October 04, 2015
Chapter 4 We Make the Way by Walking
“A Hole in the Soul”
Rev. Pam Serdar
Genesis 3:1-13; Philippians 2:3-11
In the adult ed class using We Make the Road by Walking on Wednesday evening, the first comments on the Genesis passage were right on: Adam throws Eve under the bus, and Eve throws the snake under the bus, and God sure seems like a jerk, or at least ineffective in some of these stories. All true. And so we continue with our series.
“Who told you that you were naked?” God asked. Eve answered, “The snake tricked me, and I ate.” Some things never change. Again, ancient words so loaded with truth for our day it is almost unbelievable. Again, whether the story was ever literally true is not even close to being as important as the figurative truth it contains on so many levels.
Do you ever carry with you a so-called “truth” or callous comment, intentional or not, that someone has dumped on your soul? “You’re naked,” they said, and though we had not noticed it before, suddenly it is all we can think about, and wonder who else has noticed and has just been too polite to say anything. And when we carry it around, it really is like they tricked us and we ate, or we “drank the Kool-Aid” as some would say. And it can change our lives if we let it.
If you check out the Halloween stores right now, there is an automated zombie for sale with a hole about 6 inches around right through her middle. As she moaned for brains, I thought about what a great image that is as I picture how we often go through life. With a hole in our souls, yearning for God, not even aware that it is God for which we long, mindlessly and soullessly searching all over for that thing that will fill that empty open space. Too often we fill it with something destructive—alcohol, prescription or non-prescription drugs; sex; gambling; video games; smoking; sports; cellphones, eating, or not eating; wealth; violence; shopping; porn; exercise, chocolate, coffee, and more. All of those can become addictive if we succumb to their allure and let them expand to try to fill that God-sized hole in our soul—the metaphorical snake with the sensual voice inviting us in, as we are innocently unaware of the poison that awaits us. The snake is a shape-shifter, and can take the form of just about anything to tempt us: ads everywhere we turn, popups on our screens, bullies on the playground or locker room or in our own homes, maybe, you name it. You may be surprised at some of the things I listed as filling that empty space as possible addictions, but addictive substances can be “anything that alters your mood. It begins as self-medication to help you manage pain. The reward you get…makes you want more. Then it becomes something you can’t live without.” (WebMD) http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/abuse-of-prescription-drugs?page=5
We lose our grasp on our own humanity, and before we know it, we have become God in our own minds—“I can stop any time I want,” “I’m not addicted,” hiding our particular vices when God or a loved one steps into the garden of our lives, swearing to stop and too often relapsing. Sometimes we exchange one addiction, one false hole-filling activity for another. We keep trying to fill that God-shaped hole in our souls that only a relationship with the divine can fill. You see, God is trying to fill us to the brim with life, and anything else that we take into our souls to substitute, too often brings death of the spirit if not the body.
The snake, representing temptations of all kinds, slithers seductively around us offering lots of ways we can fill the growly, empty holes in our souls with destructive, death dealing things.
Just a few: Culturally-defined outer beauty. How many of us, women especially, but men too, hear the voice of the snake coming through ads on all the media we encounter, telling us that we are bodies that have bellies and thighs that need to be smaller, other parts that need to be bigger; have hair that is too curly, too straight, not shiny enough, the wrong color, thinning or missing; have faces with crow’s feet, noses that are unfortunate, eyes that need glasses, freckles and age spots; just to name a few. Maybe you saw the ad in Mpls-St Paul Magazine last week about plastic surgery. Is there any part of our God-given bodies that doesn’t need tweaking to match our cultural images of beauty? What hole in our soul are we trying to fill? Nasty teasing on the playground? Snide comment in gym class? The pressure to look like aging actors that try to look like they are in their 30s when they are in their 80s? Culturally-defined beauty can leave a huge growly hole in our souls that we spend a lifetime trying to fill.
Alcohol: The ads teach us that when the beautiful people (defined in lots of different ways—cowboys/cowgirls, jocks, high society, rock bands) gather, everyone is always happy, smiling, and in a partying mood. They imply that everyone can handle alcohol, even with the trailer, to “Drink Sensibly.” Too many of us choose to eat from the wrong tree—in Minnesota in 2014, 91 people died in alcohol-related crashes, and 31% of fatal crashes involved alcohol. (And we’re improving!!—Tell that to someone who has just lost a loved one in a drunk driving accident.) The snake whispers, “It won’t happen to you. You can handle it. You’re a better driver than they are. It’s just a couple of miles. You are so much cooler and relaxed when you have a drink.”
Drugs: “If one pill is good, won’t two pills be better?” the snake hisses as we stand at the medicine cabinet. “Drug overdose death rates in the United States have more than tripled since 1990 and have never been higher. At least 100 people die from drug overdoses every day in the U.S. More than 36,000 people die from drug overdoses annually and most of these deaths are caused by prescription drugs. . . The unprecedented rise in overdose deaths in the U.S. parallels a 300 percent increase since 1999 in the sale of powerful painkillers such as Vicodin and OxyContin.” (Psychology Today website; stats from the CDC) The hole in the soul needs bigger and bigger amounts of drugs to be filled, and the vast majority is not bought on the street.
Food: Many of us eat, me included, or stop eating, to feel better. There may be one or more triggers: having a bad day, being tired, being bored, being upset, being around people, being lonely, watching TV, wanting to look good, again, just to name a few. The snake says, “Oh, you deserve this—you got through the day! One more of these goodies isn’t going to hurt. You’ll start eating heathily tomorrow.” And we, or at least I, want to believe it. Surely I worked hard all day and deserve that desert. Or bread. Or whatever.
Gambling: Gambling causes the same kind of reaction in our brains that taking in chemicals and food does. The dopamine rush may start innocently enough, but can snowball into broken relationships, financial losses, even bankruptcy. The snake entices us again and again—“surely your luck is about to change, surely the machine is due to pay out, or you’re on a roll—you can’t quit now.” Unfortunately we forget that the odds of the games are always in favor of the house, and the hole in our soul will never be filled by the rush of gambling.
Those are just a few; we know lots of the details of the others. They all have one thing in common—a rush of dopamine that makes us feel good, but only temporarily. It’s like filling a bucket with a hole in the bottom, that runs out as fast as you pour it in.
Desire, the need to fill that hole in the soul, can be a good thing, or a bad thing. It depends on what we desire, and how we choose to fill that desire. God’s desire, or imitating Jesus, fills the growly hole in our soul with healthy, life-giving things: to create, to bless, to help, to serve, to care for, to heal, to enjoy. The interesting thing to me is that is that they are outward focused rather than inward focused (yes, these can all be taken to the nth degree and not be healthy if they are also not part of caring for oneself). Dopamine isn’t bad in and of itself. The dopamine hit can come from blessing and serving others, caring for people, working for healing, working for wholeness. Those things, as I know you all know, come from a place of joy, and they last a whole lot longer. We remember and thrive on those interactions with people that fill our growly place with God-centered-dopamine for a whole lot longer than we remember the purse or shoes or fishing rod we bought five years ago, for example.
Often people ask me why people don’t come to church any more. What changed in our world to keep people away? Honestly, I think that people have found other things with which to fill their souls. These things may not be healthy, and they may or may not rise to the level of addiction, but they keep people distracted enough that they don’t feel any need to seek a relationship with God. They may wonder why they don’t feel satisfied in their lives, but connecting with God in community is one of the last things they consider to fill them up. Other options are so much more enticing, and have so many more ways to get our attention.
Sometimes the hole in our soul can be augered out by people and events that leave our psyches in tatters—things like abusers and those who are naysayers when it comes to encouraging our dreams. Those with the soul-augers may think they are even helping us by being honest with us. We need to choose whether we are going to fill that hole with our relationship with God, including our dreams of using our God-given gifts, or let ourselves bleed out because of the harmful words of others.
In a way, the church traditionally has had a soul-auger of its own—the notion that we are bad, fallen, totally depraved, beyond redemption apart from the church, sinful, and on and on. Interesting that the Hebrew tradition does not call the story we read today in Genesis the story of the “Fall.” It is a story about why bad things happen, but it isn’t called the Fall of Humanity—Adam and Eve’s sins are theirs alone, not passed down from generation to generation. Humanity isn’t seen as intrinsically evil in the Hebrew tradition. I wonder though, that if we continue to tell ourselves and each other that we are intrinsically bad, like small children who are told over and over again how bad they are, might we not start acting that way as well? If the expectations are low, why would we bother to do any better than the low expectation? If we are going to be called bad and are going to be punished anyway, why not act the part? On the other hand, if we are called good, and the modeling around us is compassionate, kind, healing, generous, loving, joyful, would we not expect the same from and for ourselves, and live that out? Might we more likely fill the growly places in our souls with love and grace rather than addiction and pain?
This week, attend to the growly place in your soul. How do you fill it? If it is with an addiction, make this the week you get help—talk to Kay or me. God places us in community so we can walk this road together. If the hole is from someone with a soul-auger, claim your power to take that tender part of you back, remember that you are God’s beloved child, and God is there to encourage your dreams and walk with you in the hard parts. You are blessed, not cursed, from the very beginning. May your soul overflow in the God-space with grace, and healing, and love. Amen.
The snake was the most intelligent of all the wild animals that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say that you shouldn’t eat from any tree in the garden?”
2 The woman said to the snake, “We may eat the fruit of the garden’s trees 3 but not the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden. God said, ‘Don’t eat from it, and don’t touch it, or you will die.’”
4 The snake said to the woman, “You won’t die! 5 God knows that on the day you eat from it, you will see clearly and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 The woman saw that the tree was beautiful with delicious food and that the tree would provide wisdom, so she took some of its fruit and ate it, and also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then they both saw clearly and knew that they were naked. So they sewed fig leaves together and made garments for themselves.
8 During that day’s cool evening breeze, they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden; and the man and his wife hid themselves from the Lord God in the middle of the garden’s trees. 9 The Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”
10 The man replied, “I heard your sound in the garden; I was afraid because I was naked, and I hid myself.”
11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat from the tree, which I commanded you not to eat?”
12 The man said, “The woman you gave me, she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate.”
13 The Lord God said to the woman, “What have you done?!”
And the woman said, “The snake tricked me, and I ate.”