In my last blog, Or’ the land of the free and the home of the brave, I proposed one possible scenario, outcome, to the predicament we find ourselves in today. It does not have to be that way – if we choose to join our collective energies to create a reality pulsing with the consciousness of what I call true seeing and right action. Many of our great spiritual leaders have modeled this dual paradigm: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Mother ‘Saint’ Teresa. Each showed us how to carry the consciousness of light straight into the darkness of hatred and discrimination, political oppression and untold suffering.
Each saw and named what was occurring and then acted with intention to bring about an outcome capable of serving a greater good. Right action is the tide that raises all boats above old adages of winning and losing, good people and bad people. With clear intention, right action understands that there are no real winners until we all win and there is both good and bad in all of us. In sum, true seeing sees beyond the superficial dramas of daily life to reveal what’s common at the heart of all and right action seeks to highlight what is seen. Together, they become the ultimate expression of love.
And, as we seek to follow in the footsteps of the great ones, it behooves us to be ever vigilant of our inner motivations. Let’s shun self-righteousness and befriend humility. Let’s cultivate equanimity so as to avoid cowering in fear, turning silent with depression or spewing rage in reactive anger or, conversely, escaping into spiritual platitudes such as, “Just stay in the light.” No, true seeing requires right action. So, let’s rise fearless and strong with the sword and shield bestowed all true spiritual warriors called to defend the good.
However, all this talk just remains theoretical babble until we actually start to walk the talk in daily life. Below is one small incident that occurred a couple of summers ago that still informs me today. May it stir something in you as well…
I was gently swaying in my hammock tracing those elusive clouds floating in that deep blue sky when I heard voices. “Excuse me, Ma’am.” I looked up to see Mormon missionaries coming onto my patio. Now, normally, I avoid all forms of proselytizing and politely turn visitors away as quickly as possible. But, on this particular day, I was feeling quite spacious and open and found myself inviting them to sit at my patio table.
As the conversation began, they casually asked what I did.
“I’m an interfaith minister,” I said. “I’m blessed to serve the Tree of Life Interfaith Temple in Amherst.”
Silence. And then, the look we interfaith ministers often get when announcing our calling.
“I’m not sure what that is,” one of my visitors said. “Are you Christian?”
“I believe deeply in Jesus and in the Bible but I also believe God is expressed through all religions. You see, I’ve spent many years immersed in the spiritual practices from many faith traditions and everywhere I’ve landed I’ve found God – or, should I say, God has found me. So, in the end, I became an interfaith minister because I just couldn’t choose one faith over the others. I guess you could say that I belong to God, not to any particular religion.”
Then, hesitantly, “You believe in Jesus and the Bible but have you been saved?”
“Oh, my God, yes! A million times every day!”
Another pause. I sensed this was not a scenario covered in their missionary training. I decided to use the lull to ask something I’d always wanted to know. “I can imagine it must take such courage and conviction to take your faith door to door. Could you tell me more about that? I’d love to know what brought you to God and to sharing your faith in this way.”
Gladly, they each shared their stories and it felt truly wonderful to listen. What seemed like only a few minutes, in retrospect, soon turned into a leisurely visit in the summer’s shade. Along the way, we discovered both of our churches had been involved in quilt making for the needy and we even reflected upon the possibility of joining together in some kind of similar project.
As they left down the driveway, I was no closer to becoming a Mormon than they were to becoming interfaith but we were able to part sincerely wishing one another well. It felt to me like we had started something and I found myself truly hoping I would run into them again.
We are experiencing a deep religious, cultural and political divide in our country that has put our treasured democracy on life support. You could say that, in real time, my brief encounter with the Mormon missionaries represents a kind of microcosm of what is playing out on a national scale today with one critical difference: both my Mormon friends and I were willing to sit together, to share and to listen. While, of course, the goal of missionary work is conversion and, perhaps, they may have felt like they or I had somehow missed the mark, we were still able to part amicably. For me, it was not important to contemplate our religious differences or any desired outcomes to our conversation. I had sensed something beyond beliefs. It felt like we had connected not through a common religion but, rather, through our deep common love for God and that, for me, was quite enough.
And, perhaps, this is where we begin to play our part in restoring our democracy to full functioning so all of us can once again breathe free. I believe it is our charge to create conditions, one patio at a time, where every day people can share their stories of faith, challenge, perseverance and enduring love – stories that help us to both better understand one another and, as Providence may allow, take us all beyond understanding. We do not need to all believe the same way or share the same political ideology. We do need to be able to look at one another and find glimpses of ourselves.
With such true seeing, those of differing beliefs from our own as well as the immigrant, the person of color, the Muslim, all the faces of “the other,” particularly marginalized by our current administration, may slowly come into focus. And, just maybe, as a result, we may come to, more often, recognize ourselves. This is the very balm needed to take our failing democracy off life support and put her on the road to full recovery. For the truth is we can only find unity by embracing our diversity. Democracy requires it to thrive. Without it, she dies.
But, remember true seeing calls for right action. So, join me on the patio and let’s invite those we ourselves may perceive to be “the other.” Many may not respond but some may. Let’s begin the process of simple connection so the critical foundation may be laid upon which to broach the deeper, more divisive, issues. And, let’s never forget that unity, not uniformity, is the goal.
Our common humanity yearns for it.
Our democracy requires it.
And, the One known by many names calls for it.
Let’s rise up and say, “Yes!”