Monday, November 14, 2016

A Spirituality of Crisis

"Danger and Opportunity"

In these post-election days in America I can barely read a paper, turn on the news or browse the social media without getting a feeling a dread in the pit of my stomach. Just yesterday I saw several reports about vile racial slurs and swastikas scrawled on the sides of some "liberal" churches throughout the country. There were also reports of American Muslims who were assaulted and attacked as many immigrants expressed fear for their safety and well-being in this “land of the free” where supposedly everyone is welcome to the table.

The ugly face of hate, exclusion and crass nationalism (perhaps hidden just beneath the surface) has seemingly revealed its ugly face and it really frightens me. I fear that we may be on the verge of an unparalleled spiritual crisis in this nation and perhaps throughout the entire world

Many years ago President Kennedy gave a speech in which he famously observed:

The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis’
One brush stroke stands for ‘danger,’ the other for ‘opportunity.’
In a crisis be aware of danger but recognize opportunity.

Yesterday as I viewed all those despicable images of prejudice and hatred crawling to the surface throughout this land, it struck me that the crisis now facing us is indeed a time of great danger but it may also be a time of great opportunity for every single one of us.

An emergence of domination and oppression offers an opportunity to all people of goodwill to take a bold stand on behalf of human dignity. While the many post-election protest marches in cities throughout the country may be viewed as a political statement opposing a newly-elected president, they may also be viewed as pubic “opportunities”  to raise up the cause of compassion and speak out on behalf of those who are being trampled down.

It also seems to me that this may be a time when each and every one of us can enter into dialogue with one another about what it means to be an American and an enlightened human being, and we can have these conversations at a dinner table or at work or school regardless of how uncomfortable they may make us feel.  Interestingly enough, over the past few days I have had a variety of interactions with strangers sitting in a local Starbucks about issues like immigration and religious diversity. I know I would have never had these conversations were it not for the fact that we are now seeing so many instances of blatant racism evident in our public life in these post-election days.

Finally, it seems to me that this period of “crisis” may also offer each of us a renewed opportunity for recommitting to a life of compassion and kindness in the ordinary routine of our everyday living. This crisis time is an opportunity to raise our own awareness about how we treat the cashier in the market, how we respond to the homeless person on a street, or what we do when the driver in the next car cuts us off.

I remember reading something in a recent New York Times article:

Spiritual and emotional growth happens in microscopic increments.
The big decisions we make often turn out to have 
much less impact on life as a whole
than the myriad of small, seemingly insignificant ones.

This reminds me of something Jesus taught when he compared the Kingdom of God to a tiny little “mustard seed.” A mustard seed is so small that is is practically invisible, just a little speck; and yet when it is planted this tiny seed grows into a large and vibrant bush with deep roots that spread quickly. Any small act of love, mercy, justice and compassion are like little mustard seeds - they have a way of taking root and spreading, growing into the Kingdom of God. 

Our "little" acts of kindness and everyday compassion can be a strong antidote to the deadly poison that seems to be infecting so much of our lives in these times.

A few years back the “homespun” philosopher, Eric Hoffer, offered this observation:

It still holds true that we are most uniquely human
when we turn obstacles into opportunities.

Today when I browse through Facebook or watch the TV news I’m going to try to remember this practical everyday advice and then go out to live my life by turning obstacles into opportunities.

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