31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
August 7, 2016
Psalms 27 & 40
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Growing up, there was one person I believed embodied the life and way of Jesus Christ more than anyone else and that was Mother Theresa. From an early age, she felt called to spread the good news of Jesus Christ, and she followed that call to a convent school in Calcutta, India. After seventeen years teaching at St. Mary’s High School, she knew that God was calling her to move beyond the convent walls and serve the poorest of the poor, those everyone had forgotten. In 1950, she received permission from the Vatican, the Holy See, to start her own order called “The Missionaries of Charity” which now serves the poorest of the poor all over the world.
Mother Theresa, with her life of tireless, devoted Christian service, Mother Theresa with her kind face and loving touch, Mother Theresa with her wise words and peaceful heart, seemed to embody the life of Christian servanthood, discipleship, and faithfulness to God.
And so it was with great surprise, that the world learned ten years after her death that this woman who had seemed so close to God had not always felt close to God. Mother Theresa, in her letters to spiritual advisors, wrote that she felt Jesus was absent from her life and that even as she sought his light, she felt she lived in darkness.
The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest, had this to say about these very personal and private letters:
“I think that this is a real treasure for not only believers, but even doubters and skeptics,”[…]. “I think it also makes her much more accessible to the everyday believer. It shows that even the saints struggle in their spiritual lives.” Shona Crabtree, Religion News Service/ August 30, 2007
Even the saints struggle in their spiritual lives. Even women as faithful and devoted and Christ-centered as Mother Theresa struggle in their spiritual lives.
Thank you to all of you who shared your favorite psalm with me. As is the case with many of the psalms, these favorite psalms speak of trust and hope in God, thanksgiving for God’s presence in our lives and in our world.
The 18th psalm: ‘Every word of God is pure. He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him’. And the 23rd psalm, ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I need nothing more’. In Psalm 27, we hear, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” And Psalm 40, “Happy are those who make the Lord their trust, who do not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after false gods. You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you. Were I to proclaim and tell of them, they would be more than can be counted.” (Psalm 40:4-5)
For members of our congregation, these psalms are inspiring and deeply comforting. These psalms testify to the goodness of God. They speak of God’s blessings upon us, God’s love for us. These psalms also speak of our utter trust in God, our belief that God is our “refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)
It is easy to assume that the psalmists always felt such trust and faith in God, that they were so pious and faithful that they turned to God with all of their joys as well as struggles and sorrows. But the psalmists had their doubts at times. They struggled. They, too, wondered where God was or found the busyness of their life pulling them away from God. Maybe the psalmists wrote these words, not because they believed, but to help them believe, to connect them more deeply with God. Maybe the psalmists were power-posing.
Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist and Associate Professor at Harvard Business School, studies power-posing. Her work focuses on whether you can empower your mind through your body language.
We have long believed the reverse – that your mind can empower your body. Athletes picture themselves swinging the golf club and hitting the perfect shot; connecting with the baseball to hit a home run; mentally rehearsing their quadruple back flip off the spring board; or perfectly performing a routine on the uneven bars. It is possible to mentally rehearse yourself to success.
But can it go the other way? Can your outward body affect your inner state? Can your body’s poses, posture, and actions affect your mind and beliefs?
The first ever all female Rwandan college debate team thinks so. In their very first national competition, they lost in 45 minutes. Forty-five minutes. They were devastated. They felt like they proved to everyone in Rwanda that women were not as competent and intelligent as men. Granted, they had only had two weeks to practice and their first and only debate was against our equivalent of the MIT team, so the criticisms of themselves and by others were not fair. But still, the women felt like they had failed. 45 minutes. They were out of the competition in only 45 minutes.
So they went back to their college, and they learned the rules of this debate style better – and they began practicing power poses, because one of the criticisms of their team was that they had debated like “women”. They had spoken in the soft, shy, submissive voices expected of them by the Rawandan “lady” culture, when debate requires you to be brash, loud, and confident.
So they learned the rules better, and they learned to power-pose, doing things like standing up straight and shouting, “We are going to win this debate.” Putting both hands on their hips, like Wonder Woman, and saying “I’m a debater, and I’m the winner today.”
And the team went back to the national competition and faced that MIT equivalent team again, and this time, they won. And the confidence they gained from that first win carried them into the next debate where they won again, and onto winning the third debate, where they took home the trophy for the whole competition.
From a 45 minute embarrassing loss in their first national competition to winning it all in their second. Pretty amazing. Was it their hours and hours of preparation and practice or was it the power-posing?
We all need some more confidence at one time or another. We all have times when we struggle in our faith and seek to trust more in God, rely more on God. So whether we can mentally rehearse ourselves into a life of deeper faith by reading our favorite psalms, saying, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” (Psalm 27:1) until we no longer fear. Or “faith-pose” our way into deeper faithfulness by attending worship every week, lifting our faces to God in daily prayer, practicing our Christian faith with steady discipline until we come through that time of struggle and doubt into a place of trust, reliance, and hope.
It only matters that we keep growing in our faith, keep persevering in our relationship with God, keep hearing these words of faith, saying these words of faith, singing these words of faith, testifying to these words of faith, living these words of faith until they are knit into the very fiber of our being.
Outside in, inside out, it only matters that we keep persevering on this journey of faith until we come to a place of full reliance on and trust in God, to a place where our hearts see light in God’s light, to a place where we can joyfully proclaim that we see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living, to a place of loving faithfulness where we know that ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I need nothing more’.
(The story of the Rwandan women’s debate team was heard on NPR’s Invisibilia July 29, 2016, reported by Gregory Warner.)