Small Seeds of Hope: Love Who? Postdoctoral Spirituality
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Perhaps I am naive, but my idea of a leader is someone who inspires you to be your best self, not one who tries to pull you into a morass of fear and anger, not one who bullies those weaker than himself and fans the flames of conflict with apparent delight. Not an enemy-maker.
We cannot expect to survive as a culture, a country, a planet, if we are all steeped in enemy-making, if we allow ourselves to be goaded and prompted into anger and hatred by leaders, or media, who live and breathe in the arenas of control and power and one-upsmanship. Those are not God's ways, and those of us who care about integrity and compassion need to find ways to not only not participate in them, but to open to deeper, scarier and more profound ways of connecting across lines of discomfort and fear.
What was it Jesus said about how to relate our enemies? “To you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you."
These were not idle words on Jesus's part; this was not a feel-good Sunday school sermon. His audience? The Jewish people, who at that time were living under martial rule, lorded over by the occupying Romans. Too often pushed to the limits of their tolerance by swaggering, power-hungry soldiers. Soldiers who had the right, among other things, to conscript any of them at any point to carry their heavy pack for a mile, no matter what they were doing at the time.
And what did Jesus--crazy Jesus--say to the Israelites? "Don't hate them or revile them. Instead, carry that pack for an extra mile." Carry the pack of that arrogant domineering enemy for twice as far as the already unjust law requires? Can you imagine that? It's insane. It's the kind of thing I refer to as post-doctoral spirituality--like doing a post-doctoral fellowship after attaining a PhD. Extremely difficult.
I certainly don't claim to follow this calling. In fact, in the poem I've included below, you can see exactly how unadvanced my spirituality is. But I do hear the call. And sometimes struggle to take baby steps along the way.
So, here's a story from my own life of an experience I had in this realm. The poem is still kind of drafty and raw in some ways, an unpolished piece, but it felt like the most intimate or immediate way for me to share about a topic that feels so crucial and timely right now.
Praying for an Enemy
Sometimes the way to an open heart is clear,
a swooping song of a redbird
or a path of shining water appears at the door.
it is an operation,
digging out a molar deep in a mine,
piece by piece,
hardfast and sore.
As once it was for me with a larger she,
in a place that fostered birth.
But instead of nurture,
she used size and ire
to run her show.
And sometimes ours.
A former prison guard, indeed;
she admitted patients
but never admitted need.
Perhaps it was the mothers who drew her there,
intense and often prone,
desperate at times.
Some chance for control? Or the new ones, so tiny in the world.
Who, perhaps, spoke her needs.
But I, who lived under a bully long ago,
ran scared as a cuckoo rabbit.
Tried not to show it. But she knew.
And she grew.
A battle of one.
I hated my fear.
Lived with it gnawing and mocking at my door.
I finally spoke to another, wise in the ways of fear and growth.
She is a foe? he said.
Yes. Oh yes.
You know what they say in those twelve step places I go?
I did. And every fiber in me yelled NO! to that prayer.
He let me holler for a good long while, nodding. And nodding.
You don’t do it to be noble and good, you know.
It is really more to unburden hate.
I wrestled. Wrangled. Fought. Clamped my mouth shut.
Made every attempt to halt the insanity of going down that ghastly road.
It will give her more power! I cried.
Leaving me only to lose! I cried.
I knew what to do. I refused.
The pressure was huge.
After days, or many weary years,
two very tiny words escaped the lock of my soul,
clenched so stiff they could hardly breathe.
The sum of all I could do.
But the god to whom they rose may have been one Huge Ear.
Or perhaps a Hungry Fool? Who knows the mysterious ways?
For within two days, with a dreadful twist,
her tears were on my shoulder.
With a terrible tale of roadkill.
Of a woman.
Borne too fast over the curve of a wet road.
How could I not hold her?
My own fear blooming for a moment
then slowly wisping…whispering away.
Praying for an enemy may shift the world
and open your heart
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Ironically, my current enemies--the people I find easiest to hate--are those who preach hate and encourage enemy-making. So they are the ones I need to learn to pray for. Talk about clenching my soul! In fact, it feels impossible.
And perhaps that is part of the point? It offers me many opportunities for humility. And I can only do it if I open myself, tiny bit by tiny bit, to the grace, compassion and power of the Good Big Thing, the undo-er of the enemy.
Oh, and in case you want to know--the one "wise in the ways of fear and growth"? It was my dad.
Until next time,
Rabbit, Eden Dempsey, Pinterest
Two women, Eberhard Grossgasteiger, unSplash
Gardener, The Root