Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Building Walls

"Olive Branches"
 - At the Desert Retreat House -

As I read the morning news I learned that the newly-elected president has issued an order to begin building a border wall between the United States and Mexico. Of course, this set off a howl of protest among those who do not support the president and a cheer of enthusiastic approval from those who do support him. After today’s announcement the social media lit up with the battle cries coming out of the different camps – let the war begin.

It seems to me that “building walls and living within enclosed borders” may be an almost-perfect icon for life in this society nowadays.  We are a “nation divided,” most of the country has taken sides in the raging culture wars, each side building strong fortresses to protect themselves and keep out those undesirable “others” – Democrats, Republicans, Liberals, Conservatives, the Elites and the Working Class, Pro-life and Pro-Choice, citizens and immigrants, atheists and believers, each camp certain that thy are right and the other side is wrong.

I almost can’t bear looking at Facebook posts or Twitter feeds nowadays because the vitriol is so strong and the attacks against one another are so strident.

Buddhists teach that a primary cause of our human suffering is the false illusion that we are separated from one another. I embrace this wisdom as a basic truth about our human condition. Regardless of how many walls we may build or how tall we may build them, our borders are always artificial because as human beings we “are” a web of dynamic interdependent relationship.

Priest and author, Richard Rohr, puts it this way:

The problem is that we think we are separated from one another

Exactly—this is exactly what the problem is.  

When we think and act as if we are separated from one another we will always be creating angst and contributing to our pain because we will be fighting against our own human nature.

As I browsed though this morning's endless “rants” in the social media I came across a line from  a Facebook friend who suggested that,

Love compels us to build tables not walls.

I found this phrase to be especially wise because most of the time, we think that “building bridges” is the antithesis of “building walls;”  but maybe what we really need are “tables.” Now more than ever we need to get outside the walls we have built and simply sit at tables alongside others who may hold different ideas than our own and there listen to one another rather than shout.

It seems to me that when we are able to genuinely “listen” to each other we might find that we have more in common than we think- at the very least we can agree to disagree.

The Islamic poet, Rumi, once said:

Every war and every conflict between human beings has happened
because of some disagreement about names.
It’s such unnecessary foolishness because
just beyond the arguing
there is along table of companionship set
and waiting for us all to sit down.

In my own life I am trying to make a concerted effort to “move beyond” the names and labels I have generated about the people on the “other side" - those people who live behind the walls that are different from the ones I have built. I am looking for every chance I get to sit down at that "long table of companionship” and listen to what those “different others” have to say.

Rumi also said:

They say there is a window from one heart to another,
but how can there be a window if there are no walls.

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