Lunch was over. Bread was baking in the oven. I was ready to sit down to relax for an hour. The phone rang. A member of one of the small congregations on the island calling. The church music committee had met the day before and the meeting ended in a blow-up. Would I be willing to meet with the church leadership to see how to bring things back to a “higher level” of relating?
My mind immediately went to the first paragraph in the foreword of a book I just bought titled THE SACRED ART OF LOVINGKINDNESS: Preparing to Practice by one of my favorite teachers, Rabbi Rami Shapiro. The foreword by Marcia Ford begins this way: “Lovingkindness is one of those topics I love to read about. It’s such a lofty quality. I’ll finish reading a book about it, and I’ll sigh, wishing I could be like some celebrated Buddhist leader whose very name is synonymous with lovingkindness. Who wouldn’t want that? The problem is, I haven’t put much of what I’ve read into practice. Oh, I’ve exercised my version of lovingkindness for a day or two at a stretch, but soon enough, I revert to my baser nature and wish that all manner of evil would befall the unbelievably rude guy who cut in front of me at the post office.
I recently realized that I clearly needed to take action if I was ever going to integrate this noble quality into my very ordinary life. So I did what I usually do when action is required: I read yet another book.”
I had to laugh. Marcia Ford’s experience so parallels my own that I could have written that paragraph myself.
The same small congregation with the conflagrating music committee has been working at a commitment to live in right relations with one another. It was the featured article in their last newsletter. My heart went out to them. How difficult it is to live out the intention to be in right relations. I am to preach in this congregation on Sunday. I had taken the newsletter article for my preaching theme.
Little did I know…
How do I help anyone else when I am still, after all these years, so inept at the practice of lovingkindness? How do I dare to say a word when I do not consistently practice what I preach? I find myself in a state of chagrin with Aldous Huxley who quipped “ It’s a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one’s life and find that one has no more to offer [by way of advice] than this: Try to be a little kinder.”
So - - I read another book…and another…and another. There is a discipline of cultivation that feeds the intention to live a life of lovingkindness. While I believe that we all have the capacity for it, it doesn’t come automatically. Like a precious seed, it needs to be cultivated. I need to keep returning again and again to the various wells of spiritual tradition to nurture the easily parched beginnings into stable growth. The wells of Christian and Jewish and Buddhist and Islamic tradition, the traditions of indigenous peoples, all offer the sweet clear water of guidance for living in lovingkindness. At the deepest bottom of each well is the universally acclaimed truth that we are all one - - members of one another - - created in the same image and likeness - - drawing our humanity from the same source of all being whether we believe that source to be a divine creator or we believe we have our origins in the stars.
Sufi master and poet, Hafiz, wrote:
God has a root in each act and creature
that He draws His mysterious
Divine life from.
The Beloved with his own hands is tending,
Raising like a precious child,
A little support for my intention to live in lovingkindness. It may only serve today. But the wells are there and I can return and drink and live another day, and another and another. Maybe that is the best I can do – practice lovingkindness, one day at a time.