Thursday, January 3, 2019

prayer, bread and music - part two

NOTE: This is part two of a series re: spirituality and growing deeper. The first appeared on January 1, 2019 under the title, Honoring the Start of 2019: Prayer, Bread and Music - Part One (https://rj-when lovecomestotown.blogspot. com/2019/01/honoring-start-of-2019-prayer-bread-and.html)
This morning I was at the public library picking up a few mystery novels to enjoy over the next two weeks. While chatting-up the librarian, he mentioned that I had a 10 cent fine. "Are you ok with me taking care of that next time as I don't have any change on me?" He smiled and said, "It won't go any where or get any bigger. No problem." At which point I felt a tap on my shoulder, "Would this help?" asked a woman of a certain age with a soft smile. She was handing me a dime. "You're too kind," I replied, "and what a grand way to pay it forward at the start of a New Year. Thank you." For a few seconds, we shared a sense of shalom at it hung in the silence between us. Then just as quickly as we recognized its presence, it was gone. I waved good-bye and headed out to my car, she smiled again and the librarian said quietly, "May I help whose next?"

It is my conviction and experience that little acts of compassion like this take place all over creation at every hour of every day. They are mostly small and usually hidden, meaning very little in isolation but contributing to the collective beauty and well-being of God's creation like it was in the beginning. Intuitively, whether we are consciously cultivating a spiritual life or not, I choose to trust that the image of God within us reminds us that we have a part to play in holding together the social fabric of our society. 

It can always be punctured or wounded, to be sure. Sometimes some of us are in such pain that we lose touch with our true selves and violate this sacred calling. The anguish we inflict on those we love - or on innocent victims - is staggering. Having been part of four local congregations and two social justice organizing movements over the past 40 years, I have seen excruciating human depravity and the consequences of unspeakable vengeance. Having been pastor to combat vets from WWII, Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf Wars, it is clear that whenever personal wounds become widespread through the perversion of truth and the manufacture and manipulation of fear, social chaos combines with unconscionable acts of violence to rule the day. Yet even when human suffering is massive and savagery lurks just beyond the shadows of consciousness, cruelty will never define the core of the human experience. For in the beginning we were created in the image of God. And God's mercy and steadfast love endure forever both within us and beyond, too. Victor Frank's words about surviving the Nazi death camps of Auschwitz, Theresienstadt, Kaufering and Türkheim warrant our consideration:

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way... It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.                     Man's Search for Meaning

In one of modernity's worst encounters, Frankl testifies to what others before and after him have learned to trust, too: love wins. Not in naiveté, never easily or gratuitously, but nevertheless consistently, persistently and dependably. I think of Sydney Schanberg and Dith Pran in the killing fields of Cambodia. Or Nelson Mandela imprisoned in South Africa. I think of Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Fannie Lou Hamer in the USA. Or Mallala Yousafzai in Pakistan. Or young Bana Alabed blogging for peace from Syria even as the regime's bombs fell. Each and all confirm in their own way the wisdom that St. Paul describes in I Corinthians 13:

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled. When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

Which brings me back to the worldwide organic commitment to sharing small acts of compassion on a daily basis: it is part of our DNA. It is both the how and the why of our creation. And the more we trust our truest self - our original self, the reality of compassion and tenderness that has been placed in our core since before there was time - the more we can live from the heart. This means that there is less energy for our wounded (or false) self to be actively hurtful in our lives - and  so more justice, trust, beauty and solidarity. Fr. Richard Rohr puts it well:

From the very beginning, faith, hope, and love are planted deep within our nature—indeed they are our very nature (Romans 5:5, 8:14-17). But we have to awaken, allow, and advance this core identity by saying a conscious yes to it and drawing upon it as a reliable and Absolute Source. The true and essential work of all religion is to help us recognize and recover the divine image in everything. When we see the image of God where we are not accustomed to seeing the image of God, then we see with eyes not our own. For the planet and for all living beings to move forward, we can rely on nothing less than an inherent original goodness and a universally shared dignity. Only then can we build, because the foundation is strong, and is itself good.

A friend on Facebook sent me another meme that cuts to the chase like this:
Spirituality is no longer abstract. Rather, it is the practice of finding our true and original self and strengthening that self inwardly and outwardly. There are, of course, a variety of ways to do this. The disciplines or practices of living from our heart and caring for our soul are how the words of wisdom become flesh. In my Christian tradition there are a host of spiritual paths to explore. In my next post I will share what I have discerned to date as the three, broad practices that work best for me: prayer, bread and music. 

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