and that is what you find. That is why the Prodigal Son found a loving Father.
Michael Cocks edits the journal, The Ground of Faith.
Afterlife Teaching From Stephen the Martyr and Into the Wider Dream by Michael Cocks are published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and other bookstores.