Prayer as a Tool for Social Justice

I have been thinking a great deal lately about the fringe of society. The Us and Them. The Others. The disenfranchised.

The following items were a part of three separate readings that (…isn’t it always the way…) seemed to speak directly to my current line of thinking this week. Don’t you always love those ‘accidental coincidences’??!

I read an interview with Melinda Gates regarding her new book, The Moment of Lift. She was explaining some of the ways in which she determines which issues she can get behind and advocate for funds and resources. Birth control in third world nations. Child vaccination in Africa. These are some of the areas in which she has advocated for and given tremendous resources to. Without provocation about religious beliefs she offered:

Faith in action to me means going to the margins of society, seeking out those who are isolated, and bringing them back in.

I have to admit – my initial, gut reaction was to think, ‘If only I had a tremendous amount of wealth and could enjoy giving it away to issues and people who are in the greatest need.’ I envied her money. Not because of the amount of things I could do with it but the ways in which I could freely give it away. It’s good to give $5 to a charity, but how great would it be to actually SEE the difference your resources are making in the lives of those in great need?! I coveted her Giving joy; the endorphins that flood our hearts when we can contribute significantly to someone in need.

And then she continued:

The starting point for human improvement is empathy. Everything flows from that.

It brought me to a recent conversation with my dearest friend, Monica. We were sitting together on the back porch over a bowl of fruit and commiserating over the stumbling blocks the Church in general is facing today. We reflected on our own ideals and how they’ve developed over time. “The difference is when you have an actual face to put to the issue. When you’ve befriended someone who struggles with acceptance in a certain area and now, the issue is no longer an issue. The issue has a name and a face and a good heart and soul.”

The starting point for human improvement is empathy…Melinda stated. Sympathy is feeling sorry for someone. Empathy is drawing upon an understanding of what they must be feeling and struggling with because you have wrestled with a similar internal war.

Our life experiences have helped to shape us into a better human being (if not immediately than eventually, if we’re lucky.) But those same life experiences are there as resources for us. Ravines of empathy, waiting to be dipped into. To remember the shame or the disappointment or the ostracization that happened – and what that must feel like for this person standing in front of you. Or that group of peoples mentioned on the news. Being willing to step back into that personal struggle is being brave and kind and compassionate and…empathetic…to those around us.

My physical world is very, very small. I don’t interact with that many people on a day to day basis. It is a season of life that has very few day-to-day characters. So I asked myself: how do I show empathy and how do I go to the margins of society?! How do I, in my small physical world, bring into the fold the marginalized? The struggling?

A few days later I read a small paragraph from a Henri Nouwen book that enlarged my understanding of prayer. We must pay careful attention to the compassionate presence of the Holy Spirit. The intimacy created by the Holy Spirit who, as the bearer of the new mind and the new time, does not exclude but rather includes our fellow human beings. In the intimacy of prayer, God is revealed to us as the One who loves all members of the human family just as personally and uniquely as God loves us. Therefore, a growing intimacy with God deepens our sense of responsibility for others. 

When I go to God in prayer I am stepping into a circle with all of humanity. All of humanity. The homeless that are so prevalent on our California streets. The mother of three. The neighbor. The stranger. The person of decidedly different political opinions as me. As soon as I open my heart to God with my small needs, my deep hurts, my worries and concerns and thanksgivings – I stand with all my fellow humans, there. Together. We are drawn to each other because the Holy Spirit makes it so. We are on even footing. Each unworthy of the grace that has been poured over us in vast supply.

It’s not just me in my bed at night. It’s not just me as I drive in the car alone. It’s not just me. I stand together in those few moments with you and with your neighbor and with your questions and challenges. For a few pristine moments we are one. One humanity surrounded by a holy presence that makes us each equals.

It is from there that my decisions must be made. Be they political, or simple, or religious or complex. Prayer brings us to the feet of Empathy and that is where our choices flow out.

To top it off, a friend recently posted a well-known quote from Thomas Merton (American monk, 1915-1968)

Our job is to love others, without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy.

I still struggle – wishing I could make a BIG difference in the lives of others. Wishing I had the resources to pour into others, like the Gates. But instead it is meant for me to stand reverently in the presence of you. To link arms with all of humanity for a few moments of complete unity before God. And to allow that encounter to inform my empathy throughout the day.

Current philanthropists, passed Catholic monks. I have learned from them all this week. Even – a comedy duo with a big Netflix hit. -ha!

How about a little Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin to round out this post?

You and me??…we are homies.

Lessons from the Pretty Polka Dot Pink

The Polka Dot Plant. (Hypoestes phyllostachya)

As a general rule, I always suggest people do a quick google search about a plant before they buy it. That way you will know whether or not you can supply what the plant needs: proper lighting, space, etc. But of course occaaaaaaasionally, you just see a plant in the store and want to grab it and bring it home.

Such is the case with this hypoestes. I mean – you had me at pink, right?

After buying it, bringing it home, planting it…I then sat down to add it to my journal of plants that I own. I keep a journal of one-page notes on what each plant prefers for lighting, watering schedule, quirks and even historical data where interesting. I later add notes as a ‘best practices’ for what the plant didn’t like and how (or if) I remedied it.

So it wasn’t until everything was all said and done with this pretty pink plant that I read that one of the downfalls of the hypoestes is their short-lived life. (ugh! head thump!) After a polka dot plant flowers, it will go dormant and then die.

WHYYYYYYYYY?! Why did I bring home a plant with a short shelf life (one or two years max) just to fall in love with it and then have to let it go?!

Just my luck, I moaned, reading the snippet aloud to my husband – complete with a heavy sigh and dramatically rolled eyes!

However…if there’s one thing I have said repeatedly: Plants teach me things. I immediately felt myself detaching from this plant (‘Oh you’re not getting ME to love you! I know you’ll break my heart quicker than others!’) until my meditation practice gave me the old shoulder tap.

Isn’t the whole goal of a meditative practice to live in the now?! Aren’t we to let go of the past and realize we cannot control the future but we can focus, instead, on the here and now?? It seems like such a kitschy comparison but for some reason, it really settled into my thoughts. I’ve spent a few days living with this concept.

You see, I’m someone who finds a writing pen she likes and then buys a whole packet of them on Amazon for fear I’ll run out of the original one I bought and they’ll either be out of stock or – gasp! – no longer making them. I find a pair of jeans that fit perfectly and immediately go back to the store to buy two more. I like to know I have back-up. If you study the enneagram, I am a 5. Fives are constantly balancing their resources. Whether it’s the resource of time or sleep or favored Post-it notes. So a plant with brevity initially made me very uncomfortable.

Until I was reminded in the most circuitous of ways that I simply cannot guarantee any level of ‘resource reserve’ in life.

I breathe in for 6 counts. Hold my breath for 4 counts. Breathe out loudly for 6 counts. I feel the rise and fall of my stomach as breath fills my lungs, then rushes its way out of my mouth. Repeat.

Disappointments are inevitable. Excitement and expectations run furiously through our lives. Our hope is not just in the future. Hope can be found throughout our daily lives. The everyday-ness of living. We take advantage of things we love in the hopes that they will always be available to us. The thought of losing them is paralyzing. But we must bring our minds back to the joys right in front of us. They are plentiful and they are worthy of our appreciation.

I must empty my lungs in order to draw my next breath.

The depletion of one thing allows the new situation to emerge.

Life is a cyclical process. Be it a polka dot pink, an ancient Parisian cathedral, or a mom trying to get the PB&J made fast enough before her crew heads out the door.

Rest in resources unseen. There is Someone refilling our reserves daily, if only we’d stop to notice.

THE AMERICAN SPIRIT by David McCullough

I recently finished this collection of speeches by David McCullough.
His love for history is contagious and reignites my own B.A. in History. His many graduation commencement speeches are all laced with the plea for the graduates to continue to study history. Quoting American historian, Daniel Boorstin:

Trying to plan for the future without a sense of the past is like trying to plant cut flowers.

I have often been frustrated with the way history is taught in public schools. History is not a litany of facts and dates. History is merely a series of contiguous and interlacing stories. Beautiful stories of overcoming threatening odds and even stories of abject failure. But all the stories of history feed into the place and time that we find ourselves in today.

‘What is story?’, McCullough asks his crowd.
Essayist, E. M. Forster elaborates:
If I tell you the king died and then the queen died – that’s a sequence of events.
If I tell you the king died and then the queen died of grief – that’s a story.

In light of the contentious political scene today, I needed a reminder that the American spirit surpasses time and presidencies. I was taken aback, however, at this quote from Margaret Chase Smith, the senator who stood up to Joe McCarthy in the 1940/50’s:

“I speak as a Republican,” she said on that memorable day in the Senate. “I speak as a woman. I speak as a United States Senator. I speak as an American. I don’t want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the four horsemen of…fear, ignorance, bigotry and smear.”

In this book of speeches, McCullough pulls heavily from many of the excellent books he has written. I recognized many of the references. Of all the McCullough books I have read, his account of the life of John Adams is by far my favorite. McCullough made me fall in love with our second president and increased my admiration for his long-suffering wife, Abigail. Their love story is amazing to watch unfold through the pages of his biography.

The American Spirit will reignite your love for country, American history, and rhetoric. Or at least that was the effect it had on me…

mundane joy

“We all need the reminder that the next generation is watching and waiting to be inspired by the love story of ordinary life lived out faithfully.”⠀

It really doesn’t matter your age – there are always younger-than-us beings who are watching your face. Checking to see when your eyes get panicky or your brow wrinkles with concern. What makes your smile curl in mischievousness or your pupils widen with delight.⠀

If we are always showing only our best – the glitziest parts of our lives – how will those we are mentoring (even unknowingly) learn the pure joy found in ordinary moments? The simple, everyday things that make our souls feel warm and welcomed home? ⠀

How will they know the vigilant process of working through disagreements with our spouses and loving (if not currently liking) them throughout? Or what about the long-suffering patience of growing with your children through their various stages – needy, obstinate, then sweet?⠀

Lifting the veil on our ordinary lives allows those behind us to see that boredom and monotony are one of the many rhythms of life.⠀

We have a responsibility to set a good example for the next generation. Sure, of bravery and doing hard things. But also of being persistent and consistent through the ordinary and the routine – even when it’s tedious and mundane. ⠀

We are walking each other home, Rumi tells us. That’s a pretty good resolution for 2019: showing up to load the dishwasher or run the extra mile with someone who needs a trusty pacesetter. We are all in this glorious life adventure together. Let’s step out of our lane occasionally and walk side by side with the companions we’ve been given in life – from co-worker to grocery store clerk to neighbor next door. Don’t rush through or shirk back. Step up beside and walk together for awhile. You have a great deal of knowledge to share. And if you’re lucky, even more to learn.