Sunday, July 9, 2017

Lifting Heavy Burdens

"Coolness in the Heat"

It’s always hot out here in the desert at this time of year, but this season it has been unbearably hot. Since the beginning of summer we have already broken five all-time heat records for this region as the mercury has hovered around the 120 degree range.

Yesterday my wife and I made our way to our local Starbucks to take refuge from the afternoon sun by sitting in the “cranked-up” air conditioning and sipping a big glass of iced-tea. As we took our place in a few comfortable chairs, I noticed that the usually convivial atmosphere of my favorite coffee house was rather dimmed and subdued as almost everyone around us was complaining about the weather. My wife observed: “I think the heat is getting to everyone” and I immediately understood what she meant. When it’s this hot for such an extended period of time, you find that your energy gets drained and you easily lose focus. The heat “gets to you” after a while.

As I sat in Starbucks yesterday, it struck me that this scenario might be quite emblematic of how lots of people feel nowadays, even people who don’t live in a desert where the temperatures hit 120 degrees. Many people carry around all sorts of heavy burdens as they labor under the blazing heat of the day. Some carry financial burdens, others may be weighed down with the demands of work or school or family or relationships – after a while the burdens become too much to bear and the “heat” gets to you.

Sometimes people may turn to religion or spirituality for refuge from the heat of the day but far too often the spiritual path only adds to the weight of heavy burdens by laying on yet another level of demand and expectations for the journey of life.  Religions and spiritual paths come with all sorts of laws and rules about what can or can’t be done, rules about how and when to pray, how and when to meditate every day. Spirituality has the potential to turn up the heat in life rather than give relief from it.

I call to mind something Jesus once said to those who would be his followers:

Come to me all you who are weary and heavy burdened
and I will give you rest.
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light

I wonder if this invitation extended to the followers or Jesus might indeed be applied to any people who might walk on any spiritual path?  

As we walk the spiritual journey we should be able to find coolness in the heat of the day and the burdens of life should be lifted. The purpose of spiritual disciplines like meditation or prayer or going to a church or temple is to help us to be free from whatever weighs us down in life, free from anxiety, free to live in each present moment without the burdens of the past to cripple our spirits or expectations about the future to weigh us down. If a spiritual path is a burden, maybe we aren’t walking the path correctly or maybe we need to find some other path.

As I sat in Starbucks with the realization that the heat was “getting to” all of us, I was reminded of a little desk plaque I keep in my office that reads:

Be kind
for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

Maybe this is exactly what the spiritual path is really all about. As we walk our way through the heat of life, we walk side by side with one another and everyone on the path with us is fighting a hard battle.  Everyone on the path is carrying heavy burdens and so we are called to lift those burdens from one another’s backs, to show kindness and practice compassion, to provide coolness in the heat.

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