Updated: Apr 7, 2022
Inspired by the insights of Rector Buddy Stallings, St. Bartholomew’s Church, New York
Meditation on the challenges facing Sri Lanka - April 2022
Rector Stallings told us,
“When I was a little boy, all my friends wanted to be firemen. I wanted to be a teacher. Nerdy, even then. But when I grew up and had a son of my own, he wanted to be a fireman. As it turns out, he is not one; but if he had been, I would have been proud, also scared but very, very proud.”
It is worth reminding ourselves what first responders like these, do every day, men and women who run into burning buildings to save people, and property. It is hard for us non-firefighters to truly understand. Or perhaps we all have to grow into that “firefighter” role in our own circles of influence.
They go largely undefended. Some first responders, also wonderful and brave, have guns that help protect them as they make their approach to unsafe areas; not so with firefighters, they go with their bodies, running into the darkness, not knowing what they will find but willing to give all that they have and all that they are.
“Giving all that we have and all that we are”
is surely the essence of spirituality. You find something you care about enough to give yourself “away” for.
Among so many other meanings, that also must surely mean those of us who do so, go a little crazy by the world’s standards; but that very world is so much better, richer and safer because of everyone who does this. This personifies true commitment.
In Lanka, stands are being taken, public ones and private ones. And it is time the people decide, as a living community, what they really care about, and what “love of country” really amounts to, and if they wish to safeguard that country and its culture and pass it on to enlarge the prospects of those that follow.
In the aftermath of shabby leadership and truly convulsive travails (tsunamis and bombings and pandemics and economic mismanagement on an epic scale) there is always a lot of talk about grieving our losses and moving on. Sometimes the conversation is not as sensitive as it should be. So often the advice to move on is given by people who don’t have as much to move on from. They were largely, blessedly unscathed, suffering was a cocktail party tale of woe, not a visceral agony.
Businesses have been destroyed, non-COVID health needs abandoned, education undermined, people have had ways of life decimated, watching in shock as entire industries like farming have been shattered on the reefs of policy ignorance. And now just fuel, lights, food you can afford, medicine, seem like a “gift” for so many.
There comes a point when these are rightly acknowledged as “human rights.” And our commitment to them must surmount our terror at overhyped pathogens, or even seemingly justified anger at festering ethnic grievances -- we must be united by the demands of our common humanity, the core needs of our neighbors, first and foremost. On that we can build.
But ultimately, there is more than a little merit to the idea of moving on from what has been grievously lost. I pray that we all—all of us—but particularly those who lost so much will indeed in time be able to move on, as many are each day, as best they can.
In every way possible our dedication has to be to have good and full lives of contribution, to feel joy without guilt for having survived when others haven’t, to laugh and cry, to sing and dance, grabbing and cherishing every second of this life if for no other reason but to honor everything and everyone still here as well as to celebrate the value of everything and everyone lost.
Periodically we must stop, and we must remember; in every place we gather to advance our purposes, this country and culture contains the joy and sadness of so many who have gone before. We cannot fall into a gaping hole of ignorance, poignant in its pointlessness, we must fill the vacuum with a real reverence for who we are, where we come from, and all that we aspire to be and become. And we must make that available to our children, that torch has to be passed on, burning as brightly as we can manage.
Part of the public discourse right now globally addresses the notion of sacred ground, about what sacred ground is and what it isn’t. I’m not so sure about all of that. But I do know this; in fact, I know it emphatically: the pierced place in your heart where you hold the loss of that which you have loved and lost is deeply and eternally sacred ground, a holy place, if deeply and fully experienced, so co-mingled with spirit and love that it both breaks your heart anew and heals as only the love of God can.
That is if we welcome it up, don’t flee from it or suppress it, but rather spend time with it, embracing it even, past the pain.
These losses also include people of course, but also hopes, dreams, aspirations, even paradigms we clung to that now lie there outmoded, needing to be replaced, to prepare the ground for something larger.
Moving on does not change the sacredness of the remembering, the sacredness of that private place so near to us it cut us to the quick; it simply gives it room for fresh life—this life and the one waiting to be born— room for it to breathe and flourish, and we along with it.
Rector, now Reverend, Buddy Stallings, in making some of these points quotes Jesus,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
If being honest, I can say I fully even now, do not yet know how to fully do that. Our radiant Rector had the humility to remind us, “Honestly, I don’t have a clue about truly living into those lofty words. But I do think that I know why Jesus said them, why he would have said something so outrageous as
'love your enemies'.”
“He told us that, I think, because he knew, probably knew in his own heart, how easy it is to hate enemies, the easiest thing in the world.
“But more importantly he knew how destructive it is to us, to our souls when we do, when we give ourselves and our lives over to hate for anyone or anything, including hate for our enemies. It chews us up from the inside out, keeping us victims and locking us in tragedies that rob us and others of life. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,”
“so that you may be free to be the children of God you are created to be.”
Ultimately, unless we abandon the field, unless we lapse into apathy, darkness will not win; it never does. Death in all its power and presence and stench does not win; for even on the road to Calvary with the crushing enigma of the Cross, there is the promise of Easter.
And there is a way to understand that more tangibly.
If we surrender (letting go of our ego attachments, our vain need for control, our slavish adoration of approval, our hopeless desire for unattainable “safety”), if we follow the mystics and saints, life shows us again and again the way, the way to life: hate keeps us in the darkness, but love—even if imperfect, incomplete, a work in progress— but love nonetheless—is the way to resurrection.
Hate can never free us from the chains of failure, of dying by clinging to our past failed selves; only love can liberate us. Only saying “yes” to the invitation of possibility can do that.
We don’t have to understand how to do that; we don’t even have to always believe that it is possible. As Buddy said so unforgettably,
“What we just have to do is the next right thing, doing the best we can, loving those around us and praying that our love will get bigger and bigger.”
For we find, even when love is weak, wounded and tentative as our love often is -- oh and if we can just rejoice in that, rather than “judging” it -- then, the desire to love, to serve, to add value, in fact, aligns us with our essential, spiritual selves and aligns us with a larger life. Blaise Pascal once said,
“Anyone who truly seeks God, has already found Him.”
And each act of love we can muster moves us—and not just us but the world—closer to the heart of Beingness, towards the essence of the glory that animates all faiths. That is the biggest hope we can hope. And the grandest thing we can allow. Nothing else need ever be sought. This is everything.