A Franciscan Meditation
As the new era for our Mother Earth drew ever closer, I suddenly found my mediation taking the form of an old Franciscan prayer. And the more I contemplated it, the more I realized this was the perfect prayer for this moment. The following is an amplification of the meditation that ensued:
O G-d, may we be instruments of your peace;
I pray on a morning where the destructive passions of humanity threaten to consume us. Brother kills brother in Syria village by village. A deep, sickly horror has settled over my own land where 20 school children lay dead in a rampage of violence in a nation addicted to the weapons of war. All the while, Mother Earth sends out her warning signals regarding humanity’s abuse of her – melting ice caps, killer droughts and superstorms devastating urban centers. And yet we still have no ears to hear.
O G-d, there is so much anger, fear and injustice in the world we have constructed. There are so many places where your peace cannot be found. How do we, your people, find our way out of this morass of our own making? And what must we do to be agents of your peace?
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
when there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
We are called to be sowers of love. To whom are we now called to love? What hatreds must that love overcome? With what resources will we overcome them?
Where do I fail to love my neighbor as myself? On whose faces do I routinely fail to recognize the image of G-d? That image often lurks behind distressing disguises of poverty, addiction, homelessness inclining me to judge them out of my presumed middle class superiority. It lurks behind disguises of existential sloth, mediocrity of spirit and vapidity of life inclining this driven professional to discount them of out my own work ethic which I presume applies to everyone. It lurks behind disguises of power, privilege and the arrogance that attends them inclining we who are subject to their domination to resent if not loathe them. Where in your Good Creation, O G-d, do I routinely peer yet fail to see your goodness shining through, reminding me of the duties I have to all other images of the divine? Indeed, when I look in the mirror, where do I fail to love myself as I am, warts and all?
How do we become the means of pardon? How do we pardon those who have hurt us, sometimes deeply, leaving scars that may not define us but never entirely fade away? How do we heal relationships sundered by violence, by greed, by unhealthy competitiveness, by addiction, by mistrust? How do we pardon ourselves for those things we have done which we said we’d never do, for that which violates our own deepest values that we recognize as imperative to our very lives?
How do we learn to trust in a culture which is often little more than a veneer of civility over an egocentric war of all against all sanctioned by our dominant economic and social philosophies? Where do we find the resources to engage the hard work of growth and moral development always required to embrace an ever widening circle of care for the world’s inhabitants? How do we make friends with Sister Death, whose embrace is our inevitable conclusion as finite human beings? How do we avoid grasping for sure-fire formulae to relieve our existential anxieties, readily casting into the fires of hell anyone who would dare remind us they are, after all, social constructions, the works of our own hands?
It is more than a little audacious to hope in the face of despair. And yet we must hope or be consumed by the darkness of despair.
How do we learn to hope as a people? Where do we find the hope from which the words and deeds needed to sustain life and insure our posterity of the same must arise? How do we separate such hope from wistful optimism viewed through rose-tinted lenses or the irresponsible demands upon unseen deities to deliver us from the disasters of our own making that we call prayer?
The sun is now rising just below the horizon to our east, lighting up the long, wispy streamers of clouds on the edge of this coming cold front.
How do we become lucifers, bearers of light, in a world which has often prefers the comfort of darkness? What aspects of our individual lives and our lives together beg for enlightenment - the ideas, attitudes, behaviors that scream out for light to be shined upon them? To what darkness do we cling and where do we exacerbate that darkness with dishonesty, lying first to ourselves before we lie to others? And yet, what silence, darkness, stillness must we preserve in this world of constant noise and distraction to maintain even a semblance of sanity?
On this day of new beginnings, what do we leave behind in the old era? What ways of being human no longer serve us well? To what cherished hopes, dreams and memories have we clung whose time for relinquishing our tight grip on them has come? How do we grieve for that loss and sadness in a healthy manner?
How do we cherish the joy that is life in this Good Creation? How can we bring joy to the lives of others enabling them to do the same? And what joys shall we celebrate this day, this year, this new era of our Mother and our life together with her?
A new era brings new ways of being human. We face many crises at this stage in our journey together, not the least of which is our relationship to Pachamama, our Mother Earth. If we are to survive, indeed if we are to have the luxury of hoping to thrive, we have much yet to learn, much to leave behind and much we must change. All births are marked by pain. This one will certainly be no different.
We homo sapiens are here to tell our story this morning of a new era because we learned to cooperate and refused to engage in endless and boundless zero sum competition. We discovered early on our proclivities to be zoon politikon, social animals, as well as our capacities to become homo sapien, wise animals. This new era will test both of those fundamental lessons and the stakes could hardly be higher – our survival as a species and possibly the vast majority of our fellow animals as well.
What lessons stare us in the face this bitterly cold morning?
Grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand,
to be loved as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying [to ourselves] that we are born to eternal life.
Our lives together are served by our ability to console one another in those inevitable times of sadness. It is out of our experience of suffering that we become fonts of compassion for the other who now suffers, wounded healers as Henri Nouwen so well named them. There is much suffering to console in our world for those who have ears to hear and arms to embrace.
Our lives are meaningful to the extent we are capable of and willing to reflect upon them to the degree to which we are able. It is only by coming to understand ourselves – embracing both our ideals and our failings as human beings, holding them in tension - that we can ever understand others. And it is only by our openness to the understandings offered by others that we maintain clear pictures of our own lives individually and collectively. There is an inordinate need for understanding in this time of polarization and demonization of the other.
We generally like other people because; but we always love others in spite of. And some we love give us more than ample material to work with in the latter category. No doubt, we return that favor.
Coming to love ourselves, ALL of who we are, is the first step to loving our neighbors as ourselves. It is a life work and it is absolutely essential for a healthy humanity. We will need to continue learning it in this new era.
Giving flows from the font of a healthy, creative, productive human animal. To give to others is to meet our very purpose in life – to be generative. When the generativity of who we are overflows the bounds of our limited existences, our creativity flows out into a world sorely in need of what we were created to provide it.
As members of societies composed of and constructed by generative human beings, we are provided the matrix necessary to develop our own full potentials, benefiting from the fruits of our lives together. Without the gifts of others, we cannot become fully human; without our gift, the world is deprived of the opportunities to become more fully human our gifts provide them. This is a lesson we still struggle to comprehend in this new era.
If the duty to love one’s neighbor as oneself is the Great Commandment, the mechanics of human existence function only when the grease of forgiveness is routinely applied to the parts which make contact with others. The ability to pardon is essential to each of us to live with our very selves as we fall short of our own ideals. We rely on pardon to live with loved ones who routinely find minor ways to get under our skin and sometimes ways to wound us to the very core of our beings. Without the ability and willingness to pardon others, the whole project of being human simply collapses. We have much yet to learn about pardon. The new era provides new opportunities to learn.
As the night of the old solar year fades to a navy, then violet, then grey, dispelled by the scarlet, oranges, yellows then whites of the solstice, an era is dying. While our fellow animals face death without compunction, it is not something we readily embrace as human animals. Yet even as our culture is so desperate to deny it, dying has never been our enemy. It is the natural conclusion to a finite life cycle. It is the embrace of Sister Death as Brother Francis has taught us. So ends the old era. And this new era will some day come to its own end.
May this new era bring love of all being that overcomes hatreds, pardon that heals injured lives and permits our own healing as well, trust that holds at bay our existential anxieties, hope that does not simply await rescue, enlightenment of the darkest corners of our individual and collective souls and joy that is celebrated amidst the sorrows we shoulder together. May we find consolation for our weary hearts, understanding of the mysteries of our own lives and those of others, love of all G-d’s creation, and may we find ways to give birth to lives which become all they were created to be, itself a gift that a world so desperately awaits.
O G-d, may we be instruments of your peace.
The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando
If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.
Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++