"Darkness and Light"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -
After church last Sunday I was approached by someone asking if I thought the latest “celebrity” suicides in America were indicative of a possible “suicide plague” inflicting our society? The person went on to lament that she wouldn’t be surprised if the suicide rate was rising because "there is a lot of darkness in the world nowadays and we have an awful of things to be depressed about "– nations that were once friends now at odds with each other, immigration upheaval, families divided over political ideology. The person also wondered what would become of us in the future and said: “I feel so helpless in it all, the only thing I can do is pray.”
While “praying” for the suffering of the world is a good thing, I also believe that we can actually “do” something to heal the suffering and bring about a world of deeper compassion and greater justice. In fact, every word we speak and every action we perform in our everyday lives either contributes to the suffering or heals it.
We make choices every day. We choose what we eat and drink, we chose how well we take care of our bodies or we choose to neglect them. We choose to sit quietly and meditate or we choose to be so constantly busy that we have no have no time for reflection. We choose to forgive an injury or we chose to lash out in anger. We choose to reconcile or we choose to hold grudges and we choose if and how we vote in an election. In fact, even when we choose not to make a choice we are making choices - when we decide to ignore that homeless guy asking for help on the sidewalk, we have in fact made a choice.
Since we are an interconnected web of relationship, whatever we say or do not only effects a small circle but it inevitable resonates and reverberates far beyond our own individual selves. An act of kindness is infectious and so is a word of anger.
It is a great paradox to me that we can control very little if anything in our lives but we can influence almost everything. Our choices have the power to enhance our humanity and they have the power to diminish it.
I remember coming across an op-ed column a while back in the New York Times:
Everywhere there are tiny, seemingly inconsequential circumstances in life
that, if explored, provide great meaning
–everyday chances to be generous and kind.
Spiritual and emotional growth happens
in microscopic increments.
The big decisions we make
turn out to have much less impact on life as a whole
than the myriad of small seemingly insignificant ones.
I find great wisdom in this observation –our little, everyday, seemingly insignificant choices change the world.
I am reminded of something Jesus once said about how “love" grows. He talked about little tiny mustard seeds that, when planted, become large trees:
The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed
that someone sowed in the field;
that someone sowed in the field;
it is the smallest of seeds, but when it has grown
it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree.
Every act of kindness, compassion, mercy and forgiveness is a little mustard seed we can plant every day of our lives – tiny, little seeds of love that grow into great trees.
Carrie Newcomer writes beautiful contemporary songs about walking a spiritual journey in the everyday events of our ordinary routine. Jesus’ teaching about the mustard seeds makes me think of a line from one of Carrie’s recent songs, “Lean in Toward the Light:
Every kindness, large or slight
shifts the balance toward the light.
Yes, indeed, there is a great deal of darkness in the world and sometimes we may feel helpless in the dark times; but we can do more than pray for the victory of the light. The manner in which we lead our lives can actually change the world by bringing light into the darkness. Every single act kindness or compassion (large or slight) does indeed shift the balance toward the light.
The philosopher and psychologist, William James, once said:
Act as if what you do makes a difference – it does.