There is so much coming at us right now: the receding pandemic, racial injustice, gender equity, political dysfunction and environmental catastrophe. Couple all this with our lively debate about a new organ, and you might think the world is coming apart… again. But it’s not. This is not the end of the world. This is the way of the world.
As Bret Stephens and Gail Collins wrote about in yesterday’s New York Times “There are almost too many things in the world to think about.” When the world seems all too much, I try to see what is right about our time. And I look to the thousands of small stories that inspire us to keep the faith in what we could become. And the place I look for this inspiration most these days is Ukraine. Not the stories of how the West is united behind Ukraine (if they truly were, why is this happening?) but rather the stories of communities taking care of their elderly, the stories of children walking hundreds of miles, without their parents, to safety. I look to the stories of the Polish people who are taking their brethren in to safety. I look to the stories of those Russians who oppose their government who are protesting at great personal risk. I look to our own Voices Café last Saturday night where the Suzanne Sheridan Band played to a sold-out crowd in a benefit for the Ukrainian Save the Children Campaign.
Its easy to applaud the heroism of the Ukrainian people and their President. What is harder to do is to recognize the personal stories of suffering, because we suffer with them. What is harder to do is imagine how the Ukrainians can go on, because going on is so hard to do. I see ourselves sharing our humanity with the Ukrainians and in so doing I see that, at the end of the day, its not about this horrific war or our dysfunctional government or our impending injustice, it’s about how most of us find a way through our struggle with the help of others.
It’s with the help of others that we are redeemed. None of us can get through life alone, not the Ukrainians and not us. While “there are almost too many things in the world to think about”, we do have to think about the world because the world is us, the only difference is geography. Our stories are not as hard as the Ukrainians, that’s true, but we suffer too. None of us can get through life alone and none of us gets through life without suffering. What matters is that we recognize our suffering, say a prayer for strength, and go on anyway. That is the point of empathy, a human response to feeling love for those we don’t even know. And empathy is our salvation. It’s our compassion for those who suffer that makes us faithful fully-human people.
Jack Kornfield, the celebrated Buddhist teacher, put it this way: “’Be a lamp unto yourself, make of yourself a light‘ were the last words of the Buddha. No teacher or outside authority can give us the truth or take it away. In the end, we will find that our heart holds the simple wisdom and unshakable compassion that we have sought all along.”
― Jack Kornfield, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry: How the Heart Grows Wise on the Spiritual Path
So may it be.
Your always, Rev. John