I have met several Indian friends in the blog-o-sphere the past two years and feel a real kinship with them. And, this kinship corresponds with an “Eastern” direction in my spiritual life as I see boundaries as less distinct than I was taught in my youth. I illustrated this several weeks ago with an anecdote I learned decades ago when someone pointed out that in one Eastern language, instead of saying, “I see the book over there” their language puts it like this, “The book is seen.” The separateness from the world is less pronounced. The world is less objectified…in some sense.
One of these Indian friends and I have had several very rewarding exchanges about the nature of reality, the nature of “spirituality”, and the role that culture plays in shaping our view of these things, and our view of all things. He, like me, sees the ugliness in the world…in my country, yes…but also in his own country. I get the impression that at times he finds it very troubling like I do. When I have these feelings, I will often deliberately miss-apply one of the scriptures, the shortest verse in the bible, and will tell myself, “This is why the Bible says, ‘Jesus wept.’” For, the writer of this “shortest verse in the bible” said Jesus was on a mountain, overlooking a city when he said these words. Using my “literary” license, I feel Jesus was weeping in realizing how unnecessary it was that mankind lives in the self-imposed spiritual squalor and I think that any of us who looks at the human situation with a heart, including his/her own situation, certainly wants to cry on occasion. I know I do.
But this friend this morning pointed out something which again caught my attention. Perhaps I fawn too much over his culture and it’s lesser emphasis of object separateness for he noted emphatically, “Forget culture shit. Culture is the same everywhere.” And I realized that yes, even in that culture of his with its different “object-relationship” paradigm, there is still the human tendency to absolutize to his/her worldview and to take it to be the only way of being in the world. And the minute people make this mistake poison is introduced and/or perpetuated in the world. This is the human predicament in a nut shell right there. We just can’t get around that obstinacy and it is that obstinacy that creates the profound problems that we are facing. I see it currently in my country’s recurring political pissing contests which I most recently illustrated with the internecine squabbling in the extremists of the Republican Party. But everywhere in the world, we just can’t “get over ourselves”.
Now, suddenly I realize I’m broaching too much despair! I try to not go there too often. When too much grim besets me, I am learning to counter this despair with focus on the beauty that always abounds in my life if I will deign to look for it and pay attention to it. And when I focus there for a moment, if I practice meditation, I will offer a prayer of thanks and find my Center again. This exercise helps me to appropriate and honor grace.
And the notion of grace brings to mind a powerful moment about a year ago when I was helping a dear friend exit this world after a long, ugly battle with that bitch cancer. KW and I had always talked about spiritual matters in the 25 years we had known each other so this was not merely a “death-bed” concern of his. On a particular day, he posed the question to me, “What is grace?” Well, I didn’t miss a beat and employed what I so often employ, a bit of poetry that I have gleaned over the years. And on that occasion I quoted an excerpt from a marvelous poem by Wendell Berry entitled, “The Peace of Wild Things.” KW was touched, and so was I, as I felt I had offered a “word fitly spoken” even if it was someone else’s words. Here is that profound wisdom from Berry:
When despair for the world grows in me
And I wake in the night at the least sound
In fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
Rests in his beauty in the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come unto the peace of wild things
Who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come unto the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.