Powerless, by Bryan Hackett

Powerless, by Bryan Hackett

I grew up in a church environment that emphasized power. “You shall receive power when the Holy Ghost comes upon you.” Even “the violent take it by force” was touted as a good thing, the way to get hold of the Kingdom of God. So, needless to say, powerlessness just seemed like something negative, despite Jesus’ encouragement to follow him because he was “lowly and gentle”.

Powerlessness seems to be a fundamental step for us though, as spiritual, emotional, and intellectual beings. It seems that if a person like me does not experience deep powerlessness, the ego will continue to dominate and can really mess things up.

I know that this is dangerous material, and I want to say to anyone who has experienced powerlessness in terrible, hurtful ways, this message is not directed at you. Women in general have experienced powerlessness regularly, and Jesus always assured women of their power. (Richard Rohr)

But for a pretty privileged, almost white male ego, powerlessness is needed. It seemed so for Paul, and maybe that thorn in the flesh thing was all about powerlessness and what it could do for him spiritually. “When I am weak, then I am strong.” Have we learned this lesson? Have I learned this lesson?

Perhaps you have experienced being powerless in a very negative way. Almost certainly you have been through this! Powerless to stop an injustice being perpetrated against you or someone you loved. Powerless to stop the lies and gossip being told about you. Powerless to recover money taken from you by a scam. So when I start to talk about being powerless, there can be some good resistance.

But have you ever felt powerlessness in a positive way? I think the fundamental feeling is awe, probably what the phrase “the fear of the Lord” is trying to get at. To stand on the rim of a vast canyon (I think of the Mogollon Rim in Pinetop, AZ, where millions of Ponderosa Pines can be seen all at once!) and just realize your own smallness and even insignificance is liberating, freeing. I am powerless in the face of this vast expanse of creation, which itself is insignificantly small in comparison to the planet, which, in turn, is just a Pale Blue Dot, to borrow from Carl Sagan. Yet when I walk away from an experience like this, I am alive and sustained and breathing and part of it all. It seems to give me a “proper significance” aware of its own smallness rather than the bloated, mostly empty, and pretended significance of my ego.

I am also insignificant and powerless in the face of the world’s injustice. Sometimes it seems as vast as that mighty forest, or the great oceans. I am small in the face of it all. I am limited and ineffective and powerless to do anything that will change it in any meaningful way. Is it possible to take a lesson from the awe-filled experiences of nature and apply it here? Can I walk away from a much-needed look into the face of darkness knowing that I am alive and sustained and breathing…and part of it all? Might I find a “proper significance”, aware of its own smallness, yet capable of giving a cup of cold water today, or a coat or some shoes? My kind word, small and seemingly meaningless–can it find proper significance even in, and possibly because of, its smallness.

The creator is insanely attentive to detail. It seems to me that the divine is aware of the proper significance of the smallest of things. There seems to be no notice of my over-inflated displays of egotistical significance, but the moment I get small–a broken heart, confession of inability–THAT gets the attention of the holy one. A phone call comes through in my distress, and a familiar voice says “why is God letting me read your mail?” I wish that God would not, but at the same time I am glad.

You have experienced powerlessness in cruel and unfair ways. You may have experienced that even with me–after all, I have a pulpit to speak from. The powerlessness that I am talking about here has the ability to heal those things. In small, slow, but steady ways most of the time. The way the creator seems to do most of his miracles. And you are one of them.

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