How do we try to keep balance during these very wobbly times?
Michelle Obama provided the line “When they go low, we go high.” Then I heard a good spiritual riff on this: “When they go low, we go deep.” I want to suggest yet another variation: “When they go wobbly, we go steady.” Not quite as flashy, I agree, but it leads me to address how I personally, at least, seek to steady and balance myself when the equivalent of the “Fasten your seatbelt, we're experiencing turbulence” airplane sign never really goes off .
I love the old hymn, “How can I keep from singing?” In spite of all the turbulence, life truly also does continue to “flow on in endless song, above earth's lamentation,” and we still can “hear the sweet, tho far-off hymn that hails a new creation; thro' all the tumult and the strife I hear the music ringing; It finds an echo in my soul – how can I keep from singing?” Those lines speak a deep truth and reality for me, as I assume they do for you. The “far-off hymn” that “hails a new creation,” provides realistic hope for me even when I am so immersed in “earth’s lamentation.”
I do not need to elaborate on what makes these times so shaky, so unbalanced, because we know the major issues all too well. They actually predate the present governmental crisis, although this administration, of course, has certainly heightened our awareness of them, made them worse and more dangerous: climate disruption, immigration issues, homelessness, poverty, health care crises, perpetual war fueled by unrestrained military budgets, and a nation divided by class, race, and disparity of wealth and opportunity - among other topics. I get these surveys from the Democratic National Convention asking me to prioritize the crisis list. I finally filled one out recently and wrote that prioritization was easy: above all keep from destroying the planet with CO 2 emissions and a nuclear holocaust. The rest of the causes are clearly a special priority for those most impacted, and they all apply to all of us at least indirectly. And as difficult as all these problems are, they are all problems we might well solve if we would put reverence for life above the dominant economic and political drivers of fear, exploitation and greed.
Each of us, consciously or subconsciously, is dealing with variations of these contemporary issues, and in the midst of it all, life flows on, and incredibly, perhaps, we do find ways to balance our lives, to find great joy and hope in spite of our anxieties and fears. I would like to share my personal approach to maintaining balance in spite of being tumbled by anxiety, fear, confusion and discouragement, and to remind us that it is possible to still be “in endless song.”
I haver four “sources of balance” that allow my life to go on with a sense of equanimity and joy.
The first source of balance in my life is that I have worked out a theology that is a source of truth and integrity for my mind and soul and squares me up with a concept of what many of us refer inadequately to as God. I joke that I am a “Quardratarian” because my theology has four primary precepts that ground my idea of God.
First, I live with a profound sense of the sacredness of the Grand Mystery of life. I am deeply indebted to the Jewish tradition which conceives of Y-h with unnamable, profound awe and mystery. The Grand Mystery grounds, steadies, humbles me with perspective and infinite wonder.
Second, I identify a God of an intricately interconnected and interdependent universe, from the tiniest atom to the unfathomable order of the infinite cosmos. The interconnectedness and interdependency of all of creation in nature, for example, is a way many of us experience God. My deep respect for the sacredness, interconnectedness, interdependence, and oneness of all creation ultimately leads me to my peace testimony and my commitment to nonviolence. If all life is interconnected and sacred, and I have a deep reverence for it, it is difficult if not impossible to think of destructive violence and war.
God as the Grand Mystery and as an expression of the sacred interconnectedness of all creation are simply factual givens for me, not expressions of faith. They are expressions of plain Truth. But I have two theological assertions that are more a matter of faith.
I have faith in the redemptive and creative power of love that I associate with my idea of God. I have experienced the healing power of the love of God in my life. My primary faith identity as a Christian is based on ministry of Jesus as a radical expression of the love of God that can transcend all the cultural, tribal and belief systems that so easily divide us. My belief in the moral path of radical compassion in the Christian tradition as an expression of God’s love is worthy of my devotion and following.
And my final assertion of faith is in the liberating power of Truth. What inflates the problems of the world is that we are tragically imprisoned and confused by lies that simply keep us off balance as we try to discern what is true or not. In addition to much of advertising itself, we live in a world of “alternative truths” and “don't take what is said literally.” It's too easy to become cynical, angry, and deeply discouraged and hopeless when we can't trust ourselves and others with the core values of honesty and integrity that hold our souls, our families, our community and government together. Although I assume all religious belief systems honor the search for truth, I am particularly indebted to Gandhi for elevating Truth to a level of sacrament and his life's mission as memorialized in his autobiography My Experiment with Truth. It is a sacred, nonviolent, liberating act to experience the intimacy of honesty and integrity of truth-telling and truth-seeking with ourselves, in intimate friendships, and in our work in the world. What a terrible loss it is to live in a world that creates so much skepticism and cynicism.
My theology of God as Mystery, Interconnectedness, Love and Truth provides me a moral basis, a steadying, centering for my commitment to nonviolence and for grounding my life with a meaningful, experienced relationship with the Transcendent. My theology continues to change, of course, but these four basic precepts have held me now for more than twenty-five years.
A second of my four “sources of balance,” beyond my centering theology, is my personal practice of contemplation and prayer that also settles and grounds me.
I somehow experience a very personal relationship with the Divine that I call prayer. When I pray I feel I am not alone; the Mystery becomes personal. I can't really explain the experience, and I no longer try, but it is very real for me. I think of myself as a “practical mystic.’ I talk with God in very matter of fact ways, mostly in terms of gratitude – for life itself, for beauty, for all that both blesses and vexes my life - but I also bring to our conversations compassion for the suffering of the world with a request to strengthen my vision, wisdom, courage and integrity to support my practice of nonviolence in courageous and compassionate service, especially on behalf of the marginalized. I pray for the well-being of my family and friends and that all may share a vision for peace and justice. My prayer also involves centering and disciplining the mind through contemplative meditation in silence, both in solitude and in the silent worship in our Quaker community.
A third of my “sources of balance” comes from the gift of deep community. Our Quaker tradition has been described as an association of interdependent mystics. Individually we seek a direct, personal experience of the presence of the Divine with a strong emphasis on settling for nothing less than one's individual, experienced truth that can be affirmed with individual integrity. Yet, because at any time we can misread what constitutes our truth due to our egos and all that might misinform us, we need each other for guidance and support as we seek Divine guidance. Friends have a profound respect for communal accountability to balance an equally strong emphasis on individual integrity of faith. As a result considerable attention is given to individual clearness processes and the expectation of Spirit-led group decision making in our communities' business practices. I am very committed to this practice, and it serves me and our tradition well in terms of steadying and balancing our life together.
Finally, I need what I call my “buoyancy factor,” the lift I get from a sense of humor, a child's giggle, a shared smile, the magnificent beauty of our earth, or a song on the heart - among so many other ways I am so deeply heartened by daily graces. We all need to honor and experience joy to maintain balance in our lives. I am so inspired by the folks in our own lives and in the public eye like Bishop Tutu and the Dalai Lama who have seen more than their share of the grief of life but who have this incredible buoyant spirit. Few of us are Bishop Tutu or the Dalai Lama, but all of us have the capacity to balance and steady ourselves with joy.
Life really does flow on with both lamentation and endless song. I have very briefly shared how I try to find balance in these trying times. This is not about naive nonchalance and pollyanna wishfulness. I am talking about the capacity of heart, soul and spirit in and through us that leads us to sing in spite of life's lamentations, that steadies and balances us with hope and reverence for life.
Blessings of grace and peace be with you,