Recovering the Inner Life – 2

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“Be the change you want to see in the world” – Mohandas Gandhi

Gandhi’s statement speaks more truth than we often realize.   He speaks a basic and often unrecognized principle:  when we change ourselves, in a very real way we change the world around us.

It follows that if we want to change the world around us, we need to look first within ourselves; there is where change begins. If we want a kinder world, we start by being kind. If we want a more peaceful world, we start by becoming more peaceable. If we want less racism in the world, we need to confront the racism resident in ourselves. As we change, we become agents of change.

To experience this try a simple experiment: commit to a full day of practicing random acts of kindness. Smile at strangers. Say hello to people you usually walk by. Hold doors open for people. Treat somebody to lunch. Let someone get ahead of you in line.  Then the next day commit to random acts of unkindness. Don’t smile. Scowl a bit. Complain to whoever will listen. Let the door close on the person behind you. Complain to strangers about how slow the line is moving, and how poorly the cashier is at his or her job. Get angry at the stupidity of other drivers. Notice what happens and how you feel each day. Notice how people react to you and around you. I am very willing to bet your experience on those two days will be very different. The world around you will be different.

Richard Rohr, a writer on Christian spirituality, addresses this in his book The Naked Now. He writes about this approach to change: “We mend and renew the world by strengthening inside ourselves what we seek outside ourselves, and not by demanding it of others or trying to force it on others.”

He also provides some examples of what that might involve:

* If you want others to be more loving, choose to love first.

* If you want a reconciled outer world, reconcile your inner world.

* If you are working for peace out there, create it inside as well.

* If you notice other people’s irritability, let go of your own.

* If you wish to find some outer stillness, find it within yourself.

* If you find yourself resenting the faults of others, stop resenting your own.

* If you want a more just world, start by being just in small ways yourself.

* If your situation feels hopeless, honor the one spot of hope inside you.

* If you want to find God, then honor God within you, and you will see God beyond you.

(Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See, Crossroad Publishing, 2009. 160-1.)

Jesus taught the same lesson to his disciples, and to all who follow him in every age:

“Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back…. The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks” – Jesus, Luke 6:37, 38, 45

What we give out somehow manages to return. He taught that those who are merciful, practice kindness, extend compassion, live generous lives, who do not find it necessary to strike back, who bless and do not curse, will both reflect the nature of God into the world, and even though they will experience difficulties, will ultimately discover that what they have given to others will be poured back to them.  He taught that we act out of the condition of our hearts, and called on us to have the kind of heart that reflects the very love of God.

What does all of this mean? I think it means that our inner lives, our character, the state of our souls, the well being of our spirits, are tremendously important. It shapes our lives and our experience. It makes a major difference to those around us. It makes a tremendous difference to the character of our communities. Angry, spiritually immature, reactive people will create unhealthy and unhappy families and communities. In the same way healthy, mature, gracious people generate healthier places to live.

We give such extraordinary attention to the things around us, how much we earn, what kind of cars we purchase, what kind of smart phone we use, where we go on vacation. Are we willing to give that kind of attention to what lies within us? To becoming better, wiser, more mature people?

If we want to lead happier lives, or to live in a more loving family or community, we need to nurture the capacity for happiness and for love within us. It really is that direct.

Gandhi is right. If we want to change the world, we do need to become the change we want to see.

Pastor Bill

No Future without Forgiveness

I came across a wonderful passage in the writing of Parker Palmer that speaks to work of the church. He writes:

The church lives under a relentless divine calling to engage in the work of reconciliation – to God, to one another, and to ourselves. There is nothing about which God is more persistent than the promise that the brokenness within us and between us can and will be healed. Healing comes as a result of God’s mercy and grace, not of our work. But mercy and grace are channeled as the church finds ways of more fully becoming the Body of Christ, whose touch heals.

(Parker Palmer, The Company of Strangers: Christians and the Renewal of America’s Public Life, Crossroad, N.Y., 1981. 26.)

I experienced the power of God’s grace and the healing touch of the church many years ago. I had been away from church for more than a dozen years when for one reason or another I began to sense that there was more depth and meaning to life than I had been experiencing. I became aware of a spiritual thirst that drew me toward worship and the faith I grew up with. It led me to the doors of  a local Roman Catholic Church.

I decided I would go to confession. I figured if I was going to return to church I would do it with total honesty and transparency. I would hide no secrets. I would not pretend to be someone I was not. I had not done anything remarkably bad, but I was aware of the contradictions in my life, the broken and disappointing relationships, the ways that I either through clumsiness or immaturity had hurt others, etc. I would place it all before the church.

Those who are or who grew up Catholic are familiar with the process. I entered the confessional and began with words I had learned as a child: “Forgive me father, for I have sinned. It has been twelve years since my last confession, and these are my sins…” And I continued, and continued. I figured that for penance I would be saying hail Mary’s for a very long time.

All the priest said was “Welcome home.” He said “Welcome home, God rejoices that you are here!” For penance he asked me if I would be able to pray ten minutes a day for the next week.

When I left the church that day I felt as if the weight of years had been lifted off of me. I breathed deeply again. I had not even noticed that I had not been able to for so long. I felt as if chains had been broken, that I could stand tall. Burdens that I did not know I had been carrying were gone. Everything had changed.When I walked into the church, everything was normal. When  I walked out everything resonated with the very presence of God: the sky, the trees, the sidewalk, the cars, the stone walls of the church, the flowers next to the church.

Something significant had happened. I had experienced the healing, forgiving, renewing grace of God. Not because I am particularly good or worthy, but because God is. And the vehicle through with I experienced this touch was the church. The vehicle was the teaching of my childhood, the worship and liturgy of the church, the compassionate gentleness of a good priest.

So I appreciate it when I read: “The church lives under a relentless divine calling to engage in the work of reconciliation – to God, to one another, and to ourselves. There is nothing about which God is more persistent than the promise that the brokenness within us and between us can and will be healed.”

Forgiveness and reconciliation are at the center of the Gospel. God deals with the world’s brokenness and violence, not by destroying it, but by opening up the power of grace and forgiveness. In this God opens up our future. We are not bound by are past, but by grace are given new life. Our work is to turn toward God, receive the gift, and then extend the same grace toward others. As we are forgiven, so we are to forgive others. Grace upon grace.

Bishop Desmond Tutu wrote a book about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa titled: “No Future Without Forgiveness.” In it he reminds us that without forgiveness we remain bound to the hurts and guilt of the past, personally, in our relationships, communally, politically.  Forgiveness set us free.

It is the divine vocation of the church to be a community of grace, forgiveness, and healing. May the church live into its calling to be the Body of Christ, extending his healing touch into the world.

And the church is not the building or the organization: it is the people. Us.