• To read Nancy Sylvester's entire series, click on her author name or here to see a list of her columns.
I have to admit I am dismayed by what has been happening on the campaign trail. Primarily spurred by Mr. Trump, I witness the anger of my brothers and sisters who, over these past decades, feel that they have been left behind. They say that their jobs are being taken by newly arrived immigrants and their opportunities for advancement stolen by women and persons of color. They feel the moral basis of our country is undermined by legalizing same-sex marriage. They want to build walls to keep people out. They believe U.S. strength is in our capacity to bomb the enemy. Listening to much of the rhetoric, which is highly vitriolic and inflammatory, I feel as if the trajectory of evolution has stopped. I find myself judging them. And I know that is not my best response.
I know that contemplation invites me to see how we are all connected. That we are all evolving in a developmental way and we all go through the same stages but at different times. The worldview which seems to be operative with those who are so angry is one that has as its focus one's own family, tribe and religion. My race, my religion, my culture become normative and are the values, assumptions, beliefs all people should live by. It is a traditional worldview that most of us grew up with. However, experience and education opened many of us to embrace a more complex stage of development. This broadened our perspective allowing acceptance of diversity as life-giving.
Thinkers like Ken Wilbur and Don Beck, who study the evolutionary development of our collective consciousness, agree that we have to address our basic material needs before we are able to enter a more complex stage of consciousness. So I understand that when people lack a basic sense of security, self-worth and control over their lives, it is very hard to imagine that their needs are connected to and could be enhanced by the "other," by the wider global community. It is a radical shift in perspective, in consciousness.
As Lent ends and the Easter season begins I find myself pondering Jesus' invitation to us which invites us to such a shift in perspective. Beatrice Bruteau makes this come alive in her book, The Holy Thursday Revolution. She reminds us that Jesus was a boundary-breaker. He broke the boundary of the purity system which was so strong at that time. It divided people into clean and unclean. The parable of the Good Samaritan exemplified this when the despised and unclean Samaritan turned out to be the hero. He broke the boundary of family; letting us know that it is not family lineage that counts but rather hearing the word of God and living it. He broke the boundary between people who are rich and poor, as well as diseased and healthy. He broke the boundary between women and men, treating them exactly alike. Finally, he broke the boundary between friends and enemies, understanding that God sends sun and rain on the good and the evil alike.
Bruteau also reflects on the profound act of Jesus washing the disciples' feet on the night before he died. That gesture of the master acting like a servant proclaims his vision that we are all equal and turns the way the world works upside down. That act is disorienting and disruptive. She reminds us that the disciples are shocked. Peter is the one that objects. He was afraid because if he consented to this action, then everything would change and things could not go back to the way they were. Everything would have to be readjusted — relationships, values and attitudes. One's world view was being transformed.
Jesus invited us to see things in new ways. He told us that we are all friends and that the power of God is in us to do as he has done, and even more. He tells us that God lives in him and he in God. That he is in each of us and we are in him. That God is in each of us and each of us is in God and in each other. It is a dance of mutuality and relationships. Equality, mutuality, abundance, non-violence and interconnectedness are the messages of Jesus.
Jesus lived out of a highly evolved consciousness that enters into us and is over time changing our hearts and the way we view the world. But we are not there yet. I recently read something of Thomas Keating that I found very helpful in extending compassion to those with whom I am so dismayed. He agrees that humanity seems stuck in the evolutionary process. He writes in Reflections on the Unknowable: "We are literally crucified between heaven and earth. When you look at a cross, even though nobody's on it, you see a marvelous symbol of where the human condition is right now. To get out of that place requires an integration of joy and sorrow, of hope and knowledge of our weakness."
We are all part of humanity. We are all crucified between heaven and earth. We are all invited to admit our weaknesses, our selfishness. We are all invited to grow beyond ourselves to embrace the reality that we are all connected. In the Catholic tradition we know that as the Mystical Body of Christ. We are one body and we need each other.
The unity of the human family, the whole planetary community, is the Good News of this Easter season. It is what Jesus proclaimed by his life, death and resurrection.
And we need to proclaim this. We are learning through quantum physics that our thoughts and our speech are highly influential. In fact, many believe that every thought we have influences everything in the universe instantaneously. So the toxic effect of all that violent speech on us has to be countered.
I want to challenge all of us to reflect on how we can invite speech that is life giving, positive, healing the divisions we are experiencing. Too often, I hear from people that when they gather with their family they don't talk politics. I think we have to. Can we find ways to invite those who are angry, fearful, frustrated to explore the "why" of their feelings? Can we find ways to share Jesus's message of equality and mutuality? Can we find ways to open up one's world view?
I do know that before we can do that we must open ourselves to the Divine dwelling within. Remember to spend 20-30 minutes every day in contemplation. The silence that we drop into pushes outward to reveal our own weaknesses and opens us to conversion. As we surrender to the Divine, we find the courage to go out and proclaim the Good News of our faith. That is the message of the Easter season — let us speak it loudly and clearly!
[Nancy Sylvester, IHM, is founder and director of the Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue. She served in leadership of her own religious community, the Sister Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Monroe, Michigan as well as in the Presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Prior to that she was National Coordinator of NETWORK, the national Catholic social justice lobby.]
To read Nancy Sylvester's entire series, click on her author name above or click here to see a list of her columns.
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