Today we’ll be talking about true thoughts—how easy it is to get lost in thought, how to test your own thoughts to discern what is true, and what our minds are truly meant for. Listen in.
How vast the range of thoughts I have entertained during this pandemic so far!
- Why is yeast out of stock? Are people really making their own bread?
- Is this safe? Is it safer to do this or do that? (risk analysis behind my every move)
- Is this the end? Will this disease be the end of my life—or the lives of those I love?
I notice my mind spinning—getting lost in those endless circles of thought—more than usual during this “shelter-in-place” season. What have you been thinking about during this time? Working? Feeding your family? Teaching your children? Worrying about loved ones? Worrying about the scarcity of time, energy, love? Maybe you’ve entertained some of those big, existential questions during quarantine:
- What should I do with my life?
- What if I get sick? What if a family member gets sick?
- What if I die? What if a loved one dies?
These questions and thoughts can be paralyzing.
I am the One-who-Hangs-Pictures in our home. My son is my trusty assistant. Hanging level, centered pictures is my quest. I usually use a carpenter’s level and a laser level. Last weekend I hung a series of family photos. To center the series on the wall, I tied a large screw to a long piece of fishing line and taped it to the wall: a homemade plumb line. This old fashioned tool was just what I needed for centering—gravity doesn’t lie.
The quest for true horizontal and vertical is similar to the quest for true thoughts. It’s so easy for our thoughts to start out a little skewed—then they get increasingly out of whack the further you follow them. It’s no surprise to me that the metaphor of a plumb line is used in the Old Testament to represent God’s judgment and truth.
There are several ways to test your thoughts when they start to spin out of control, several plumb lines to help you discern the truth:
- Say them out loud. Fantabulous conspiracy theories that sounded plausible in my head, once I say them out loud, seem deflated, extremist, illogical, and untrue.
- Investigate the thoughts. Ask yourself: is the story that I’m telling myself about this really true? What does your heart tell you? Your gut?
- Watch out for scarcity. Negative thought patterns often circle around fear of scarcity: do I have enough? Is my body strong enough to fight this virus? Am I enough as a person? These are ultimately questions of trust—who are you putting your trust in? yourself? God? Both?
- “Memento mori.” (in Latin: Remember that you will die) This is the ultimate way to test your thoughts—in the perspective of our short lives and God’s eternal presence. This limit to our life provides limits to our thoughts.
I’d like to talk a little more about “memento mori.” This practice began with the ancient Greeks and took root in the Christian monastic tradition. Many monks would keep a skull on the desk in their cells—as a physical sign of “memento mori.” During outbreaks of the bubonic plague, this practice of “memento mori” became more popular. In our congregation, Ash Wednesday serves as a “memento mori” experience—we receive a cross of ashes on our foreheads and are reminded that “you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
COVID-19 greets us as a “memento mori” each morning of this unusual season. “Remember that you will die.” Or, reframing positively, remember that your life is finite and fleeting. There is not time for evil, ugliness, or lies. There’s only time for goodness, beauty, and truth.
We can’t control our thoughts. But we can steer our minds by testing our thoughts in search for the truth. In the words of the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12.2)
This pandemic has led my mind into a tailspin, conformed and even trapped by my thoughts about our external circumstances. Every day each of our minds needs renewal. For our part in renewal, we can test our thoughts against plumb lines to discern their truth: saying the thought out loud, investigating the thought, watching out for scarcity, and remembering that our lives are finite. For God’s part in renewal, the Holy Spirit brings us a breath of fresh air—this is the power to transform us from the inside out. Our minds are renewed so that we might know what is eternally true. Transformation is God’s specialty, God’s plan and hope for each of us, that we might become like God—reflecting God’s goodness, beauty, and truth.
As we turn now to God in prayer, we’ll pray one of the prayers for funerals from the Presbyterian Church’s Book of Common Worship:
Let us pray.
O God, who gave us birth,
You are ever more ready to hear than we are to pray.
You know our needs before we ask,
And our ignorance in asking.
Show us now your grace,
That as we face the mystery of death
We may see the light of eternity.
Speak to us once more your solemn message of life and death.
Help us to live as those prepared to die.
And when our days here are ended,
Enable us to die as those who go forth to live,
So that living or dying,
Our life may be in Jesus Christ our risen Lord. Amen.
And now receive this promise from the Apostle Paul, from the letter to the Philippians:
May the peace of God,
Which passes all understanding,
Keep your hearts and minds
In the knowledge and love of God,
And of God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
And the blessing of God almighty,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Remain with you today, this season, and always. Amen.