Thursday, November 05, 2009

Definition of success: turning apocalypse into grace

In Valerie Reiss's blog post "How to Be a Sacred Activist," she admits to feeling overwhelmed in the face of global crises and the awareness of all that needs to be done.  I know this feeling, watching the news, paying attention, it's enough to send your head spinning.  And head spinning is not the place to work from.  Rather than leading you to the front to fight, it leads to the fridge, to the TV, to curling up with a glass of wine and a jar of nutella (or whatever your vice of choice might be).

How to stop that spinning monkey mind?  Ask yourself, "What breaks your heart?" Reiss writes about hearing Andrew Harvey speak for Buddhist Global Relief, "about how the world is in crisis and we all need to kick our apathy to the curb and do something. Now. He's not a total gloom-and-doomer, though. His latest book, "The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism," outlines practical ways we can align our soul and spirituality with the service we give to the world.

"In his lovely, activating, howling talk last night, he suggested that it's possible to step away from 'the collective false human self that has lost connection to our own sacred nature.' To take advantage of  an 'unprecedented 'opportunity... to turn apocalypse into grace.' He said one way to begin is: Wake up at 3 am one night, and in the silence ask yourself: 'What of all these causes breaks my heart the most?' And then 'you will find the deepest, most radiant voice of your soul.' Then you can 'join other people of like heartbreak and do something real.' "

I love that, "turn apocalypse into grace."

The phrase "to join other people of like heartbreak" reminds me of the Wendell Berry quote I chose for this blog, that "where we live and who we live there with defines the terms of our relationship to the world and to humanity."  We can't save the world alone, we can't spread ourselves so thin to try to touch every person in need.  But we all have different people and issues that break our hearts, so that if we act on that, perhaps we can really change the world.

I'm also reminded of Frederick Buechner's advice on trying to find God: "Pay attention, especially to what brings tears to your eyes.  Keep your life open." 

What brings tears to your eyes?  I was aware of Buechner's words a few weeks ago, watching Christiane Amanpour's special report "Generation Islam."  Tears welled up in my eyes watching children wave their hands wildly in the air at their makeshift schools, watching them eagerly take take pens and pencils and paper from a soldier.  And their looks of pure joy when a new school was built and they had acutal desks to sit behind.



In Gaza, a child gives a tour of the remnants of his home, destroyed by war, and we visit John Ging in Gaza, the director of the United Nations relief effort there. Amanpour reports that for two short weeks during the summer, "kids from some of Gaza's poorest neighbohoods can escape the boredom of their lives." We see kids playing football (soccer), splashing in a shallow pool, playing games with brightly colored parachutes, making music on drums.  "What they will be when they grow up is very much shaped by what we do or fail to do," says Ging.

Reiss quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson: "The definition of success — to laugh much; to win respect of intelligent persons and the affections of children; to earn the approbation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to give one's self; to leave the world a little better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm, and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived--this is to have succeeded."

What brings tears to my eyes?  The education and empowerment of women and girls, education and hope for all children.  What breaks your heart?

(Photo from CNN, Generation Islam.  See videos and more photos here.)

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