Sometimes it feels to me like our national tradition in the face of tragedy is to sit around and watch people be interviewed and feel sad and helpless. We are not helpless, and sitting and feeling is not compassion. Compassion is not your pain in my heart- that’s pity. Compassion is your pain in my heart and back out through my hands. Let us – today- turn off the TV and use our pain to make some real living breathing peace in our own hearts, and then in our families and then in our communities. We should honor those lost by working. If we want Love Wins to be true, we must do the hard, holy work of making it so.
An essay about holy work- adapted for today.
I’ve been trying to add more ritual to my life, just to remind myself that an ordinary day is something quite holy.
That certainly isn’t hard to remember today, though.
Last night, I set my alarm for 5:45 am. When my phone chirped, I stumbled out of bed and towards my life-giving coffee maker. Then I sat down on my tile floor, placed three pillar candles in front of me, and lit them one at a time.
The smallest candle is for the past. Please, God comfort all of those who have been victims or perpetrators of violence. So, comfort all of us. Help us forgive ourselves for hurting others and help us forgive others who have hurt us. Heal all of our broken, hard hearts.
The medium one is for the present. God, please snap us out of our apathy, busyness, and fear and show us how to ease the suffering of our brothers and sisters Now, Today.
The tall one is for the future. Help us begin to do things differently, God. Instead of sitting around and talking about war and peace- help those in charge do their job to make peace and help us go into our worlds and MAKE the peace we long for. Help us forgive ourselves and then our families and then our friends and then our neighbors and then, finally, our enemies. Help us reach out to someone in need today. Help us remember that everyone is in need, so we don’t need to waste too much time trying to find the right person. Help us remember to add: Make Peace to our daily to-do lists. Remind us to write Make Peace at the very top. Help us be gentle with ourselves and each other. When we mess up, when we aren’t gentle, help us forgive ourselves, say we’re sorry, and try again. Help us BE the change we want to see in the world. Help us BE that change privately and publicly. Help us be brave enough to talk about Peace Making with our children, so that over time, they will learn that What We Are Doing Down here is not climbing the corporate ladder, or collecting money and things we’ll just have to leave behind, or having important opinions and then spending a lifetime defending them. No- what we are Doing Down Here is Making Peace. That’s our work. That is everybody’s work. Help us teach the next generation that if they want to achieve greatness, they should do that in the arena of peacemaking. Help us make it on Earth as it is in heaven- Blessed are the peacemakers.
I keep thinking about how we call these school shooters “monsters.” But the scarier thing to consider is that the Newtown shooter was a person. A person shot those children. A person like you and me, born as a bitty baby. When we don’t dismiss him as a monster and instead acknowledge that a real human being with a brain and heart and soul like ours was capable of that kind of evil – when we claim the perpetrators of violence as our own kind as readily as we claim the victims as our own kind -then it becomes trickier to look in the mirror.
Maya Angelou recently said, “I am human, so nothing human can be alien to me.” As I sat in front of my candles this morning, I thought about that. It’s a little too easy to consider those who succumb to great evil as alien to us. They’re not. Like us, that shooter was born as a clay pot full of fresh, fertile soil. Then a seed of fear and hate took root inside of him and grew and grew until huge trees of fear and hate crowded out all the potential for love and mercy. And his vision became completely obstructed. The trees of hate and fear were so big that he couldn’t see past the few feet in front of them. That’s how someone becomes a “monster” I think. Something is planted and then watered and the art of pruning is never taught.
It is terrifying to wonder if, circumstances being different, the same thing could have happened to me. We are all born as clay pots full of fertile soil. Ready to accept whatever is planted. That is the beauty and terror of being a child. Children are so vulnerable. They just have to watch as their family, friends, religions and culture plant whatever junky, poisonous seeds they want to plant. But when we become adults, things are different. We are still clay pots, still filled to the brim with fresh soil, thank God, but we have a heightened awareness now – we know now, that we are the pot – not the seeds – so we can monitor carefully what’s being planted inside of us by media and religion and our peers and our own health conditions and wild minds. With that heightened awareness comes heightened responsibility. We can, and must – scan ourselves daily for dangerous seeds taking root. We can, and must – yank them out, so they never grow too big. We must surround ourselves with people who are aware enough to notice dangerous seeds taking root inside of us and brave enough to point them out with love. We must choose friends who water the right seeds inside of us. And we must develop a daily practice of taking inventory of ourselves. We must learn to examine ourselves objectively- to see ourselves as not much more and not much less than clay pots. This is what I do during my quiet time. I search myself for seeds. And if I find a seed of fear or anger or hate or jealousy, I don’t judge myself for it – I just notice it. And then I pray to Whomever Is Listening to yank it the hell out. Even if it hurts, just yank it the hell out. Get it out.
If we don’t do this actively – if instead we are passive, and we allow the seeds of hate that are inside every single one of us to be watered and grow- then we cannot be too proud that at least we are not shooting people. We must be humble enough to consider that given enough time and water and space, we just might. I think this is why Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you that anyone who nurses anger against his brother will be subject to judgment.” (Matt 5:21-22) Hm. Nurses. Like a nursery- where things grow. Inside. Because every war and every outward violent atrocity started very, very small. It started inside someone with a seed that was never yanked, and then became a tree that was never pruned. Everything inside manifests itself outside eventually. So if we have a tree of fear or hate inside of us, we have to start hacking at the branches. And if it’s still just a bush – than we have to start pruning. And if it’s still a little tiny seed then we have to yank it out, and plant something else, something life-giving, something that serves us and others, like love or compassion or forgiveness or patience or humor. This is why meditation and prayer and yoga and therapy are a lot like an emptying. Because these are sacred times when we look hard at the garden inside of ourselves and allow everything that is not worthy of occupying space in our sacred, precious, fertile human heart to be torn out at the roots. This is what Let There Be Peace on Earth and LET IT BEGIN WITH ME means, I think.
In honor of the precious lives lost last year– let us commit ourselves to taking a daily inventory. Let us refuse to water seeds of hate and fear inside of us. Let us ask Whomever Is Listening (and Someone Is, I am Sure Of It) to yank them out at the roots and replant something beautiful.
Let there be Peace on Earth and Let it Begin With Me. And You. And them.
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