It may seem strange, but often the first step we need to take towards making any inner or outer change is acceptance. Usually we are stuck in some way because we are not willing to accept the reality of our situation, our limitations, past failings, or the consequences of what we think we desire. Too often we see acceptance as passive and weak. But if this is so, why is acceptance so hard to do?
Active acceptance is actually a very positive higher quality that requires a strong and skillful will. Recently, I had a woman come to see me who was struggling with her relationship with her younger sister. While growing up as the eldest daughter in a large family of nine children, Ann (not her real name) often played the role of mother to her siblings. This was especially true with her sister Liz who was 10 years younger.
Forgiveness is a transpersonal quality whose essential role is often overlooked in the story of Good Friday. Christians and non-Christians alike might reflect on Jesus’ act of forgiveness for the soldiers who nailed him to the cross and the thief who hung crucified at his side.
After the recent carnage in Brussels, most of our world leaders are calling for heightened surveillance and security, tighter borders, illegal torture of prisoners, patrols of Muslim neighborhoods, stricter control over the flow of refugees from the Middle East, and the ultimate destruction of Isis.
Perhaps it’s too early to start talking about forgiveness, but one faint whisper of mercy would not do us any harm. Our own responsibility in co-creating the world we all live in also needs to be acknowledged and spoken.
We talk a lot about romantic love around Valentine’s Day. When romantic love devours us, we can find ourselves joyfully lost, frightened, and overpowered by intense feelings of belonging. And when this romantic love-bubble bursts, we seem to deflate into a mess of hurt, broken, and overshadowed feelings of failure and unworthiness.
It seems that love, from our human perspective, is inherently limited. The love we feel for another, as partners, family and friends, seems to come with all kinds of conditions. Some of these conditions may seem quite reasonable. For example, you might feel perfectly justified to say to your spouse: “I love you, but not if you have an affair/physically harm me/gamble away all our money.” Other conditions may be more dubious: “I love you, but only if you agree with me/let me have my own way/have enough money, beauty, fame/share my beliefs/keep me from being lonely…” This list can go on and on, depending on the deep inner needs that are unmet in the individual lover.
I realize that I am more than twice your age and might not know what’s going on. I admit that I don’t even own a smart phone. Maybe if they sold wise phones I might buy one. At 60 years old, I grew up during the time when phones were stuck to the walls, you needed to buy film for your camera, and computers were monstrous machines hidden in IBM basements.
I want to ask you to please put your phone away.
This letter is written after deep reflection. My need for you to put your phone away culminated when we met after the Christmas Eve service. I was so happy to see you and meet your two-month-old son. Last time we met, you were preparing for his birth. I was delighted to see his head covered in dark curls. He was sleeping soundly despite the festivities around us. Your husband was so proud. I bent over the little one in his stroller and marveled at his creamy skin and calm breath. Baby’s fingernails have always fascinated me. Like tiny rose petals topped with a perfect quarter moon. I gently brushed his cheek and whispered hello.
And then you dug into your purse and whipped out your phone. You had to show me pictures of your son right after his birth. Photo after photo slid across the small screen, which I can’t really see because I have become farsighted. You wanted me to marvel at his pictures. I wanted to marvel at your son.
It is difficult not to respond in some way to the terrible events that happened in Paris on Friday night. I see photos of the victims, most of them smiling profiles downloaded from social media pages. They all seem to be young, a diversity of faces. I see slogans and calls for justice, twitter handles and French flags – Peace for Paris, #PrayforParis, #ParisisaboutLife.
I see that on Sunday night French fighter jets launched their biggest raids in Syria to date, targeting the Islamic State’s stronghold in Raqqa. Taking off from the United Arab Emirates and Jordan and in coordination with US forces, the jets dropped 20 bombs on the city that night.
I see that the French president, François Hollande, said, “We are going to lead a war which will be pitiless.”
This week the world’s first Empathy Museum is opening in London. I have to admit that when I first learned of this, I had to wonder. Do we need to put empathy in a museum to preserve it? Like an ancient artifact, is empathy so rare that we have to start visiting it in a museum?
Well, no. Obviously, I have turned this around. The international touring exhibition has been designed and created by Roman Krznaric to help us to “appreciate other people’s viewpoints, experiences and feelings.” He and his team of collaborators want people to step into the shoes of other people – literally. One of the exhibits invites you to enter a shop where a sales assistant will help you select a pair of shoes to wear, for example, the sandals of a political refugee or shoes belonging to an Etonian banker.
Nepal aid piles up while our prayers arrive instantly.
Perhaps you find yourself overwhelmed at times with all the requests for financial help that seem to bombard you. Walking downtown in a major city, you might be asked for money from a stranger or find a beggar sitting along the road with a sign for help. At that moment, we are often besieged with existential questions. What should I do? How can I really help? How much money is enough? Will the money help at all?
Soon after the news of the earthquake in Nepal, my husband and I did send money (along with our prayers) to an organization that was helping with relief efforts. As you may know, humanitarian aid is still having trouble reaching those in need, as NGOs face massive logistical difficulties, including Nepalese custom regulations. It does seem that our prayers have become more valuable than our money, able to arrive instantly beyond the roadblocks and border controls.
Currently, I am a support member of an international Christian fellowship, and we are working through financial requests from various charities. There seems to be no end to the need for money! Money to rebuild homes in flooded Malawi, to pay for a young man’s education in India, a school for orphans in Indonesia, Ebola health workers in Senegal. And, of course, now for those suffering in Nepal. The list seems infinite. How can we possibly choose what cause to support?