Sunday, January 1, 2017

A New Year Revolution


With the dawn of a new year many people will be looking to live into the resolutions they have come up with for 2017. Some people have vowed to drink less or to eat more healthy food this year, others may have resolved to lose weight by going to the gym every day. It is also true that a week from now many if not most of the new year's resolutions may likely be abandoned in favor of the old and more comfortable routines.

A few days ago someone told me that his new year resolution for 2017 was to become a more spiritual person. On the surface this sounded like a noble goal but I wondered what it might actually mean to be a more spiritual person in the year now beginning? Does a deeper spirituality involve saying more prayers or going to church more often - perhaps a more intentional effort at meditating every day? 

While I think that saying prayers and meditating may be symptomatic of an "enhanced" spirituality, I personally believe that spiritual growth is much more about revolution than resolution. A spiritual path almost always travels in the opposite direction of the road more commonly and comfortably travelled in the popular culture of everyday life. 

In fact when I look at the core teachings of most of the major word religions, I almost always find that they are quite subversive and often antithetical to majority of the values held by the status quo. 

More often than not the popular culture values personal gain and self gratification over the welfare of the common good. The popular culture often operates according to an ethic of revenge and retribution and in the popular culture the weak and voiceless are often cast aside by those who are stronger and more powerful. Yet, regardless of traditions, most spiritual paths teach opposite values: mercy, forgiveness, kindness, compassion and self sacrifice on behalf of the common welfare. On a spiritual path the poor and weak are to be lifted up so that they might sit at a place of equal dignity at the table of life.  

The spiritual life almost inevitably follows a revolutionary path that goes against the grain of the status quo.

As this new year begins I was just looking at some of the wisdom teachings of Jesus and the teachings of the Buddha to help me understand just how counter-cultural these teachings really are.

In a world that prizes revenge, retribution and personal gratification, and in a culture where the rich and powerful are more highly valued the those who are weak and powerless, this is the way of the spiritual path:

If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also (Jesus)
Consider others as yourself (Buddha)
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you (Jesus)
Hatreds do not ever cease by hating, but by love (Buddha)
Just as you did it to the least of them you did it to me (Jesus)
Whoever would honor me must tend the sick and lowly (Buddha)

There are literally hundreds of such revolutionary teachings throughout the Hebrew scriptures, the Holy Quran, the Gospels and the Buddhist scriptures. So, I think that anyone who may resolve that they want to be more spiritual in 2017 should be careful what they wish for - the spiritual path calls any who would walk it to be a rebel and a revolutionary.

I am reminded of something Rabbi Amy-Jill Levine once observed of Jesus' teachings:

I do wonder if all those who daily pray:
'Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done'
really want a change of the status quo
or are they pretty satisfied with the kingdom 
we have here and now?
Do they really want a time when, as Jesus teaches,
we are assessed on how well we have loved our enemy
and fed the hungry?

Happy NewYear! Long live the revolution!

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