Thursday, January 1, 2009

hope in the new year

When your soul is in peace,
then you are in peace,
and your soul is in God.
In cold or heat,
in pleasure or pain,
you are ever in God.
With your soul in peace and all fear gone,
strong in your vows,
rest with your mind in harmony,
your soul on me.
(Bhagavad Gita)

We had our annual New Year’s Eve Meditation Vigil for Peace last night, fifth year running, in Holy Cross Hall. It was probably the most subdued and smallest crowd we have ever had, and also the coldest night. But it was good. There was Dror Sinai, the owner of the marvelous music store called rhythm fusion, who opened up representing the Jewish tradition, playing percussion and singing, leading folks in song, one of them being in Hebrew, Arabic and English. Then the Santa Cruz Heart Sangha, in the Vietnamese Zen tradition of Thich Nhat Han led a meditaion. Our friends from Chaitanya Saraswat Math, devotes of Krishna, treated us to their usual teaching and chanting of their maha-mantra: “Hare Krishna-Hare Krishna-Krishna Krishna–Hare Hare…” Then Munir a Sunni Muslim and a Sufi teacher chanted from the Quran and told stories, two folks from the Society of Friends (Quakers) led us in quiet, Ann Miller and friends from the Bahai community, Shannon Frediani did her usual beautiful aleatoric singing, and I led the last half hour with my usual thing. Then we had Mass at midnight.

I must admit, I had a hard time this year coming up with anything positive to say. I am feeling a little beat up by the world situation the situation in Palestine, both Hamas’ provocation of Israel and the seemingly disproportionate reaction of Israel. I am watching amazed and little confused about the ongoing economic crisis and the seemingly insurmountable task for putting it all back together. I am feeling saddened by many of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters who talk to me about feeling abandoned both by the state and the church this year between Proposition 8 and the Holy Father’s recent unfortunate comments. (BY the way, though I was at pains to say in my remarks nothing concerning whether or not I agreed with either the Pope or Prop 8––I would never contradict the teaching of the church publicly, especially from the pulpit––someone coming forward for communion at Mass instead of saying “Amen” said, “Yes, on Prop 8.” Very hateful for a celebration of peace.) And I’m feeling at times a little frightened about the situation of the environment, the increase of global warming and its dire consequences.

And then I remembered the chill I got up my spine as I listened to Mr. Obama deliver his acceptance speech in Chicago in Grant Park surrounded by the rainbow of hope-filled incredulous jubilant faces. He said,
If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.
Now this is not about whether or not you think Barack Obama is the right man for the presidency or if you support his politics. But to think that only a little over 40 years ago that we still even needed legislation to prohibit discrimination in public facilities, in government, and in employment, that we were still reeling under the draconian weight of Jim Crow laws and segregation of the races in schools, housing, or hiring; that a mere 40 years since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that outlawed racial segregation in schools, public places, and employment for both African Americans and women, a woman was a viable contender for the highest office in the land and an African American man actually would be elected––even Mrs. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice had to agree that this was a significant moment in the history of our country, perhaps even in the history of the world. We can do it, we can make progress.

So I’m not without hope. Things are getting worse and better at the same time, it’s just that the worse is more apparent because it make so much noise.

I think though, as I’ve said before, that often we hope the next guy will just come in and fix things for us so that we can get back to business as usual. Well, I hope that this new administration doesn’t do that, and we need to keep reminding our new president of that as well before political expediency and pragmatism take over. I hope we do not go back to business as usual. It’s time for a new paradigm. I always like to read the Holy Father’s New year’s Day message and draw from it. In spite of the fact of his many unpopular pronouncements (and even more so his baffling lack of understanding of how popular media reduces complex philosophical arguments to sound-bytes), and often simply because I feel as if I need to be in dialogue with my own tradition––in spite of all that I still think he has an acute and privileged diagnosis of the global situation. This year the Holy Father especially called attention to the importance of fighting poverty to build peace, and to the relationship between disarmament and development. He called attention as well to the current food crisis, which is characterized not so much by a shortage of food, as by difficulty in gaining access to it––that is, unjust distribution, in other words, by a lack of political and economic structures capable of addressing needs and emergencies. He called for an attentive consideration of the complex phenomenon of globalization and global solidarity between rich and poor countries, as well as within individual countries, including and especially affluent ones. He called for “common code of ethics”: an ethical approach to economics on the part of those active in the international market, an ethical approach to politics on the part of those in public office, and an ethical approach to participation capable of harnessing the contributions of civil society at local and international levels. I think I can safely say that he too is calling for a new paradigm.

So I’m not without hope. But that new paradigm cannot come about without a new mind––“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your minds!” And that’s why we’re here tonight and why we gathered all evening to pray and meditate together. What is called for, what we are to be about, we spiritual warriors, along with the social and global transformation, is a transformation of human consciousness, my consciousness, your consciousness, our collective consciousness, the renewal of our minds. Bede Griffiths wrote before he died: “... the whole human race has now come to the moment when everything is at stake, when a vast shift of consciousness will have to take place on a massive scale in all societies and religions in order for the world to survive.” And Eckhart Tolle adds that this “is no longer a luxury, so to speak, available only to a few isolated individuals, but a necessity if humankind is not to destroy itself. At the present time, the dysfunction of the old consciousness [––witness the conflicts in Palestine and Africa––] and the arising of the new are both accelerating. Paradoxically, things are getting worse and better at the same time...” I feel like we’re in a race, there is an urgency. But I’m not without hope: I’ve seen the triumph of the human spirit, I’ve seen transformation of souls, and I’ve seen heroic self-donation.

So, as this new year begins, let us dedicate ourselves to fasting and penance, not only to grieve over and make reparation for our corporate sins but also so that our lives would be filled with a spirit of control of our senses so as not to be controlled by them; by a spirit of living simply so that we may be in solidarity with the poor of the world, so that we don't take more than our share of the goods of the planet, to live simply so that others may simply live. Let us re-dedicate ourselves to the corporal works of mercy, to charity, to opening our hearts to give from what we have received, so that our light may shine, so that Christ’s light may shine from out of our own hearts. And beyond that, Eckhart Tolle says, “It is inner stillness that will save and transform the world.” As the Bhagavad Gita says, “When your soul is in peace then you are in peace.” I would add, when your soul is in peace then you are peace. So above all let us dedicate ourselves to prayer and meditation, to silence, to prayerful living, so that the ears of our heart may always hear the sound of the Spirit's own song singing itself in us in sighs too deep for words, so that we may be bearers of Christ's peace to all we meet and be constantly fed by that inner stream of the Holy Spirit in all that we say and do.