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Saturday, January 14, 2017

Seven Steps to a Spirituality of Hope

I suppose it should not surprise me, but I am absolutely astounded by the conversations - well, if you use the term very loosely - on Episcopal social media sites over the issue of prayer.

No, seriously. People are crazed about it. Specifically, whether or not to pray for the new President Elect of the (divided) United States of America. 

Well, I think everyone is pretty clear that we should pray for him and for the office. And, we're pretty clear, for various reasons, that if ever there was a person, much less a PEOTUS, who needed prayer it's this one.

The issue is whether or not to say his name. Should we insert his name in the Prayers of the People of the Book of Common Prayer, even though the rubrics don't require it?

Yes, I'm serious.  That's the argument.  We seem to want uniformity on this. Or, approval for whatever choice we make, even if you believe it's the wrong choice for you. The conversation seems to ratchet up a notch in intensity and hysteria whenever an opposing point is made.

Some see the very utterance of his name publicly as a trigger for those with PTSD from sexual assault or rape or a cold-sweat anxiety for "Dreamers" and their families.

Some are insistent. Say his name, damn it. Never let an abuser have that kind of power over you. These folks seem absolutely oblivious to just how abusive it is to insist that someone say the very thing that will trigger a PTSD episode or anxiety attack because THEY think it's what you should do ("They" who have never experienced PTSD or who have and have been "healed").

And, of course, someone always trots out the tried and true, "Well, we've always named the POTUS. We're not going to stop now. If we changed it now, it would be .... " Ready? ".... awkward."

God forbid! Let's not allow ourselves to be compassionate and pastoral! Not if it's going to make things ... awkward! We're Episcopalians, for God's sake! We can't be ... AWKWARD!

And, what's wrong with you, anyway? Don't you know what Jesus said about prayer? About praying for your enemies? And, aren't we The Episcopal Church? Aren't we all about being 'inclusive"? Aren't we part of the Jesus Movement?

Why are you so HATEFUL? Why are you letting your HATE for the PEOTUS get in the way of your CHRISTIANITY??

Haven't you been reading SCRIPTURE? Or, anything our PRESIDING BISHOP has SAID about THE JESUS MOVEMENT?


Don't say another word until you've read it. Then, READ IT AGAIN!!!

Honestly, the insanity of this election season seems to have broken more than a few brains.

We're also talking about whether or not the Washington National Cathedral ought to sponsor the Inaugural Interfaith Prayer Service. It's been held there several times and, in the tradition of The Episcopal Church, if it's happened more than once, it's a tradition.   

Forget the prophetic tradition. Forget, for example, that in 1973 the Washington National Cathedral held an alternative Inaugural Prayer Service in protest over the re-election of Richard M. Nixon and his complicity in prolonging our engagement in the Vietnam War. 

In those days, we walked among giants.

Besides, it seems the Washington National Cathedral is a bit cash strapped. Hired a Dean with a proven track record in fundraising. That was their priority. Which tells you a lot. And, he put a cash register at the entrance of the Cathedral. $10 for adults. $6 for children. You know. Just like they do at the cathedrals in England. Need to dash in for a quick prayer? Fine! Welcome! Just make your first stop over at the Table of the Moneychangers. Cash and credit cards welcome. And, don't forget to stop at our Gift Shop.

It's become clear, well, at least to me, that the particulars of the conversation are not important. What's clear is that in talking about how to pray and where to pray, we aren't talking about prayer.

We're talking politics. Still.

All the voices and various positions we've heard during the election season are still saying the same things, nuanced now as a conversation - heated and passionate as it is - about prayer.

The anxiety is palpable. On both sides.

This particular President Elect is one who likes to create chaos. Even his wife - in what can only be described as an understatement - said that, "He likes to shake things up, doesn't he?" He obfuscates. He dodges. He says he's going to do something and then doesn't. He refuses to give details. He creates chaos.

It reminds me of a scene from Game of Thrones. In a conversation between the ambitious, power hungry Littlefinger (no, not LittleHAND) and the eunuch monk Varys.

Varys cautions Littlefinger against abandoning or challenging the tradition of the hierarchy of power in the Realm, saying that it will lead to chaos, which is, he says, "a pit".

Littlefinger responds, "Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail and never get to try again. The fall breaks them. And some are given a chance to climb, they cling to the realm or the gods or love. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is."

You can watch that scene here:

Littlefinger sees the realm's hierarchy of power like that of water... the more calm, rigid, and stable it is the harder it is to elevate his position. Add a little chaos (re: heat) and opportunities for mobility increase. The more chaos/heat there is, the faster he can rise.

And that, my friends, is a great metaphor for the story of the life of the man who will become the 45th President. This is, in fact, why many people voted for him. About 77,000 people in three states which was enough to win the Electoral College. He got neither a majority of the popular vote nor a mandate from the people. See also: chaos.

And, of course, he lies. He's been documented to be a "liar, liar. pants on fire" kind of lying.  He's been awarded a four-Pinocchio nose kind of liar by watchdog fact-finder groups. 

He likes to call it "truthful exaggerations". Which he does do. Except, of course, when he just flat out lies.  He even lies when there's no reason to lie. He lies as easily as he breathes.

I see absolutely no indication that he will change his ways after January 20.

The crucial conversation - the conversation just beneath the surface of the conversation about prayer and The Episcopal Church's role in "the glory of their power" - swirls around questions of uncertainty.

What are we to make of this? What are we to do now? What are we to believe?

How are we to live in the swirling midst of chaos and uncertainty and mistrust?

What can I do to nourish my spirit? To keep hope alive?

What will spirituality look like in the Age of The Donald? 

As you might have guessed, I have some thoughts on that.

I lived through the 70s and 80s as a young adult so I'm old enough to remember two Presidents who were absolute scoundrels: Richard Millhous Nixon and Ronald Wilson Reagan.  

Nixon was known as "Tricky Dicky" and lied about the Vietnam War (and so many other things) that cost thousands of American men and women and innocent Vietnamese men, women and children their lives. He was, of course, impeached for the Watergate Scandal. (It was the 70s equivalent of the Russian hacking of the DNC.)

Reagan was famous for "trickle down economics" which was essentially robbing from the poor to give to the rich. He famously counted ketchup as a fruit AND vegetable for lunches in public schools. I will never forget "Uncle Ronnie's" trucks pulling up to poor neighborhoods handing out #13 cans of peanut butter and huge bricks of processed cheese to people as if in some warn-torn refugee camp. 

And, I personally continue to try to forgive him for the thousands of people who died of his government red tape, which was one of the major complications of death from AIDS. 

If my experience with these two men is any indication, I think we'll see a rise in the need for prayer and spirituality, community and localism in the next four years. 

For those of you who are leaders in your religious communities - ordained or laity - this means you, yourself, have got to cultivate hope in your own lives so that you may lead others to a place of hope. 

As Harvey Milk famously said, "Ya gotta give 'em hope." That's the best spiritual gift we can bring to people who belong to the various groups that will be targeted by the incoming administration: women, the disabled, immigrants, the Dreamers, Mexicans, Muslims, the elderly, the poor, those with pre-existing medical conditions and no health insurance, etc., and all those who love them.

So, how do we cultivate a Spirituality of Hope? I thought you'd never ask. (And you thought I'd never shut up and get to it.)

I have seven steps listed below. There are more but these seven are a good number which summarize the great density of information they represent.

1. Start right where you are. 

Take stock of your own spiritual, emotional and physical resources. Make an inventory of them, Yes, I mean, write them down. Then, look around. Walk around. What do you see? Who do you see? Who is suffering? Who is able? What are the barriers? What can be used as a tool? Take note of all of these so when you need them, you'll be able to find them. Because, you will need them. Eventually.

2. Take one step at a time.

When you start to pick up your head, open your eyes and look around, it can be overwhelming. Someone once asked Mother Theresa how she coped with all the overwhelming poverty and hunger and sickness in the world. Her answer? "One. One. One. One. One." You can't solve all the problems of the world. That's not your job. You need Jesus. You aren't Jesus. Or, you may need Buddha or Mohamed. You aren't Buddha or Mohamed. You are you. Pick one. One task. One attainable goal. Just for that day. Do that thing that one day. Rinse. Repeat. One day, one step. The second day, another step. As you move forward in the journey, even if you're not sure exactly where you are, you'll notice that your steps are just a tad lighter. That's because hope has begun to lift you.

3. Become a global localist

By this I certainly don't mean an exclusive "nationalist". And, I don't mean being an anti-globalist. I mean that old motto of the 70s: "Think globally, act locally." The best way to illustrate this is to tell you a modern parable.
Once, there was a village by a sparkling clean river where the villagers drank, bathed and played. One day, someone noticed some garbage in their river. By the next day, the river was overflowing with garbage. Together, the villagers worked all morning and cleaned out all the garbage but by the next morning, there was more garbage. This went on for a few weeks. People were getting desperate. Some wondered if God was testing them. Others thought God was judging and condemning them. One day, one woman walked up stream. There, she saw a new village of people. She introduced herself and made friends. While she was there, she noticed that people were stacking their garbage near the river's edge. When she asked about it, one of the villagers told her that the river was a marvelous thing. Not only did it provide water for drinking, bathing and playing, it carried their trash away in the middle of the night while they all slept. The woman then asked them to come with her to her village where the people, in horror, saw what their village was doing. Together they worked out a solution so that both villages could continue to enjoy clean water in their lives.
Become a blatant global localist. Think globally, act locally. Got it? Good.

4. Become a disciple: Cultivate a spiritual discipline

The root of the word disciple is discipline. If we are going to make it through the chaos of the next four years, we are going to need discipline. We are going to need to cultivate a spiritual discipline. The soul, I've discovered, while it is invisible it is pretty muscular. It needs exercise. "What you don't use, you lose," applies to the soul, as well. 

Depending on your personal type, your spiritual practice may be to take yourself out to the hills and woods, or the rivers and streams or ocean - alone or with another person or small group of friends.  Or you may practice "mindfulness meditation" and walk the city/town street at the same or different times of the day where you are quite intentional about either quietly paying attention or meeting and greeting the people you pass by. 

You may also find a time in the day that meets your needs and set it aside to read and study and reflect on scripture - feeding on and grounding yourself in The Word. Or, you may prefer to read articles or books by (or about) spiritual community activists like Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, William Stringfellow, Mother Theresa, Steven Biko, Desmond Tutu, Daniel or Phillip Berrigan, Dorothy Sayers, Kenneth Leach, Nelson Mandela, Suzanne Hiatt - to name just a few.  Or, you may want to read poetry - or listen to poetry slams on YouTube - and let those powerful images and metaphors and language lift you and inspire you and inform you. Or, do Yoga. Or sit ZaZen and meditate.

Whatever you decide to do, whatever fits your particular needs, styles, limitations or abilities, do it. Every day. As Jesuit activist Phillip Berrigan (and many others) used to say, "Don't just do something. Stand there." Take a stand. Be a disciple. Do it with intention and discipline.

5. Build relationships and communities.
The great Sufi mystic Rumi writes, “There is a secret medicine given only to those who hurt so hard, they cannot hope.” It is this: “Look as long as you can at the friend that you love.” We need companions for the journey of hope. Family. Children. Grandchildren. Neighbors. Friends. Lovers. That's where you will find hope. If you can not find hope alone, relationships and community will work together to find hope. I don't know how that works, I only know that it does.  “Look as long as you can at the friend that you love."   

6. A life of contemplative non-violent prayer is an act of sacred resistance. 

I know what you're thinking. I thought it once, too. Contemplative prayer is pretty middle class. It assumes something that is a luxury for more than half the world: time and space and the ownership of enough of both to close your eyes and escape the crushing realities of the day. Some people think of it as a narcotic or sedative - a harmless alternative to knocking back a couple of beers or shots at the beginning of a daunting morning or end of a difficult day.

If that's what you think - if that's why you engage in Contemplative Prayer - I've got news for you. It's not. Thomas Merton talked about and practiced 'contemplative nonviolence' by which he meant recognizing and studying our inner violence, but not beating ourselves up for it. In prayer, we learn to have compassion toward ourselves and move ahead with nonviolent alternatives so we can have compassion for everyone.

Compassion - com passion, passion with - begins with compassion for ourselves. 

Compassion begins with non-violence to ourselves so we can be non-violent to others.

Fr. Daniel Berrigan, a Jesuit priest, anti-war activist and poet was deeply influenced by Merton.
Berrigan said that if we are serious about contemplative prayer, meditation and worship, sooner or later we have to accept the Gandhian/Kingian framework of nonviolence. 

As people of prayer, we realize and embrace the truth of reality that we are all one human family, one with all creatures, all creation and the Creator, and that our shared unity precludes violence and pushes us toward universal, compassionate, nonviolent love, the love shown by the nonviolent Jesus - as well as other great spiritual leaders like Buddha and Mohamed. Our prayer life imposes boundaries: We cannot be violent to ourselves or others ever again. We must be compassionate to ourselves and others. And it sends us forth on a public mission of disarmament and sacred resistance to the "principals and powers" of the day.

7. Remember: Chaos is not a pit. Chaos is a ladder.

When you do these things: Start where you are, take one step at a time, become a blatant global localist, become a disciple, build relationships and communities, and cultivate a life of contemplative, compassionate, non-violent  prayer, you will throw your life and the dominant social paradigm into chaos. You will feel a slight dislocation. 

That happens when we determine to change ourselves and the world. 

Chaos is what this next POTUS will try to cultivate. He's already doing it. He will use chaos as a tool to keep him in power. Only he has the answers. Only he can lead us to "Make America Great Again." Which, for him, means white nationalism, racism, tribalism and misogyny. It means creating barriers and building walls and personal pockets of wealth at the expense of the poorest and most vulnerable among us. 

In the Spirituality of hope in the Age of The Donald, there is radical, sacred resistance and a subversion of the dominant paradigm. Nationalism becomes localism. Thinking globally leads to more effective local action. The luxury of contemplative prayer becomes a tool of necessity for nonviolent activism. The anxiety of chaos is harnessed to become the energy of transformation and the source of new life.

Chaos is not a pit. Chaos is a ladder. It's what the Spirit brooded over in order to bring forth a new creation.  It is a tool to be used to create a new order to bring about peace. Peace in our hearts. Peace in our lives. Peace in our families. Peace in our places of worship. Peace in our neighborhoods. Peace in the world. 

To quote a group of South African ecumenical theologians who wrote the 1985 Kairos Document in the anti-apartheid struggle: 
"The peace that God wants is based upon truth, repentance, justice and love. The peace that the world offers us is a unity that compromises the truth, covers over injustice and oppression and is totally motivated by selfishness. At this stage, like Jesus, we must expose this false peace, confront our oppressors and sow dissension. As Christians we must say with Jesus: “Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth. No, I tell you, but rather dissension” (Lk 12:51). There can be no real peace without justice and repentance. (3.1)"
So, there it is. That's my best shot. 

The bad news is that I know in the very marrow of my bones that we're headed into certain political chaos and disaster. A whole lot of people are going to be hurt.

The good news is that I think, from this time of chaos, we're being called into a time of spiritual renaissance and renewal. 

I believe this is the absolute best time to be alive and be a spiritual being. And, I believe, we are all inherently spiritual beings.

So, quit squabbling about prayer and how it should be done and put your own prayer into action.  

Pull up your socks, put on your boots, wipe your nose, dry your eyes, and roll up your sleeves. We've got a lot of work to do. 

Join the #Sacred Resistance.

Remember: Chaos is not a pit. It's a ladder.  Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is.


Mary-Cauliflower said...

Thank you. I came here looking for some sense and I found it.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, it's a bit longer than I wanted but I wanted to set the proper context for my sense of the Spirituality of Hope.

Texas said...

Just for clarification, the current Dean at the National Cathedral is not the one who began the practice of charging for admission to the cathedral on Mondays-Fridays (along with placing the cash registers and entrance lines). That was done under the leadership of the previous Dean.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Jason, for that point of clarification. It's odious and offensive, none the less. And, the present Dean, I note, didn't change the practice.

BILLJ said...

I believe Jesus would overturn the cash registers and act to abandon admissions lines.

John Edmonds said...

This is the most helpful thing I've read in days -- weeks! THANK YOU!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks for sticking with it John. It's a long essay. I probably should have broken it into two segments. I'm glad you found it useful.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

BillJ - I believe you are right.