Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Going Against the Grain

-a nearby mountain canyon-

Yesterday I was watching a program about the Civil Rights Movement in America back in the 1960's. I sometimes forget about how much pain and sacrifice it took to change the course of American culture especially in the deep south.

Yesterday I was particularly struck with a scene from a "lunch-counter" protest. Sitting in the "Whites-only" section of the lunch counter were a group of young Black college students waiting to be served. The mere fact that these students dared to even sit in that section, let alone expected to be served, set off a firestorm of protest from the White patrons in the restaurant.  

At first, the students were verbally harassed and grossly abused.  Then they were physically attacked - coffee thrown on them, their faces slapped, dragged from their stools and mercilessly kicked - then  dragged into police vans and jailed for 30 days. 

They did not fight back. Ultimately their sacrificial "counter-cultural" resistance changed the world. 

It was painful for me to even watch that program yesterday. However, it certainly raised my level of awareness not only to the sacrifices made to promote the cause of justice in the Civil Rights Movement; but also made me realize that any truly "spiritual" movement will always go against the grain of the dominant culture and will always demand some sort of sacrifice.

A spiritual path is a path of connection - connection with others, connection with "God." On a spiritual path everyone sits at a place of dignity at the table of human existence. 

Dominant cultures are venues in which people are disconnected - the strong dominate the weak, the rich lord it over the poor, the dominant race oppresses the minority. 

This is why Jesus set himself against the dominant culture of empire and temple in his own day as he pointed his disciples to follow his path of compassion.  This is why the Buddha moved out of his princely palace and went out to live among the poor as he pointed the path to enlightenment.

I don't think it is at all an exaggeration to say that any spiritual path must always, to some degree be "counter-cultural- always going against the grain of the dominant culture.  Walking on a spiritual path will always demand some degree of self sacrifice. 

We live in a time where the word "spirituality" has become not only acceptable but even "politically correct." It is somewhat "chic" to be "spiritual nowadays.  People often adopt a spirituality like they might put on designer clothing.  

But as I see it, all the daily mindful meditations, the walks along the beach, the mountaintop views at sunrise,  the prayers and services in churches, temples and mosques are just "glitter and glitz" unless they lead to a counter-cultural path that goes against the grain of a culture of rugged individualism where dominance and oppression are the ethic of the day.

Every morning I sit quietly and alone in my garden for my daily mindfulness meditation. And every morning, as I look out into the desert wilderness surrounding my house, I am reminded of (confronted by) my spiritual ancestors- those 4th century Desert Mothers and Fathers who moved away from the dominant culture of society and church, out into the fringes of the desert.  

They moved out of their plush lives, away from their positions of prestige and respect, and they lived simply in caves and caverns, sharing what they had with one another. The moved away from a culture of  ego that glorified self importance - away from a culture of hierarchy and power where only the rich and famous belong.

They moved out into the desert in order to follow a spiritual pathway, a pathway to which Jesus pointed - a path that went against the grain of the dominant culture. It demanded sacrifice. It offered freedom.

This morning as I sit in my garden for my meditation, I am reminded of one of my favorite Desert Mothers' and Fathers' stories:

A monk was living in the wilderness of Egypt.  One day he came across a man who had brought a donkey to his cave and was stealing his possessions. As though he was a passer-by who did not live there, the monk went up to the thief and helped him load the beast, then sent him peaceably on his way.

I look out into the mountains around my house, grateful to be living at the fringes. 


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