The 'Religious Right', the 'Liberal Left', and Response to the Tsunami
In the presence of natural disaster, whether upon the earth or within our own bodies, some of us turn to God for comfort, some focus on understanding the science behind the event, some see the occurrence as an expression of Divine punishment and may feel anger or guilt. Others fall into despair, and still others find their cynicism reinforced by the existential belief that things happen without cause or explanation. Most of us, however, whatever our beliefs, feel an overriding desire to help. The presence of disaster and profound loss can touch us deeply. It can also challenge our most fundamental ideas about life, death, and causality. Sometimes, we are permanently shaken. Sometimes, we find an inner foundation that holds - a spiritual foundation that we had not even known was
Last week's tsunami has called forth many responses from all over the world - practical responses in terms of food and clothing, financial responses in terms of money, spiritual responses in terms of prayer, and analytic responses which seek to interpret the meaning of the event.
In the midst of these responses, a vast chasm seems to have opened between the 'religious right' and the 'liberal left' in relation to the disaster. The chasm is defined, on the one hand, by the 'prophetic viewpoint', which interprets the event in terms of God initiating the 'end times' in a way that has been foretold for thousands of years. This action is viewed as an expression of Divine retribution - one which heralds both the 'tribulation' and the return of the Christ. On the other, we see some within the 'liberal left' giving poignant expression to the phrase, 'secular-humanist', as they search for solace in the absence of God and for meaning in an event that appears to have no meaning. David Brooks, in his NY Times editorial, "A Time to Mourn
Jan. 1, 2005, writes:
"The world's generosity has indeed been amazing, but sometimes we use our compassion as a self-enveloping fog to obscure our view of the abyss,"
"This is a moment to feel deeply bad, for the dead and for those of us who have no explanation."
The 'abyss' is the sense of meaninglessness and randomness that surrounds life's major events. It is life based on chance. In a similar vein, Bob Herbert, another well-respected NY Times columnist, in "Our Planet and our Duty
," Dec. 31, 2004, writes:
Einstein insisted that God does not play dice with the world, but that might be a difficult notion to sell to some of the agonized individuals who have seen everything they've lived for washed away in a pointless instant. "
Neither the position of the 'Christian right' nor that of the 'liberal-existential left' (See: 2003 Gallup poll
, LO - Dec. 22, 2004) lead to hope in the present situation. And more than that, neither leads to an understanding of God's love that surrounds events, even those of a catastrophic nature. One leads to resignation and to an elitist view that only a select few - those with a particular relationship with Jesus - will be saved from the present and coming trials that the earth will go through. The other leads to cynicism and despair - with no firm ground to stand on to face anything. From this latter perspective, human beings have to try to sustain hope as best they can in the absence of Divine purpose and Divine meaning. Again, Bob Herbert writes, quoting William
"William Faulkner, in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, said: "I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.
That's what Faulkner believed. We'll see."
With these two options exerting such influence on American culture today, it is especially important for us to seek the place of inner alignment with hope, trust, and the certainty of God's love, even in the presence of death and great loss. (See
: "I am the Earth
," LO, Dec. 29, 2004).
Also, in the midst of this search for alignment, we need to ask: What is the relationship of the US to the misfortune that happens to others, whether in Iraq, in Asia, or elsewhere? What is it in Iraq, where the government that pursues a war that has cost so many civilian lives, still does not acknowledge responsibility for this loss of life? Or, even in Southern Asia, where the US contribution to disaster relief took a giant leap from being well below that of other nations, based on gross national income and per capita allotments, to one that far exceeded other nations?
Within the space of several days, the US commitment of $35m dollars in aid suddenly skyrocketed to $350m dollars - ten times that amount - whether due to the precipitating action of Britain and other European countries who responded more fully and more quickly, to a world press which questioned the small size of the US contribution
, or to a reevaluation of the situation on the ground, we will never know. Certainly, to start out with, our public image as 'leaders in compassion" left a great deal to be desired. And whether it was a reevaluation of the number of deaths caused by the tsunami, or the knowledge that others had offered much more in aid, or concern about maintaining our 'posture of leadership' in the world's eyes - the initial gesture of compassion was delayed in coming. It seemed to take the
early comments of Jan Egeland, United Nations Undersecretary-general for Humanitarian Affairs, concerning the 'stinginess' of wealthier nations, to spark an international debate
regarding giving, which caused much distress to State Department officials.
Our planet may suffer through some dire times ahead. Certainly, the real and present threat of terrorism on U.S. soil does not require a prophetic viewpoint in order to recognize it. Nor does the prospect of reduced energy resources. We, in America, are living at a time of great vulnerability. In such a time, it is more important than ever to know what foundation we have to stand on should catastrophe occur, whether to us or to others. We cannot afford to be resigned and we cannot afford to be cynical. The cost to life of these two perspectives is too great. In the midst of tragedy, we need to find something within that is life-affirming and anchored in a sense of larger purpose, beyond the immediate circumstances which may prevail. This applies to both the tsunami in Asia and to other events, both large and small, that create significant human
suffering and loss. As a part of this striving, both "I am the Earth
" (LO, Dec. 29, 2004), and now "Holding the World" (See below
), are efforts to create a basis for hope that points a way through this dilemma.
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"US pledges $350m in tsunami aid." (Dec. 31, 2004)
"Bush defends US generosity." (Dec. 29, 2004)
"Prophesy update: News and information for the End Times."
Offers a 'Prophesy Guide' which includes a list of the signs that the 'End Times' are here.
Contender Ministries: Prophetic Signs That We Are in the End Times.
Myths and legends from different spiritual traditions and cultures regarding earthquakes. More intellectual, but it may be of interest.
The way in which we each 'hold the world' is before us today, at a time when great sorrow and tragedy has befallen so many fellow human beings whose pictures we see and whose words we hear, with all the pangs of empathy that these words and pictures stir in our hearts.
The world has responded to this tragedy arising from the earthquake in the Indian Ocean, and each of us, too, cannot help but respond in some way to what we know and have heard is 'beyond imagining' for many. But there are different ways of holding pain, sadness, and loss with others. There are the practical ways of helping - of offering services, goods, and money. There are the nurturing ways of providing for the orphaned children whose parents will never return. And there are the ways of the heart which, while not outwardly practical, have a spiritual effect that embraces and upholds, an effect which may be as important as all the practical forms of help that are being offered and received.
This spiritual effect is produced not only by our caring, but by our caring 'in God'. It expands the potency of the human heart beyond our individual capacity to love and to feel compassion, by surrounding that love and compassion with the light of Divine truth, wisdom, and comfort. It is this larger capacity to embrace others in a gesture of love which unites our individual humanity with our participation in the Unity of life and God, that enables us to 'hold the world'.
Such holding goes beyond a feeling of sadness for those who are victims of earthquakes, volcanic eruption, flooding, civil war, homelessness, or poverty - though this is certainly part of it. It is also more than helping with relief work in an emergency or crisis - though this is part of it, too. It is even more than praying for peace to come to the earth - for peace to come to those who suffer in the throes of disaster. What 'holding the world' is based on, more than anything else, is the ability to relinquish the concept of a 'personal life' as the main definition of who we are, and to see ourselves, instead, as part of a planetary life - God's life, expressing through each of us, individually. Within this larger life, what happens to another happens to our-'self' as
The ego-self doesn't want to do this and doesn't know how to do this. It wants its own comforts, pleasures, and the fulfillment of its own plans for the future. It also fears too much identification and involvement with others, and seeks self-protection. Only the soul-self, the spiritual essence at the core of each one, can want this - this participation in something greater than the ego-self which can become the basis for a new definition of 'I'.
There is a lot to let go of if this soul-self, this spiritual being within, is to become the new definer of our identity. And yet this letting go cannot take place as an act of 'will' but must occur as an action of the heart. The 'will' may try to force something to happen whether or not the individual self is ready for it to happen. But the heart - the heart can learn to feel more and more love, and when this occurs - when love is activated to a sufficient degree, then becoming part of the greater life of the world and of God is no longer a struggle, it is the only way to live.
Some have tried to force this happening before they were ready, creating a 'spiritual overlay' on top of ego-resistance that would not give way. This is understandable, for human beings all want things we are not ready for. And we all have intentions that spark our actions and our 'wish to become'. But 'becoming' is not 'being'. And 'intending' is not necessarily where we are right now. We have to begin with our own capacity to love and to see what stands in the way of greater love. Only this will allow us to move beyond our 'personal life' into a life of union with the sacred Whole that is God.
When we witness a tragedy befalling others, it calls forth the heart's compassion to care. It makes of our ordinary waking perception - of our capacity to love - something greater. It invokes the latent capacity in each of us for depth of feeling, and out of this expansion of the heart more love pours forth, more desire to help, more identification than we had previously thought possible. And yet... when the events that catalyze this heart-opening recede into the background, when the crisis has passed or is no longer capturing our attention, then so, too, does this temporary expansion recede into the background, and we return to a more ordinary level of identification with others.
To live a sacred life is more than a matter of 'rising to the occasion' at the time of witnessing the pain of others - though this, too, is part of it. It is to 'hold the world' as one holds oneself - equal in reality, equal in importance, equal in love. Only then does love create the basis for every moment of daily life. Only then do we truly become citizens of the planet, united in our hearts in one sacred identity.
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"Asian Quake - Missing Persons." - (Dec. 30, 2004)
It is impossible to read these pleas for information and not feel the reality of humanity's cry - the personal quality of the way in which the Asian tragedy has touched the world.
"Photo Journal: Sri Lankan tsunami survivor." (Dec. 31, 2004)
A personal account of innocence - a small community by the sea, forever gone in the waves.
"People flung into the air like confetti." (Jan. 1, 2005)
The purpose of Light Omega is to bring us all into greater planetary consciousness with awareness of the suffering of others and with a willingness to remain awake to the challenges, dangers, and possibilities we face today.