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Posts Tagged ‘moral leadership’

Great ( Holy) Wednesday, March 31, 2010

This day is also called “Spy Wednesday,” the day designated by the Western Church, as the one on which we recall the first betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot in his collusion with the Sanhedrin, while Jesus was himself at Bethany where he was anointed by Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus. The spikenard oil she used was expensive, and so a controversy broke out among the apostles over what seemed to them an extravagance, and frivolous behavior on Mary’s part, especially given the fact that the oil would have fetched a good price at market and the proceeds could have been better applied to feeding the poor.

The power of this day is in the parallel themes of betrayal/ second-guessing, and a costly, unhesitating generosity.

On the theme of betrayal, we can all painfully recall moments when those close to us have acted without  forethought in ways that hurt us. Maybe they revealed a confidence, or chose to openly criticize us in front of others, perhaps making use of knowledge that they could only have had because they were so close. Much in the news these days, and far more serious, are the stories of flagrant infidelities; promises broken that wound whole families and tarnish reputations.

Very often, the one committing the act of betrayal is well-intentioned if misguided. In the case of Judas, he was the dupe of the Sanhedrin. He envisioned a rapprochement between Jesus and the Sanhedrin. His real sin was in being so blinded by his own egoistic vision of how things should evolve ( and his inflated sense of himself as more politically astute) that he failed to accurately read the motivations of shadowy and secret alliances, and the deeper vision of the one he truly had hoped to serve.

When we let people draw very close, they become the most dangerous people in our lives. They have intimate details of our habits and usual whereabouts and our soft spots and vulnerabilities. The old cliché “you hurt the ones you love” is all too true. We are given a treasure to hold when people offer themselves to us in deeply personal ways. Our faithful stewardship of that gift is a spiritual imperative. In acting, we must always ask: In whose interests am I acting? To what degree is it mostly about my needs, agendas, priorities and beliefs, and not theirs?

There are certainly betrayers among us, and those who one day can become so. One only need look at the depth of enmity expressed between once trusting but now estranged partners in a marital breakup to see the tragic miscarriages of love. More important on this day, however, is the “spy” (or betrayer) within. It is a day on which to think back to the moments when our own better judgment was absent, and when we acted so foolishly as to cause someone dear to us to suffer through our words, deeds, or sins of omission.

There are also those times when we feign friendship in cultivating a politically valuable relationship. In those moments, we deceive and are disingenuine,  using the other person for our own ends. (We have all been there either dramatically or in more subtle and nuanced ways). The Gospel calls us to a very high standard of conduct. It demands so much more from us by way of fidelity and follow-through on our commitments and vows. It also demands that we move swiftly to forgive those who wrong us through a thoughtless word or deed for there, by the grace of G-d, go we.

We live in a time when vows seem anachronistic. This is the age, after all, of the pre-nuptial agreement, and the so-called “trial periods” of living together. We suffer cultural paranoia and so risk losing the joy attached to firm and unshakeable vows in which our fidelity, though surely to be tested, is proven resilient and robust. In achieving such relationships, we move, as Teilhard de Chardin captured in his writing, toward the “Pleroma,”  or the Fullness of the Christic vision.

What are the vows that I have taken? Today is a good day to renew them and consider the history of my faithfulness to them and where, when, and why I fell short.

On the matter of the anointing with precious oil by Mary at Bethany, I can certainly appreciate the frugality expressed in the Apostles’ objections. The act seemed wasteful and careless. Of course, this is the epitome of homo economicus, a strong feature of the current zeitgeist. But there are other considerations. In Mary’s gracious act of expending the precious oil, she, in one movement, foreshadows the Chosen One, the death on the Cross, and the later anointing of Jesus’ crucified body  with the precious oils as mandated by Jewish custom of those times. Her intent, in the moment, spontaneously and without calculation, was to signify, viscerally and sensually, the deep personal meaning of her vow to Jesus, her devotion, and Christ’s unshakeable vow to the World; to be its Light!

My daughter has her best friend joining her in our home this week for a few days. My wife and I are delighted to see her again and extend the warmth of our home to her. We have worked pretty hard over the last few weeks to make things ready. We wanted her to feel an important part of the family. We have (and would always) go the extra step to make the time and the space special, and invest the resources to do so.

Now, one can argue that the “budget” may not have a line item set aside for such an occasion, especially because they are usually not planned well in advance. In our case, we accelerated needed work on the room that would be offered to our friend and guest. We redecorated it (certainly with the longer term future in mind) but with principal focus on making her time with us very special and memorable.

There are times when we spend more than others might, who,  looking “in” at these times of constrained finances, might challenge the wisdom of  unflinching and unreserved hospitality. They might (and have) argued that doing less is more prudent, and that the extras are nice-to-have, but maybe ill-timed. These are well-meaning comments and articulate a reality I recognize, particularly since the economic crash of late 2008. They are offered from an objective and essentially economic vantage point.

Nevertheless, having acknowledged that, our choices are motivated not by objective criteria alone,  but more substantially, by a subjective “enthusmia;” our intent to create a place of relaxation and restoration, a sanctuary of warmth and friendship. In doing so, we extend our love for our daughter to all those that she calls “friend.” This is as it should be. This is spiritual practice ( and very much consonant with the spirit of Franciscan Spirituality).

While one can still be “economical,” life is too short to miss the small chances to add light and joy when given the opportunity to do so. Hospitality, as I wrote in an earlier post, is an advanced form of spiritual practice, and it warrants pulling out our finest linens, dishes, foods, and, yes, the precious oils by which to “anoint” in the names of Love and caring.

The Spirit of Holy Wednesday asks us to retake our vows, redouble our efforts to fulfill them, and recalibrate the sincerity of our loving so that it  transcends the vagaries of politics, economics, and all the many other temporal agendas.

Mark 14:10-12 (King James Version)

10And Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went unto the chief priests, to betray him unto them.

11And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money. And he sought how he might conveniently betray him.

12And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover, his disciples said unto him, Where wilt thou that we go and prepare that thou mayest eat the passover?

The Hymn of Kassiani

[written by Kassiani the Nun in the 9th century]:

O Lord, the woman who had fallen into many sins, sensing Your Divinity, takes upon herself the duty of a myrrh-bearer. With lamentations she brings you myrrh in anticipation of your entombment. “Woe to me!” she cries, “for me night has become a frenzy of licentiousness, a dark and moonless love of sin. Receive the fountain of my tears, O You who gathers into clouds the waters of the sea. Incline unto me, unto the sighings of my heart, O You who bowed the heavens by your ineffable condescension. I will wash your immaculate feet with kisses and dry them again with the tresses of my hair; those very feet at whose sound Eve hid herself from in fear when she heard You walking in Paradise in the twilight of the day. As for the multitude of my sins and the depths of Your judgments, who can search them out, O Savior of souls, my Savior? Do not disdain me Your handmaiden, O You who are boundless in mercy.

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Great ( Holy) Monday, March  29, 2010

Here in the Northeast, this day has been one of incessant rain and cold: a thoroughly raw and inhospitable day. While the first buds of Springtime have appeared and the forsythia are in partial bloom, it feels as if Springtime has been put on hold,  in stasis for a time. A sheet of dark clouds fills the sky.

I also discovered today that one of the large evergreen trees in our yard fell unnoticed into an adjacent one in a storm of several weeks ago. It is being supported by the other tree but can, with another windstorm, fall and destroy the fence and a shed that it now is just grazing. Other smaller evergreens also fell to earlier storms and the debris is abundant. The task of Spring cleaning will be time-consuming this year.

Inspecting the property for damage and assessing what needs priority attention was well-timed to today’s celebration of Holy Monday.

This is the day on which we recall both the life of Joseph, one whose loving heart made possible the care and nurture of a soter, and also the fruitless fig tree cursed by Jesus: a symbol of Pharisaic and official religious who are full of words but bear no fruit. This day is a time for meditation on who we are, striped of all the public and quasi-public masks. It is a day to contemplate authenticity and what it means to bring ourselves daily to the work of being found fruitful when the Bridegroom comes as Joseph surely was. We are invited by the Spirit to live joyfully and productively in the service of true compassion in the world.

We prepare today, at the opening of Holy Week, with reflection on where we are inauthentic, not truly ourselves, dishonest, uncaring and narcissistic. We are invited to inspect our inner “yard” to identify the priority debris that needs Spring cleaning.

So, the weather today is perfectly well-suited to its mystical import as I meditate upon my own shadow:

  • What fruit have I produced that radiates the Light of Christ?
  • What thoughts nourished such fruit, and what thoughts rob them of needed nutrients?
  • In examining my behavior within the last 24 hours,was I a vigilant steward of the essential teachings?
  • What distracted my vigilance?
  • How will my reflections today shape Holy Tuesday? How do I envision living tomorrow?

Troparion of the Bridegroom

Behold! The bridegroom approaches in the middle of the night,
And blessed is that servant whom He shall find watching;
But unworthy he whom He shall find careless.
Beware, therefore, O my soul.
Be not overcome with sleep,
lest thou be given over to death and shut outside the kingdom.
But arise and cry:
Holy, holy, holy art Thou, O God!
Through the Theotokos have mercy on us!

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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When I usually think about the matter of our advancement and progress as a species, I, as I suppose many, begin to enumerate technological accomplishments, innovations, and breakthroughs in our understanding of the universe. All that is certainly relevant. But, a simpler, more straightforward, and not sufficiently well appreciated metric is the condition of our public toilets.

Civilization is really less about knowledge and more about compassion, fellow-feeling, watching out for one another, empathy, and caring.  Without these qualities, our advances are cold, and can too easily convert to a merely more sophisticated manifestation of barbarism.

So, how far really, examining the state of public bathrooms, have we truly come?

I never cease to be amazed by the deplorable state of American public toilets. I will spare my reader any of the imagery that I am sure s/he can conjure at the mere thought of American restrooms. If we look at it as a reflection of how advanced we are as a culture, the experiences all Americans and visitors to our shores have had paint a depressing and demoralizing portrait indeed.

I am constantly shocked at what I discover in public facilities. How can people, who no doubt are, for the most part, otherwise fine and upstanding citizens when in the public eye, behave so thoughtlessly when in these private moments in public facilities. To leave the toilets in the way they do suggests a total absence of civilized attitudes and mores. There is a passive aggressive character to what one sees in these places. One’s heart goes out to those who have to put things right who are in the employ of the restaurants and stores.

By contrast, my diverse British, European and Asian experiences suggest far more mindfulness and care in leaving a clean facility the way it was found. There is a cultural maturity that American society appears to have not yet achieved. With the state of public toilets as a measure, we in the U.S. are relatively uncivilized. The behavior is at best adolescent and at worst the product of people who lack even the most rudimentary hygiene and social graces of a toddler.

It seems to me that one cannot talk about spiritual progress unless the words are first made credible by virtue of lifestyle and action. For all the rhetoric about social progress, this is one example of the distasteful truth that our illusory march of civilization is a quite thin veneer; a pretense, a front for violent, thoughtless disregard for others. I imagine that these people, who anonymously deface and defile our public bathrooms, act, for the most part, with what must be a feigned cordiality and at least a modicum of  intelligence in the open square when their behavior is anything but anonymous.

The measure of spirituality is what we do when alone and when others cannot see what it is we are doing. By that reasoning, there is a much distance that we need to travel before we’ve earned the right to be known as civilized society. As a personal practice, I work to be attentive to what I pass on to others from the standpoints of both the quality of my work, and the simpler gestures of care and concern.

Mother Theresa of Calcutta summed it up admirably:

In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.

My own personal campaign involves such small things as:

  • drying off the sink after use with paper towel
  • informing the management if a toilet is clogged or a faucet or urinal is running constantly
  • alerting the management if the waste baskets are full to overflowing vs throwing ( as I see done so often) on the floor in the general vicinity of the wastebasket
  • ensuring that the person who follows me will be glad that I preceded him.

I hear a lot of talk about civility ( and the lack thereof) and I often make comment about it. The talk is fine as long as we are spending our energy to do what’s right on behalf of the next person. Anything less is hypocrisy and sophistry.

It is not the magnitude of our actions but the amount of love that is put into them that matters.

Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.

Good works are links that form a chain of love.

We, the unwilling, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much, for so long, with so little, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing.

– Various quotes from Mother Theresa with appreciation for her example

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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This past week information came to light about the historical role of the current Pope in acting as Cardinal in Germany to  silence and bury evidence of crimes against children.

As so often happens, we see the portrait of a leader emerging whose principal concerns revolved around protecting the institution of the church from the consequences of the wrong-doing of one or more of its own. Nothing in all this is new save the fact that it involves a religious celebrity of no less stature than the Catholic Pope. For decades, the church has tragically been a protected venue for pedophiles in almost direct and ironic proportion to the elevation of more conservative dogmatics.

I began life as a Catholic. I was raised in the faith and received my first Holy Communion, Confirmation, and was married Catholic. I grew up respecting the elders of the Church and loved the stories of the miracles performed according to legend by the many saints of the Church. I loved the High Holy Day Masses with the strikingly colorful vestments, the music that was uplifting and transporting, and the scents of the sacred, complements of the Jerusalem blend of incense.

I recoiled even as a young man at the strictness of the church and, like all Catholics, carried a sense of guilt over some ambiguous but nonetheless permanent stain for which the only treatment was weekly penance. I also enjoyed, in an odd “get-it-over-with” way, going to the confessional on Saturdays to receive and perform the Priest’s prescription of so many “Our Fathers” and “Hail Marys”.

I adored my maternal grandparents, Italian peasants really, who emigrated to the United States. My grandfather, a shoemaker by trade, would dress in a suit each week, as would I , and we walked together the mile or so from their home to the local church. It all seemed well-ordered, reasonable, a call to goodness, a weekly pilgrimage to a place of deep loving, the most peaceful and safest of places, the House of the Lord. Little did I know that within such houses of worship throughout the World, young men were being sexually abused. We will never probably know just how many, but already the stories, claims, and cases settled out of and in the courts have rendered the Roman Catholic Church uninsurable in the United States. What is becoming also ever clearer is the global character of the crisis.

This is a tragedy made altogether evil when one adds the complicity of church leaders, the silent Bishops and Cardinals ( the so-called “Princes”) of the church. Any member of the church facing the facts of such evil and darkness has a deeply personal and critically important decision to make. I know many in the Roman Communion that have chosen to stay aggressive supporters of the church while descrying the “bad apples.” This strikes me as too easy, convenient, and self-serving. I know others that have voted with their feet and have left to pursue their own spiritual nourishment among other communions. I find that choice courageous and more truly an act of living in “good faith.”

I left the Roman Church a long time ago based on many years of watching and assessing its doctrinal positions and trying to square these theologically, psychologically, and personally. Too many of the dogmas seemed arbitrary, unnecessary, and even imprudent, and mandatory celibacy was among those things. Once the sins of the church are documented, as they have been and continue to be, there is, in my opinion, no choice but to leave the church entirely and vociferously criticize what she has become.

When leaders harbor criminals and act to protect themselves and their institution over the people who look to them for guidance, they have become morally and spiritually bankrupt and no longer serve as credible witnesses to the Gospel. No manner of beautiful ritual and the comforts of tradition can make this right. The shadow is too long and too deep. To remain a member of the RC church under these circumstances is to collude in the lie that its leadership embodies and faithfully manifests the teachings of Christ.

Deriving no pleasure whatsoever from what seems a logical, moral, and practical imperative, it is my strongest belief now that this church needs to be sanctioned by an exodus of the faithful. To leave her is to love what is true and good in the teachings of the church. To stay is to be an enabler of Machiavellian tactics and political gamesmanship masquerading as religion. No one who harms a child nor anyone who harbors or gives support to perpetuating a system in which perpetrators can hide, can be tolerated and allowed to continue as leaders. They lose their place as esteemed and respected brokers of the Kerygma.

As we approach Easter, I reflect on the teaching at the core, and the mandate it issues to be faithful to Christic teachings regardless of how hard that may be and how uncomfortable should it demand that we abandon what we grew up with, and  all the special and beautiful trappings of which we are so fond. All the trappings in the world cannot undue the wounding of one child made to suffer at the hands of so-called religious, and those who look the other way as a function of political expediency or personal convenience are accomplices to crime. The proper response of the church hierarchy is not a well-argued defense, excuses, and legal parsings of language, but, very simply, abject and unrelenting shame over the horror.

I am disgusted, appalled, and, making it all so much more tragic, not at all surprised as we learn more over time about the magnitude and long-standing nature of the abuses that have and are still being committed worldwide. It is my belief that the Lord would rather save a single child than found or perpetuate a movement dedicated primarily to preserving power and influence. After all, his ministry was essentially a reaction to that same politic that motivated the Sadducees and the Pharisees.

” Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the Earth.”

” Suffer the little children.”

” Whatsoever you do to the least of these you do to me.”

Taking a firm and no-nonsense stand is among the finest forms of spiritual practice.

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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“Kill him!”

So goes the saying.

In other words, to find him as uniquely resident in another person is to objectify him and engage in idolatry. Makes sense in the context in which the saying arises but, in another sense, this is, tragically, the way humanity tends to typically react on meeting a remarkable spirit, a Mahatma, a Soter, or a Buddha. We kill him.

In meeting the Christ, the prevailing political powers were inspired to homicide. “Crucify Him!” the crowds screamed. “Crucify him and release Barrabas.” Better a criminal be released than the Prince of Peace for Jesus was seen as far more dangerous.  Jesus, like prophets before him and prophets who came after, was persecuted for the very wisdom for which he was initially extolled. Why? What is the great danger that so stimulates fear in lesser hearts?

It is authenticity, presence, authority, and intimate connection with the divine source, the infinite wellspring. The prophets do not suffer fools with political or diplomatic grace. They don’t tell us what we want to hear. They don’t congratulate us for our astuteness and prideful qualities. They don’t bathe us in praise for our genius and our goodness. They don’t thank us for magnanimity and goodness nor do they tell us that we’re ok.

On the contrary, the soters (saviors) tell us what we don’t want to hear. They force us to look in the mirror without blinders on. They speak of our sin. They tell us about our delusional and illusionary egoistic state. They exhort us to do better and to live more sincerely. They ask us to repent ( and they do so with a sense of keen urgency).

In claiming an innate greatness, not with hubris but with enlightened self-knowledge, the saviors and spiritually authentic teachers and sages are critiqued by the fearful as blasphemous. Truly, there is no more fearsome thing than to be required to enter the “inmost cave” where we meet our true face and our real condition. Unfortunately, the need to reject takes many clever forms but, in the extreme, that rejection translates into murder.

As we approach Easter, we are urged by the Calendar of tradition to look at ourselves and ask:

  • How many times must we crucify him?
  • Am I complicit in any way in cleverly dodging the inconvenient and difficult teachings?
  • Do I play politics with the Word, cherry-picking the Gospel to fit my own preferences and comfort, refusing to embrace the difficult wisdom that passes all understanding?
  • Where around me are those who are even now yelling at the top of their lungs in abject terror of the truth — “Crucify Him!”

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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We have all heard the phrase, ” a thirst for knowledge,” and many people are motivated by a need to discover, understand and reveal the essence of experience and phenomena. These are the people who take seriously the Socratic admonition to  “know thyself,” and embody the idea that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

The times in which we live are times of great contrast. The United States electorate is acutely divided, and we see, once again, the perennial visage of culture, race and class warfare in the exchange of emotional and unthinking rhetoric.

What I see is a rising thirst for ignorance. Orthodoxies appear on the rise, and liberal philosophies in all arenas are ridiculed and demonized. When the appetite for “heresy” declines one should be watchful for the erosion of liberty, critical thinking, and genuine insight into issues. At a recent dinner, I was part of a cordial conversation among friends and associates about this political moment in America. At one point, I was labeled by a colleague, only half in jest, as a liberal elitist. Why? The label was meant to sweep into a neat category my love of scholarship, incisive dialogue, taking nothing at face value, and seeing all orthodoxy as worthy of inspection. Ok, then, no problem. I am a card-carrying liberal elitist and proud of it. Dismiss me if you please.

In our current times, it is both easier and increasingly well-regarded to cling to the formulae fed to us by those who affix dismissive labels as their way of coping with what they fail to understand and have little energy to genuinely explore. It is easier to buy into a platform of ideological character. It gives one a sense of solidity when so much that swirls around us is uncertain and complex.

I, for one, love uncertainty. Doubt and the challenge of all assumptions is “philosophy,” the love of wisdom. I am absolutely certain that nothing is absolutely certain! I know that what I know is fact until new evidence reveals that it isn’t. Ideology is “window dressing” and icing for the mind. It entices. It draws you inside to look things over and encourages you to buy or partake. However, as so many things that are adorned with icing, the repast is likely one of many empty calories!

  • A few snowstorms where they aren’t typical and where the snowfall breaks records after many years, and many, including ostensibly intelligent legislators, are declaring the folly of “global warming.”
  • After decades of strong evidence of the veracity of Darwinian evolution and evolutionary developmental biological science, a good number have chosen to reject it for a more fundamentalist theology, and insist that this alternative be taught along with the science.
  • The facts around the necessity for government stimulus and spending in these recessionary times is denigrated as an example of out of control tax and spend big government.

Heretics and individualists are no fun. Their incessant challenge gives one a headache. They seem like they are not team players. They “move to the beat of a different drummer.” They are “not like the rest of us.” The Matrix movies were a testament to the will of many to stay deluded and comforted by machine generated, or, by analogy, party-generated or state-generated fantasy.

The price of the pursuit of knowledge is to place oneself in harm’s way. The deaths of Socrates, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Anwar Sadat and Jesus of Nazareth represent a dynamic that is as real and potent today as it has ever been. Salman Rushdie was under the threat of a Fatwah for his novel. Cartoonists have been threatened for offending orthodox beliefs. A demonizing and fear-mongering minority is actually succeeding in flipping the balance of power in the United States just over a year after the election of a President with a decade’s worth of serious challenges to address and a recalcitrant opposition hell-bent on denying him any meaningful legislation.

The appetite for ignorance always seems to overwhelm the true thirst for knowledge. Higher education in the U.S. often needs to be camouflaged lest one be labeled and set aside as an “elitist” or “academic”. Just look at out national values by comparing the very small percentage of the Federal budget set aside for education compared to what is allocated for defense and the story is told.

We do well to step back and reflect on our estate. How much have we bought into a ready-made set of comfortable mythologies and how alive do we want to be? Is freedom a value or a catch phrase that is nullified by a deeper need to be told what to believe, how to live, what to wear, how to talk, and what it means to be succesful?

It is our’s to choose:  Ignorance or knowledge. This is not only an imperative of citizenship and mind, but is a critical aspect of the depth and breadth of our spirituality. One cannot separate these from one another. They are inter-dependent parts of one true Self.

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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The recent attempt of a misguided young man from Nigeria to set off a bomb on a flight to Detroit has the Nation once again on edge. While the attempt was thankfully foiled, and the matter of poor co-ordination of intelligence has become the current political football, I find myself thinking more about the psycho-spiritual aim of the terrorist organizations and our own spiritual estate.

Terrorists are, as the name clearly suggests, merchants of fear. An even casual look at probabilities, and one discovers quickly that we are each far more likely to be injured driving, and our greater threats include drunk drivers, and, of course, those who insist on talking on cell phones, or worse, texting, while behind the wheel. Undeniably, our Government needs to improve the intelligence system and also work with other nations to create a more reliable set of checks.

However, the central motivation of the terrorist is to engender fear and the great cost we incur in chasing after the holes in our security that need plugging after each new means they devise to thwart our systems. The media hype and the attention it gives to the madmen perpetrating these crimes against humanity only reinforce their nefarious resolve.

They only need an attempted bombing, not a successful one, and they are guaranteed weeks of press. In an election year especially, the minority party will, and has already, begun to call for congressional hearings, issuing daily diatribes against the current White House. Guaranteed, the issue will remain center stage for a long while. In this scenario, the terrorist is rewarded.

Even a failed attempt clearly pays dividends if it generates fear ( and one need only listen to the airwaves for just a few minutes to see the extent to which that has already occurred). Whatever intelligence and security policies and apparatus get implemented, and however the risks are thereby mitigated, the greater question, for each of us, is what we will choose in how terrorism affects us.

The President’s speech today included a crucial reminder that we give evil a great victory if we “hunker down” and submit to fear. Fear creates hatred and that leads to the commission of evil to counter evil (like torture), and that is a terrible and deeply costly Faustian bargain.

As a society, this moment is a call to reassert a sense of our collective spiritual resolve, resilience, and character. It is not a time in which to devolve into angry men and women packing pistols and looking for blood.

I recall FDR’s magnificent statement after the bombing of Pearl Harbor:

The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.

So, tonight, inspired by the events of the day today, I am meditating on the matter of fear and the spiritual significance of it. The antidote, as defined by the world’s great Teachers is clear: love, compassion, and imperturbability.

How is that achieved? Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk and author of many wonderful books, including, Peace in Every Step,  captures the challenge and the way forward eloquently:

In order to rally people, governments need enemies. They want us to be afraid, to hate, so we will rally behind them. And if they do not have a real enemy, they will invent one in order to mobilize us.

And once we have the condition of peace and joy in us, we can afford to be in any situation. Even in the situation of hell, we will be able to contribute our peace and serenity. The most important thing is for each of us to have some freedom in our heart.

The essence of love and compassion is understanding, the ability to recognize the physical, material, and psychological suffering of others, to put ourselves “inside the skin” of the other.  We “go inside” their body, feelings, and mental formations, and witness for ourselves their suffering.  Shallow observation as an outsider is not enough to see their suffering.  We must become one with the subject of our observation.  When we are in contact with another’s suffering, a feeling of compassion is born in us. Compassion means, literally, “to suffer with.”

This gentle and enlightened soul describes the illness and the medicine. First, what we fear is often the result of manipulation by those who would want to win political points, or fulfill a power agenda, by using fear to make it seem that our choices are binary: do what they are suggesting, or suffer more terror. That’s something we are hearing today from certain right-wing quarters.

The terrorists use fear to disrupt our lives, create distraction, and the anxious sense that we can go nowhere without dread. People are too often seduced into relinquishing their highest ideals and values in the name of safety in such circumstances. Deceitful power brokers exploit this fear.

The medicine is to turn off the endless chatter of doom and gloom. We need to return to the breathe, just sit and listen, and really see. The path to compassion is deep understanding. There is no way to understand what’s really happening, and the ways in which people who feel hatred toward us are themselves suffering, if we fear them.

We need to step back. Let the heart slow its rapid “flight-or-fight” beating, re-center ourselves, and activate the greatest weapon we have in our arsenal to defeat the princes of darkness:

Thinking & Knowing!

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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