This week I am away from my Desert Retreat House visiting our family in Washington D.C.
Our nation's capitol is a fascinating place to be on this "President's Day," especially in light of the recent death of Justice Scalia who played such a prominent role on the Supreme Court. The local and national media is filled with story after story about the developing "battle" that is now emerging as to who will replace Scalia. After all, in the United States a Supreme Court Justice serves for life and in one sense, the new Justice may have more of a role in determining the future direction of this country than a new president.
The thing that has struck me most about this emerging battle over the replacement for Justice Scalia is how deeply divided we are as a nation - perhaps our national division is also emblematic of the "Great Divide" between people all over the globe.
Everyone seems to have retreated within the walls of politics and ideology - these different camps are more than groupings of people who have differences or walk on different paths; rather these camps are more like bunkers, armed fortresses in which like-minded people gather in the trenches with other like-minded people and are willing to go to war with those on the other side.
People are politically divided into the right-wing and left-wing, liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans, Christian believers and hard-core atheists, the extremely wealthy and those who are poor, Black and White, Western nations and Islamic countries. Moderates and the middle class are gradually disappearing from the social landscape in a world in which everyone takes sides and is sure and certain that their side is the right side and often just as sure that their way is the only way.
In a very real sense I am convinced the armed camps of today's "Great Divide" are more than a symptom of deeply troubled politics. Our "Great Divide" is emblematic
of a deeply rooted spiritual malaise.
The Buddha taught that any "attachments" to anything (including rigidly clinging to our ideas and ideologies) is ultimately the cause of our suffering. I think that we are living in a time of deep inner suffering because of our certainties about our way as being the only way.
As I write this article today I am only a short walk from the Hall of Congress, the White House and the National Mall, and everywhere I look I can see plaques and monuments proclaiming and celebrating American freedom.
Yet I honestly wonder how free we really are because freedom only emerges in relationship with others and in recognizing there are no different others, and freedom only emerges when we don't cling too tightly to our own way or use our way as a bludgeon to attack those who may be on a different path.
The Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, once wrote:
Letting go gives us freedom.
If in our heart we still cling to anything we cannot be free.
In a similar vein, Catholic priest and author, Richard Rohr, teaches:
Freedom means letting go of our need to control and manipulate others,
it means letting go of our need to always be right.
I am also reminded of a line from Rumi, the mystic Sufi poet:
Out beyond ideas of wrong and right, there is a field.
I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full
to talk about ideas.
Even the phrase' each other'
doesn't make any sense.
I think it's long past time for all of us to move outside the walls of our "Great Divide" and sit together in that field beyond our ides of right and wrong. The future of the nation and of the planet may depend upon this.