Leaf Peeping

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Ecc. 3:1

One of the pleasures of living in a region in which the seasons change is experiencing the beauty that each season offers. There are few things more pleasurable than driving through New Jersey farmland in October. Corn stalks are tall and changing. The trees are changing. Rich earth tones transform the landscape: reds, copper, yellow. It’s a season for leaf-peeping, for stopping at farm stands, for purchasing fresh apple-butter, pumpkins, gourds.

One of the paradoxes of the season though, is that its beauty is actually due to the dying of the leaves. Shorter days and cooler temperature result in a process called senescence. There is an increase in enzymes that break down the leaf’s cells. There is less chlorophyl causing the green to fade. Other pigments become prominent, carotenoids, tannins, and anthocyanins, producing the brilliant red, yellow, purple, and brown colors. Slowly the leave’s veins close down. The leaves separate from the branches and fall to the ground.

Autumn has its own unique beauty. Its beauty is also a reminder of what Buddhists name impermanence. Nothing remains the same forever. Everything changes. Each transition, each season, has its own beauty. One thing passes away, and in its passing, gives birth to something new.

The teacher of Ecclesiastes begins to reflect on life with the observation that for everything there is a season. Life does not stop. It ebbs and flows. To cling too tightly to the present moment makes it more difficult to receive the gift hidden in the next. Such is the nature of the life we are given. One challenge that comes with being human: to embrace and fully enjoy the beauty of what is, knowing that it will inevitably change, to remain open to the beauty of what will come next.

We enter the season of the harvest. The work of ploughing, planting, tending, watering, waiting is over. Growth is full. It is time to gather.

Soon winter will be here. Then Spring returns, and summer.

Faith teaches that God is in every moment and in every season, that in God nothing is lost forever.

Advertisements

Work for Peace

9.11

Image by drp via Flickr

In truth, I struggle each year as Sept. 11 approaches. The day begs that something be done to remember and to respond to the evil and tragic violence acted out almost ten years ago. The question is how do we do that and do it well? What do we do?

Clearly the day has special significance for those who lost loved ones, friends, and neighbors that day. Our hearts go out to them, and our prayers.

That day violence was no respecter of persons. People of many religions and none, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindu, agnostics and atheists, people from many nations and cultures, all died because of this act of hatred and terrorism. And the circle of violence expands. We all were wounded.

I am convinced that the best way to honor this day is to stand as clearly as I can against all forms of terrorism and everything that feeds it: fear, pride, intolerance, racism, repression, enmity, hatred, and violence itself. I am also convinced that the place in which I must first take this stand is in me.

Kierkegaard concludes his wonderful book The Works of Love by observing that the place where the battle for love is most difficult and must be fought with intensity is in our hearts. It is not in the world where the battle line is drawn: it is drawn in us. We become people who love, or we will never love as we should.

He is not arguing for a passive stance in the world until we reach some inward spiritual perfection, but rather he is observing that the root of hate, violence, and indifference is in us. And there we must fight for love.

The same is true if we are to be people of peace. We must do the things that are necessary in our communities. But we cannot neglect the inward, inner, spiritual work. The way to fight terrorism is to work for peace. To work for peace we must become people of peace. What Mahatma Gandhi once said remains true: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

I have no great wisdom of my own, so I share with you a few words on peace that come to mind as I remember Sept. 11. I hope they touch and challenge you as they do me.

From the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:

“I’ve decided that I’m going to do battle for my philosophy. You ought to believe in something in life, believe that thing so fervently that you will stand up with it till the end of your days. I can’t make myself believe that God wants me to hate. I’m tired of violence. And I’m not going to let my oppressor dictate to me what method I must use. We have a power, power that can’t be found in Molotov cocktails, but we do have a power. Power that cannot be found in bullets and guns, but we have a power. It is a power as old as the insights of Jesus of Nazareth and as modern as the techniques of Mahatma Gandhi.”

“I’m convinced that if we succumb to the temptation to use violence in our struggle for freedom, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and our chief legacy to them will be a never ending reign of chaos.”

“Hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear; only love can do that. Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illumines it.”

(Coretta Scott King, The Words of Martin Luther King Jr., Newmarket Press, 1987, 71, 90)

From Thomas Merton:

“Only love, which means humility, can exorcise the fear that is at the root of all war.”

“Instead of loving what you think is peace, love other men, and love God above all. And instead of hating the people you think are warmongers, hate the appetites and the disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed – but hate these things in yourself, not in another.”

(Thomas Merton, Passion for Peace: Reflections on War and Nonviolence, Crossroads, 1995, 34, 38)

Thich Nhat Hanh:

“Aware of the sufferings caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating compassion and learning the ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world.”

“Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation , social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to cultivating loving-kindness  and learning ways to work for the well being of (all life)…I will prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of the other species of the planet.”

“Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others, and to relieve others of their suffering.”

(Thich Nhat Hanh, The World We Have: A Buddhist Approach to Peace and Ecology, Parallax Press, 2008, chapter 2.)

Jesus of Nazareth: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God.”  Matt. 5:9

How might we honor this day? Let us remember and pray for all who lost their lives that day, and in the wars that followed. Let us pray and work for the end to the senseless violence and acts of terrorism.  Let struggle against everything that feeds such violence in others, and especially in ourselves.

Miroslav Volf, who lived through the ethnic violence in Serbia, writes: “A more difficult question remains: what resources will help us resist the temptation of violence.”   (Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation, Abingdon Press, 1996, 249.)

It is a question each of us must answer.

Albert Schweitzer wrote in a letter to Norman Cousins: “I decided I would make my life my argument. I would advocate the things I believed in, in terms of the life I lived and what I did.” (Howard E. Robles, compiler, Reverence for Life: the Words of Albert Schweitzer, HarperSanFrancisco, 1993, 41)

How might we best honor the day? By deciding like Schweitzer, that we will make our lives an argument for peace.

Pastor Bill

A Letter from The United Methodist Bishops on 9/11: http://www.gnjumc.org/fileadmin/news_events/letter_from_bishop_archives/Statement_September_11_2010__2_.pdf

To access the letter: copy and paste the address in your browser.

Learning to Love

I read a small book by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh titled True Love. His reflections made me think about how I exercise love as a Christian.

In the first chapter Hanh describes four aspects of love.

The first aspect he names “matita,” which translates “loving-kindness” or “benevolence.” Matita implies more than the desire to make someone happy or bring joy. Love includes the ability and the work to bring joy and happiness to the persons we love.

The second aspect he describes is “karuna,” which translates “compassion.”  Like matita,” this refers to more than a desire or intention to ease the pain or suffering of another person. True love works to do the same.

The third aspect he names “mudita,” which translates “joy.” He writes: “It is not true love if you are suffering all the time. If there is no joy in your love you can be sure it is not true love.”

The fourth aspect is, perhaps, the most interesting: “upeksha,” or “equanimity, freedom.” Hanh insists that real love establishes freedom and brings freedom to the beloved. He writes: “You must love in such a way that the person you love feels free, not only outside, but inside.”

Thich Nhat Hanh makes me reflect on how those I love experience my love.

So I ask myself:

What have I done this day to bring happiness to my wife and children?

What am I doing to ease the suffering of others? Do I just talk about acts of compassion or am I actually doing something that helps someone?

Is there a quality of joy in my relationships with those whom I care about? Not the thin joy of a party, but the rich joy of solid friendships?

Finally, does my love set people free? Do I love in such a way that those whom I love are built up?  What do I do so that those I love might more freely and authentically be themselves?

Hanh reminds me that real love requires a lot more than good intentions, words and sentiment. It is more a verb than a noun.

Love is at the center of a Christian way of life. Jesus is the model. We are to love others as God has loved us in and through Christ.

If we as the church claim even dimly to represent the love of Christ in our community, do others actually experience the love of Christ when they encounter us?