I have been doing a series of sermons titled Cosmic Kindergarten: Earthly Lessons for a Heavenly Life — lessons we can learn from mother earth to create heaven on earth. The earth has certain characteristics, rhythms and patterns to it. If we can learn from them we will be much happier earthlings. Why should we pay attention to that? Because we are part of the earth. We are guests on this planet.
Imagine being a guest in somebody’s house. And lets say there are 3 house rules. 1) Don’t smoke inside the house, 2) make sure the doors are closed so that the dog won’t escape and 3) don’t mess with the temperature controls. If you follow those rules, your stay will be happy and harmonious. On the other hand, if you start smoking inside and carelessly leave the door open and the dog runs away and you are constantly playing with the AC controls, there is going to be unease and conflict, and your stay is going to be very unpleasant. You may be asked to leave.
Similarly, the earth is our home. It has some rules, or lessons as I call them. The first lesson is that the we need to embrace and celebrate the diversity of the earth. The second lesson is that everything and everyone on earth is interconnected and interdependent.
Today I like to reflect on the third lesson which is:You are unique: stop comparing yourself to others.
It is a hard lesson to learn, because when we look around, what we see is inequality. Unequal on so many levels: size, shape, color, health, wealth, looks, education, fortunes, etc.
There is always somebody ahead of you and somebody behind you in each of those areas. There is always somebody in the world who is better looking than you, but there is also somebody who is less attractive than you. There is somebody who is richer, but also somebody who is poorer. There is somebody with more money, but also somebody with less. There is somebody who is taller than you, but there is somebody who is shorter than you. The list is endless. But there is no one like you in the whole world. On the level of our humanity all of us are equal, special and unique. So stop comparing you to others. It is an exercise in futility that will end up in frustration.
This is a lesson planet earth can teach us. To understand this lesson, think of the shape of the planet. God created it in round shape rather than square or triangular shape for a reason. There is a lesson in that.
Let me use the analogy of a Ferris wheel at a carnival. There are ten buckets on the wheel and there are two people in each bucket. Jim and Jane, who just started the ride, look up and see Sam and Sue sitting in the top bucket. They feel jealous of Sam and Sue’s superior position only to realize in the next minute, they are on the top and Sam and Sue are at the bottom.
While enjoying the exhilaration of being on top, Sam and Sue also begin to feel the loss of their peak experience as the wheel continues to turn. Regarding positions and possessions, you will always be inferior to some and superior to others, but on the level of the soul, words like superior and inferior don’t matter. True humility and true self-esteem are based on that awareness.
The circular nature of the Ferris wheel reminds us that there is really no one who is above us or beneath us, in front of us or behind us, but we are all in this together.
Concepts like up and down, front and back, high and low, beginning and ending are all meaningless illusions in a circular universe.
As inhabitants of a round shaped planet, we should see through the hollow nature of such illusions and live wholesome lives.
Learning this earthly lesson about our uniqueness, can help you get rid of 4 of the 7 capital sins. According to the Roman Catholic Church there are 7 capital sins. Pride, envy, anger, greed, lust, gluttony and sloth. If you learn today’s earthly lesson about your uniqueness, you can get rid of pride, envy, anger and greed.
You are prideful because may be you are physically more beautiful than your friends and neighbors, or you have more money than they have, or your house is bigger than theirs, or your car is a better brand than theirs, or your children are more successful than theirs. When those prideful thoughts go through your mind, you should also realize that there are many other people in the world who are more handsome than you, their houses and cars are better than yours, there are people in the world with more money than you have. So when you are proud of what you have you are also envious because you have less than somebody else.
When you think that others are ahead of you, you feel envious of them. You feel anger and resentment, and as a result you feel depressed. You are lacking in joy, your smile disappears from your face, you feel morbidly happy about the misfortunes of others. You feel envious when your neighbor’s kid goes to an out of state ivy league college and yours goes to the local community college.
Who do you compare yourself with? The person in front of you or the one behind you? If you compare yourself with the one in front of you, there is always somebody, in front of that person and another after that…so who is a point of reference? It is the same if you go backwards.
As I said, as inhabitants of a round planet, we shouldn’t be comparing ourselves with anybody else, because in a circular world, it is an endless loop.
I learned this important life lesson when I had to deal with the disability of my son Johnny. As most of you know, he is autistic. He was diagnosed at the age of 3. He is 26 years old now. He cannot engage in meaningful conversations. He can’t drive. He cannot be left alone at home for long periods of time. He needs supervision and guidance. He is under our guardianship because he cannot manage his affairs. He won’t be dating, or marrying or having a family of his own. Basically, Johnny is 26 going on 3 emotionally and intellectually.
I used to compare him with our next door neighbor Daniel who is only four months older than Johnny. As a normal kid, he played sports, at age 16 he learned to drive, at 18 he graduated from high school. In the next four years, he graduated from college with a degree in engineering. He got married at the age of 25. Daniel’s parents are empty-nesters. They can come and go as they please. They don’t have to worry about finding a babysitter for their 26 year old as Judy and I have to.
So when I compare Johnny with Daniel, there is much to be desired. Feelings of envy and sadness are inevitable. And every now and then, I have them.
But, then I catch myself and do a backward comparison with Amy who was with my son Johnny in the YMCA program. Amy was Johnny’s age and he has down syndrome. She is in a wheel chair. At five o clock when the after school program ends, I have watched Amy’s dad, David, coming to take his daughter home. He parks his car, goes into the building and wheels his daughter to the car. Then he opens the passenger side and he has to lift her from the wheel chair and help her into the car. The girl is little heavy-set and it does a number on David’s back each time he has to lift her. She is not even capable of fastening her seat belt.
Once Amy is securely in, David pushes the wheel chair to the back of his SUV, opens the door, folds the wheel chair, puts it in, closes the door and drives home. It takes at least 15 minutes to move his daughter from point A to point B.
When I see what David has to deal with, I thank God thinking how blessed I am with Johnny. When went to pick him up, I didn’t even have to get out of my car. I just honk once, and he comes out and in 15 seconds he is inside my car, buckled up and ready to go. He is independent in many ways. I don’t have to do anything for his personal care.
Nobody is better, nobody is worse. Nobody is high, nobody is low. Nobody is ahead, nobody is behind. Nobody is up, nobody is down. It is all an illusion.
We are inhabitants on a round shaped planet. In a circular universe all those words are meaningless.
The scripture passage that deepens this third earthly lesson is Ps. 139: 14: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
The Hebrew word that is translated “fearfully” is yare. It means “to to be in awe,” To be “fearfully” made means to be “awesomely” made.
When God created us, He made us exactly the way He planned. When God designed us, He planned our size, the color of our eyes, the color of our skin, everything about us!
The psalmist says:
“When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.”
Here the psalmist is locating our place of origin as the womb of the earth, not the womb of our mother. If you are a child that came out of the womb of mother earth, you better listen to the rules and rhythms of mother earth so that you can live happily with her.
Another bible passage that reminds me of the uniqueness of each one of us is today scripture from 1Cor; 12: 21–16. Paul compares the body of Christ to our body and says just as each part of the body is important to the wholeness of the body, every member of the church is important. The hand should not compare itself to the foot because the hand has a function that the foot cannot do and vice versa. Even your nose hair, as unsightly and awkward it may look sometimes, is an important part of your body. They have a unique function in keeping you healthy.
Every one around you is special and unique in his or her own way. Don’t dismiss anyone as unimportant. Don’t discard anything as trivial. Don’t fall for the illusion of perceived importance of others while failing to notice the uniqueness of the ordinary people around you.
The story is told of Zusha, the great Chassidic master, who lay crying on his deathbed. His students got concerned and asked him, “Rebbe, why are you so sad? After all the mitzvahs and good deeds you have done, you will surely get a great reward in heaven!”
“I’m afraid!” said Zusha. “Because when I get to heaven, I know God’s not going to ask me ‘Why weren’t you more like Moses?’ or ‘Why weren’t you more like King David?’ But I’m afraid that God will ask ‘Zusha, why weren’t you more like Zusha?’ And then what will I say?!
You don’t want to feel like Rabbi Zusha. Accept the person that God created you to be…Celebrate you as the divine ambassador of light, the moving temple of the the holy spirit.
Don’t compare yourself to anybody else on earth, because among the 7 billion people on this planet, there is no one like you. That is a fabulous fact, not a pious platitude.