“When I’m drivin’ in my car, and the man come on the radio He’s tellin’ me more and more about some useless information Supposed to fire my imagination I can’t get no satisfaction, I can’t get no satisfaction I try and I try and I try and I try … When I’m watchin’ my tv and a man comes on and tell me How white my shirts can be But, he can’t be a man ’cause he don’t smoke The same cigarettes as me I can’t get no satisfaction, I can’t get no satisfaction I try and I try and I try and I try I’m ridin’ round the world And I’m doin’ this and I’m signin’ that … I can’t get no satisfaction I try and I try and I try and I try…”
You hear it different when you slow it down, right? We hear this song all the time, but I for one didn’t really think about what the words meant until I heard a version by Cat Power. If you aren’t familiar with Cat Power, let’s just say she was put on this earth to sing a sad song. Her version of “Satisfaction” doesn’t even give us the satisfaction of the hook. She slows it way down, makes it almost drag its feet and just fills that song with sorrow. In her version of Satisfaction it’s clear it’s about suffering, It’s about the suffering that comes with empty cycles of seeking satisfaction in stuff that cannot satisfy, Stuff that cannot satisfy and yet sells us on the promise of satisfaction. It’s the image that sells. Buy this, you will be happy Look like this, you will be loved You just need this and, you will be better than other people you will be powerful you will be healthy you will be safe, protected you will be free from pain. Ah, but these things don’t satisfy. They take our money, or energy, or dignity and leave us just as empty as before … yet we keep coming back for more, thinking that what we truly need is just more and more and more…
It’s easy to see how other people get roped in like this, it’s easy to see how they get led by the nose by the empty promises hawked by some huckster, Promises that just leave them more hungry and desperate and addicted, angry, depressed, ground down.
It’s harder to see the ways that we get taken for a ride, hooked by some false promise that only leads us around and around Seeking satisfaction in stuff that just leaves us empty. I try and I try and I try and I try…
Lent is a season of self-examination, self-awareness, through prayer, through fasting This is an important way that God works in our lives Helping us to be more aware of ourselves, especially of the parts of ourselves that keep us stuck in cycles of suffering that draw us away from God, and from God’s purpose for our lives and other people’s lives. God is a help to us, sometimes in harsh way, sometime in a gentle way, helping us to wake up and see how we are yoked to ways that deaden and destroy, how we get yanked around by hunger, or desire, or anger, or fear or thrill or judgment. God is a help to us to see that it doesn’t have to be that way, to know that we are created to be whole and free and at peace.
Let me tell you a little parable. This is from “The Sayings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers.” Now, a quick aside about the Desert Fathers and Mothers: they were a loose community of early Christians who lived in the desert, mostly in Egypt. This is starting in the fourth century, when the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as the official religion of the empire. The religion that began as spiritual protest by the crucified got twisted into a religion of conquest by the crucifiers. The Desert Fathers and Mothers resisted this corruption of the religion of Jesus and they felt they had to go out to the margins of this corrupt society. So they lived out in the desert and dedicated themselves to prayer in the presence of God, to repentance, to the practice of peace and non-judgment, and acts of service and mercy. People saw their wisdom and went to them to learn how to be followers of Jesus. Their teachings got written down and have been handed down ever since: “The Sayings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers.”
One of the parables they told was this: Take an ox, a mighty ox, and all you have to do is tie leather blinders over its eyes, and you can yoke that ox to a millwheel and get that powerful animal to just grind away in circles – hour after hour, day after day, year after year. But if you take away those blinders, if they fall away from its eyes, that ox will pick up its head and see that broad horizon and it’ll turn away from the millwheel and strain against the yoke and break free.
Now, often times the ox gets lured into this situation with the promise of satisfaction, even salvation or escape. It can be comfortable for a time. But a cycle starts to form and then grind away. Desire begets more desire. Greed begets more greed. Fear, more fear. Anger, more anger. Violence, more violence. The more we flee, the more we chase an easy fix – the hair of the dog that bit you – the more we are driven by the lack gnawing away, the more we just keep turning that wheel of suffering.
But God always is with us. And God makes sure that often enough we get at least a glimpse of what is really going on, the bigger picture, a glimpse of what is really possible. But too often we can’t bear to see it. When the blinders come off it can be a harsh awakening. The book of Proverbs puts it well: “As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly” (Proverbs 26:11) Another hangover. Another crash after the high. Another bruising, battering act of destruction. Another lie. Another disguise. Another round of innocent lives mowed down. Another emptiness – restless, vexed. God did not create us for this. And there comes a time when we can wake up to this and know that we do not need to reach for more tools of violence to somehow cure ourselves of violence, or seek more intoxication to somehow bend back our bends. The blinders can fall from our eyes and we can see the horizons of possibility, and feel the strength pulsing within. For we are each and all beloved children of the living God.
“Jesus said: ‘If those who lead you proclaim to you: “The Realm is in the sky,” then the birds of the sky will enter before you. If they proclaim to you: “It is in the sea,” then the fish will enter before you. Rather, the Realm is within you and outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will realize that you are the children of the Living Father. If, however, you do not come to know yourselves, then you dwell in poverty and you are impoverishment itself.'” (Gospel of Thomas 3)
When we know ourselves as we truly are, we will know that God knows us and loves us and gives us the vision and the power to break free.
And here, my friends, is satisfaction.
O Holy God Help us. Help us to be free in your love If we’re worn into a rut, If we’re caught in a deadening grind Eating our own tails in some self-destructive hunger Tied in knots from chasing the next will o’ wisp O God, Wake us up Lift our heads Loose the blinders from our eyes Help us see the broad and beautiful horizon you set before us Help us to know the strength you have ignited within us so we may break free. Help us live out a faith that dares To repent and shrug off the ways of death And follow the ways of joy and satisfaction Such as you have promised for all humankind Amen.
“Jesus began teaching them, saying ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Realm of Heaven. Blessed are the mourners for they will be comforted. Blessed are the gentle, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they will find mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted in the cause of righteousness, for theirs is the Realm of Heaven.'” (Matthew 5:2-10)
“What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation. Even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 2:22-23)
“So I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly … Then I saw that wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness. The wise have eyes in their head, but fools walk in darkness.” (Ecclesiastes 2:12-13)
“Let us go forward with the heart completely attentive and the soul fully conscience.” – Philotheus of Sinai (d. 297)
“From that time on Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, because the Realm of Heaven has drawn close.” (Matthew 4:17)
(Delivered Feb. 25, 2018, at First Congregational Church of Walla Walla, by Rev. Nathaniel Mahlberg)
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