"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

Let's between us make the world a better place.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

What did you do for Lent?

I take the US Christian magazine, Sojourners, edited by Jim Wallis, and was taken by this guest commentary and story - Doing Nothing for Lent - contributed on their blog by Cathleen Falsani. **

She starts off with octogenarian Presbyterian pastor Eugene Peterson who in A Long Obedience writes:

"We are surrounded by a way of life in which betterment is understood as expansion, as acquisition, as fame. Everyone wants to get more – to be on top – no matter what it is the top of that’s admired. There’s nothing recent about the temptation. It’s the oldest sin in the book. The one that got Adam tossed out of the garden and Lucifer tossed out of heaven. What is new about it is the general admiration and approval it receives."

Falsani goes on to tell the story of Peterson, who after a lifetime - 30 years - of a very busy life serving his church, has moved back to his native Western Montana and
has cultivated with his family and with great intention, a simple life. They live in a beautiful place, eat locally, cook their own food, have conversations that linger for hours with friends around the meal table. "They read good books by writers and poets whom they find inspiring. They keep their life (and their calendar) uncluttered. They pray. They keep a Sabbath. They walk in the woods and they listen. They listen to the rustle of the leaves, the cry of a hawk, the wind, and the still small voice of God. They listen to the silence."

Peterson learnt this first in his church - after months and years of frenetic activity, setting goals, raising funds, establishing projects, he learnt to "just be" with his congregation, learn from them, be content with them.

The monks say: "Stay in your cell. The cell will teach you everything."
Peterson translated this as: ‘Stay in your congregation. Your congregation will teach you everything.’
Falsani re-imagines this adage again as, “Stay in your life. Your life will teach you everything.”
"Feel the rhythms of grace and let God do the doing," she writes.

That's all very well and good - but life isn't like that. And Peterson has had his working life and is no doubt now financially secure from his books and pension and speaking engagements. I don't know for sure - I'm guessing.

Coming home from hearing the maverick priest Matthew Fox speak at Alternatives in St James Church Piccadilly this week, speaking to us about restoring the balance between the sacred masculine and the divine feminine, I looked at all the commuters trying to get home from work - there had been an operating "incident" and trains were chaotic - we were turned off one train destined for Brighton and changed platforms twice to catch a later one. All around me were hundreds of drawn, tired faces, the biggest preoccupation almost certainly on supper and kids and partners and paying mortgages and keeping the job and paying the bills. Clearly nothing on this earth was further from the minds of most if not all those people than "acceptance" and just "being" and finding the spiritual quietness and healing that the world needs.
And yet many of them would surely be so much happier living the simpler life and just "being." How do we get this across to people and how do the bills then get paid?

So my first question is this:

Could any of us personally take up the Peterson challenge?
Should we be reaching out to these harassed working people with a message for a better life?
If so, how? Workshops? Talks? Action groups? And who would come anyway?
Or do we get in touch with those rhythms of grace, spread them out as ripples of hope whilst "just being," and letting God do the doing? And how do we spread this rhythm?
Do we need both approaches?

Satish Kumar became a wandering Jain monk when he was 8, but later left when he felt that he could be of more practical use to a hurting world outside the order. He is famous for his pilgrimages, and for his love of life and nature and as editor of Resurgence and the guiding spirit behind Schumacher College in Devon. But he was always used to having little - and if you have always had little, you have nothing material to miss. It's easier to give up a little than a lot!

Matthew Fox at this Alternatives talk spoke of bringing the sacred back into our lives - in fact he pretty much shared my views, written about in my own book, on the economy, community, education, religion, business, creativity and the natural world - albeit approaching this message from a different perspective and direction. He calls for restoring the balance between yin and yang energy and believes as I do that the education of our children is key here - to bring back spirituality and a sense of the sacred into our schools - to restore poetry and art and creativity and wisdom to their rightful and equal place alongside the acquisition of knowledge. Knowledge is nothing without wisdom, he reminded us.
The aborigines, he told us, look up at the sky and don't talk about galaxies and black holes and ozone layers and satellites and so on. They tell their children that "the stars are the campfires of our ancestors."
I know a teacher who amidst much mockery and cynicism from her colleagues set up a nature table for her young class. And it is a huge success.

So here is another question - can we do anything individually to bring a sense of the sacred back to our children and/or influence this teaching in our schools? Is there scope here for "just being" and letting God do the doing?

Surely God gives us our skills and talents to use in practical ways?
How are we individually going to do this for the sake of the world?
Perhaps nature walks with our children are examples of just "being" whilst God does the work of inspiring in our children the reverence and awe of nature, so that they respect and look after this wonderful creation of which we are a part?

** Author of four non-fiction books, including her latest, Belieber!: Fame, Faith and the Heart of Justin Bieber.

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