Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What Evil Lurks in the Hearts of Men? The Shadow Knows.

It seemed like a reasonable question. I fired off the email to the Worship Committee chairperson, asking if there were a rationale for the shift in the order of worship that placed the celebration of the sacrament of communion prior to the reading of the scriptures and the sermon instead of following - - a departure from 2000 years of liturgical tradition. I felt a sense of disruption in the liturgical movement from “Word” to “Table”, the comfort of tradition, the rhythm of centuries of practice. I was uncomfortable and I didn’t like it. So - -I asked my question.

The responses came back, neither measured nor explanatory, but full of defense and pain. I had to examine my original question again. It had seemed reasonable enough, but something was awry. I had unwittingly activated great discomfort and sorrow. I had opened old wounds.

So –another inward quest began and I began to see how unskilled my question was. Underneath it was the muck of a lot of my own dissatisfaction with a variety of issues related to our little church – and all that hidden stuff found its way into the tone of my question - - and a certain violence to the soul of another was the result.

It took awhile for me to connect all the dots and arrive at the awareness that I had relaxed my vigilance and compassion toward my inner “terrorist”, that shadowy part that I prefer to keep away from the light of day. In the process, I allowed it to hold sway and I ended up hurting another person.

This was a very instructive episode for me. It was all too easy to give expression to the negative impulse within - - to act out of the needs of ego rather than out of the desire to offer understanding and compassion. Not a pleasant awareness for one who aspires to live a life that honors the way of nonviolence.

So – another process had to be set in motion. All of this happened during the Days of Awe –the ten days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur – days filled with opportunity to do tshuva, to return to a higher way, a higher truth. So, after much examining of motivations, I made my apologies and asked for forgiveness from the parties involved. Relief, restored relationships, a deepened understanding of the fragility of other human beings all became the fruit of an uncomfortable lesson.

As the nightly news and the headlines are filled with Khadafy’s death, with the various “occupations” happening around the country, with disastrous earthquakes, with conflict about the economy, with questions about the troop draw-downs and the ending of wars, I am ever more mindful of the fragility AND the resilience of the human spirit.

The discovery embedded in the High Holy Days is that forgiveness works. The strenuous part of the process seems to be finding the way into the shadowy places within where pain and dissatisfaction and rage and frustration and fear reside. With compassion for the self that endures in the shadows, light is brought into the pain. Until I can do that, I run the risk of the shadowy places “calling the shots”, as it were.

So I sit pondering questions about our collective ability to examine the shadowy places of our collective unconscious processes –our collective ability to do tshuva. It so often seems as though our collective “inner terrorist” is in charge and we choose not to recognize it. It does its unexamined work in the halls of congress, in the canyons of Wall Street, and in the hidden depths of the “situation room.” I look to the worldwide community that embraces and practices nonviolence to shed its light of compassion into the shadows, to bring into broad daylight the fear and anger and self-righteousness that so often determine the behavior that shapes world events. It is in this often unseen community that I find the fortitude to continue the work of shaping my own life into an expression of compassion. Thanks for being there.

Vicky Hanjian

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