Thursday, August 21, 2008

It's been a difficult few weeks for me professionally. Being a human being within a community means that sometimes things are not fair. I won't describe the situation in detail, but it's not a new story. Just a story of individuals and systems and power, and the experience of being unable to affect the outcome.

In the challenges I faced these last several weeks, I had a strong sense of calling -- an urgent pull towards action, and clarity about what I needed to say and do. And in the end, my actions and words were helpful to some of my colleagues, but had no direct impact on the situation I was speaking out about. However in the process I gained clarity and insight into my own life's path, and developed a much stronger ability to listen to my own insights and speak with my own voice.

For a brief moment I thought maybe our prayers would be literally answered. But that's not how it works. If it worked that way, no one would suffer. (Which of course begs the question of why we suffer, a question for which there is no compassionate answer.)

Instead of faith bringing us the outcome we were working so hard for, I was reminded that faith is its own reward. You don't get to pray for things to get better and then they do. You pray or meditate on the questions, and what comes to you is not a particular outcome (miraculous cure, wrong righted). What comes to you is a sense of purpose. That's it -- clarity for your own actions.

Anyway, through this experience I've questioned once again whether insight is god-given -- something you connect with and listen for; or whether it comes from within -- psychologically explainable but still genuinely comforting, healing, and powerful.

Agnostic that I am, I feel compelled to question where insight comes from, but in the end I guess it doesn't really matter. What matters is to do your best to be open to insight it when it comes.

Reflecting on the events of the last several weeks, my boss quoted our chaplain at work, reminding me of one of my favorite passages from the Prophets, Micah 6:8 --
...what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?
I have always felt that the key to the first two - doing justice, loving kindness - is the third requirement: walking humbly with your God.

I truly don't believe it matters if you find your God is in nature, in reason, in meditation or in art or music or poetry or the Bible. Whether God is understood as a real entity or force, or understood as a metaphor for that which is greater than ourselves, God can be found in many places.

And what we are required to do -- what we must do -- is guard against becoming too proud of ourselves for how smart, pious, artsy, or wonderful we are. We must walk humbly.

I'm not a sports fan, but what inspired this post was watching a video of a small women's softball game that was witnessed by fewer than 100 people, but still gives me every reason to hope that doing what's required is possible. This video on YouTube, linked by a deeply spiritual acquaintance of mine, reminds me of a story my Buddhist studies professor, Charles Hallisey, once relayed.

He described two Buddhist monks reaching a river and finding a woman who was struggling to cross, clinging to a branch, and calling to them that she couldn't swim. Because they were prohibited from touching women, the first monk did nothing. The second monk walked into the river and helped the woman across.

As the monks continued on their journey they were silent for a bit. Then the first monk broke the silence. "How could you carry her across the river? We're forbidden from touching women," he said. The second monk replied, "My friend, I left her at the river's edge. It appears you are still carrying her."

It's very difficult to find rules for living that work in every situation. Doing justice and loving kindness can feel nearly impossible when we become caught up in conflict and competing values. Yet with openness and by walking humbly, sometimes it's possible to understand what to do right now, at this moment.

The video I linked above has an obvious connection to the story of the monks in the image of carrying. But it is also about having a set of rules that limit your choices, and finding that you are called to do the right thing -- to answer the law that transcends the rules you have been given.

What does the Lord require of us?

To do justice

To love kindness

To walk humbly with our God.

May I answer this requirement with humility, compassion, and courage. May I find I am not alone in this walk--that this walk takes place alongside that which is greater.

And, I wish the same for you.