Return to Pacifism

Watching the news in recent weeks and months, I find myself searching for that small space inside me that once held a faith in pacifism. Today, I felt a hope of renewal as I read a reflection by Richard Rohr. Lately he has been writing about mystics, perhaps for the same reason that I have had this yearning. Today he highlighted Catholic priest and peace activist, John Dear. He quotes Dear in his explanation of what it means to be a pacifist:

“What does it mean to be nonviolent? Coming from the Hindu/Sanskrit word ahimsa, nonviolence was defined long ago as ‘causing no harm, no injury,no violence to any living creature.’ But Mohandas Gandhi insisted that it means much more than that. He said nonviolence was the active, unconditional love toward others, the persistent pursuit of truth, the radical  forgiveness toward those who hurt us, the steadfast resistance to every form of evil, and even the loving willingness to accept suffering in the struggle for justice without the desire for retaliation….”

Rohr suggests another way understand nonviolence by claiming our fundamental identity  as the beloved (children) of the God of peace….This is what Jesus taught: “Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called the sons and daughters of God…Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors, then you shall be sons and daughters of the God who makes the sun rise  on the good and the bad, and causes rain to fall on the just and unjust.

If we believe that we are all children of God, then every human being is our sibling, he says, “then we can never hurt anyone on the earth ever again, much less be silent in the face of war, starvation, racism, sexism, nuclear weapons, systemic injustice and environmental destruction…”

When I meditate on the words that Jesus spoke and the life he lived, it baffles me that any acts of violence, ANY harmful acts against other human beings can be justified in his name. I feel the light again, a tiny flame now, but I hope that in finding others who believe in peace as a way of life, it will burn brightly once again.

Loving Kindness Meditation Part 1.

I am reading a book by Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman, How God Changes Your Brain. Because it has been the case for myself, I agree with the authors who maintain the importance of meditation in achieving changes in one’s brain. These scientists share the technicalities of actual changes that occur in the brain when one meditates. Fear and anger can be transformed into serenity and love for those who regularly practice meditation. I have been practicing meditation for years and I can assure you that the person who interacts with the world is far different than she was before she began.

The meditation I read about this morning is especially powerful and I would like to share it as background before I share how to do the practice which I first knew as the Loving Kindness Meditation. These authors entitle the section “Sending Kindness and Forgiveness to Others”. They suggest a person use this meditation when one is feeling dislike or hate toward another person. The people in my life that fall into this category are few these days, but when I get outside my own circle there are individuals that fit. Today, politicians are for sure on my list. I will start by saying that hatred for particular political leaders or people who disagree with us politically is an epidemic today and a real danger to the future of the human race. Let me be clear. It isn’t the differences between people that are dangerous, but their hatred. Hatred goes beyond discomfort and dislike in that one wishes harm to come to the one hated. When hate occurs in masses, it can lead to war and genocides. This is why the authors suggest that Loving Kindness meditation may be the most important, yet the most difficult, form of meditation. When we practice Loving Kindness meditation we are changing the world.

The meditation is the most difficult, not because it is so complex, but because of what it demands. It is the cornerstone of every religious tradition – the golden rule, loving your neighbor as yourself. But Jesus and the Buddha went one step further. They taught that we should love our enemies as well. This is where the difficulty lies.

Ghandi once counseled a Hindu whose child was killed during a religious war suggesting that the man adopt an orphan, but he was to raise the child as Muslim. He knew that this would eventually alleviate the man’s religious hatred.

What the meditation helps with is forgiveness. Forgiveness improves family relationships, decreases depressive symptoms while enhancing empathy and life satisfaction. Even the act of choosing to replace an unforgiving attitude with a forgiving one affects the peripheral and central nervous systems in ways that promote physical and psychological health. 

The authors suggest that we take a moment to think about a person we hate and imagine sending him or her love. I once set out to pray for each person serving in the U.S. Congress in this way. I completed the Senate but was unable to get through all of the members of the House. I found some politicians easy to think of kindly, but others, I struggled with. I was able to give my words, but my heart was resistant.

If you are one who hates a particular person or political party, or ethnic or racial group, imagine the difference your achieving a change of heart does for world peace. This was the teaching of Peace Pilgrim who inspired this blog.

In my next blog, I will share with you the meditation.

My Journal Entry Today

I am trying to get used to the idea that I may one day be living in a monarchy. What does one do? I am 74 years old. My world is getting smaller each day. That is, my world of influence.

What does one do when children are suffering? Would hopping on a plane and going to the boxes that hold them, banging on the doors, parking on the concrete and crying “help” do anything?

Would such a gesture mean anything in a monarchy? I don’t know. So far I have not had to live in one. I didn’t think so, anyway.

I have studied history. I have studied religion and philosophy. Some of my most profound teachers have lived under monarchical systems who prayed and wrote and served the poor. Some who lived in democratic sytems did the same. Some were activists, known by many or by a few. But all lived their lives authentically, no matter the context in which they lived. They were free, even in shackles or behind bars.

God’s ways are so far above mine that I am breathless. I have to stop in my track to rest. I look. I listen…what is to be my response? I pray for these who act, even if their actions seem to lead nowhere. They inspire me. They deepen my belief in a God Who may not really care about systems, but about loving. Just loving.

I don’t know. I care, I love my neighbor in my little corner of the world. This I can do.

Spiritual Experiences and Change

I am reading How God Changes Your Brain by Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman. A fun aside is that I bought it second hand at the Friends’ of the Library book shop not far from my home. After bringing it home I was delighted to see that it had once been owned by a member of the Contemplative Body to which I belong. I am pleased that I will be able to share my reflection with my friend.

The authors share their findings after researching various types of religious experiences that people reported having. Some people said that they felt that “their religious experiences were not adequately addressed by religions in which they were raised. and so they turned away from them to engage in more individualized pursuits.” This is true of my own experience.

“America,” they write, “is gradually becoming less religious but more spiritual and …the quality that governs this shift is influenced by the use of spiritual practices that integrate meditation and prayer into one’s daily life.” This makes me feel hopeful.

Lest one thinks this is shift is simply a superficial fad, here are some things shared by those who talk about their spiritual experiences:

60 percent felt that their family relationships improved as a result of their spiritual experiences.

53 percent felt that their health was enhanced.

76 percent said they now felt less fear about death.

63 percent said that their spiritual experience was more real than their normal experience of reality. Some of these feeling dissipated over time and then, only 46 percent said that the feeling lingered.

Many felt a sense of oneness with others: “I…felt an openness, positive feeling, gratitude, unconditional regard, etc. for all things and people. As though I encountered the Golden Rule, love of neighbor as myself, concretely within this moment.”


Politics and a Higher View

I am reading a book by one of my favorite writers, Parker Palmer. Like many of the books I have visited lately, On the Brink of Everything, deals with getting old. It is a collection of some of his writings over the years, including articles, speeches and poetry. Through these, he brings his message to the world almost as a last testament. As a writer, I understand exactly what he is doing. My book, The Memorial of Jesus, is less about Jesus and more about what I want to pass on to my loved ones and to the world.

This morning I read two pieces Palmer wrote after the last national election: “What’s an Angry Quaker to Do?” and “The Soul of a Patriot”. I have been hesitant to write my thoughts about the current president or about what is happening in congress. This is because I view politics as an enlarged view of what goes on within each of us or in the relationships we have each day. I have this idea, perhaps an illusion, that if we only understood the battle that goes on within, we would understand the other battles that go on in families and communities throughout the world.

I find myself not able to  avoid all political discussion, however. There are certain issues that come up on Facebook that are so  important to me that have to jump into the discussion. My intention has not been so much to debate issues but to present a deeper view or, as the Eagle flies, a higher one. I like to assume the good intentions in those who take views different than my own. I know and love conservatives and see their innate goodness. I may question their knowledge but I never question their intentions.

The higher view I try to project is this: our national problem is not that we see things differently. Our national problem is that our differences are degenerating into self-righteousness, hatred, fear and violence. I believe that if Satan is real and has a mission in this earthly realm, it is to divide us. Because of this, my attack when I engage in political discourse, is against words that divide such as name-calling, judgment, and stereotyping. Jesus’ words about loving our enemies, forgiveness and our oneness come flying at me when I hear them. The more we contribute to the divide, the more distant is the Kingdom that Jesus came to establish.

From Heart to Head to Heart Again

“We all came into this world gifted with innocence, but gradually, as we became more intelligent, we lost our innocence. We were born with silence, and as we grew up, we lost the silence and were filled with words. We lived in our hearts, and as time passed, we moved into our heads. Now the reversal of this journey is enlightenment. It is the journey from head to heart, from words, back to silence; getting back to our innocence in spite of our intelligence.”

Reading Richard Rohr’s profound words this morning gives me a way to put pattern to my life. I can sit down, sink into my chair, and say that all that happened to me and all that I did for good or for bad makes sense. It was all about waking up…again. It was about going home, as Dorothy realized before she clicked her heels together.

At 74, I know home is near. In fact, much of me is already there. Yesterday I did an embarrassing thing but by the time my head hit the pillow last night, I was smiling. I find that when things don’t go my way, I change my decision about how I want things to go. Like a child I may resist, but eventually settle into the decision of the loving Parent who holds my hand. It works well for me. It is so much easier than resisting what is.

Other mystics would use different words than Rohr’s. Some talk about the False Self or Ego as that which sabotages the innocence of the child. They call the True Self that person the child was born to be. All teach about shaking off or diminishing the Ego’s control over us and freeing the True Self. The process is the plot of the world’s classic novels and the life stories of our most beloved heroes.

I find words helpful. I like to grapple with intellectual concepts and think I know something.. But I know that even this is a function of the ego self. I will not be free of the false self until my true self separates from my body in death. Meanwhile I am grateful for the consciousness of this ongoing battle. The fight is almost over, so I don’t fret when ego self gets an upper hand and I enjoy the serenity when my true self is free to flit about like the butterfly out of its cocoon.



Message in Unexpected Places

I read a story in my morning meditation book this morning that I thought was interesting. I thought I would share it.

A man once had a flat tire right outside the gates of a mental hospital. As he removed the lugs from the flat to switch them with the spare, they slipped off the curb where he’d placed them and down through the grill of a sewer drain. As he realized there was absolutely no way to retrieve them, he began to swear in frustration.

Just then, an inmate, who had been standing at the fence watching him said, “Why don’t you remove one lug from each of the other wheels and put them on the spare?”

“My gosh,” said the man, “what a brilliant idea! What in hell is someone as smart as you doing in there?”

“I may be crazy,” said the inmate, “but I’m not stupid!” 

(Step by Step by Muriel Zink)

The concluding remark: My Higher Power speaks to me through others in unexpected ways.

My thought: I will hear what God has to say to me when my ears are open to listening.