How can we each use our life of practice to wed the seeker of justice with the troubled and imperfect humans we are: healed and healing, awakened and awakening?
This is tricky territory. On the one hand, we want to serve the world, not serve our wounding or neuroses. This requires us to turn deeply inward to inquire into our personal reality and the origins of our motivation. On the other hand we want to engage deeply with the world: if we wait until we are completely pure of heart before we act, we will remain forever immobile – and useless.
We do our best to run and return between the inward and outward journeys, bringing the wisdom of each to the other, and wrestling with the limitations of each. We could say we engage in each aspect of this work for the sake of the other.
From the front lines of this tricky territory
This week, I find myself in a passel of trouble. Troubled by one violent act upon another. Troubled by my own reactions. Broken-hearted over the killing of Nabra Hassanen, a 17-year-old Muslim girl, as she was walking in the neighborhood near her mosque in Reston, Virginia. The man under arrest for the killing is only five years older, barely an adult himself. From El Salvador. Did he flee gang violence there?
Broken-hearted, yet I have trouble remembering her name. If I am so heartbroken, why hasn’t her name engraved itself on my memory? But I look up the meaning of Nabra, and listen to the pronunciation, “Nehbarrah.” Google translates it as “tone.” I wonder about the Arabic nuances, and what her family was intending when they gave her this name. Last night I dreamed that she and I were talking quietly and intimately in the corner of a room – or maybe it was one of her three younger sisters.
What is it about Nabra among all the others murdered or maimed? Innocence? Sacrilege? Is it that she is the same age as my grandson, who was raised mostly ignorant of his Jewishness and is about to go off to college where others may see him only as a Jew? A news article reported that Nabra had tripped over her abaya, a garment she had borrowed for the late-night Ramadan prayers because she rarely wore one.
I am equally troubled by the stark contrast with my response to the shooting of Republican congressmen just a few days before. I am more shocked at myself than at the event. I am sanguine, cold: well-what-did-you-expect, well-now-you-know, well-y’all-invited-it. I am ashamed that my emotional reaction insists on being what it is.
I do recognize this pattern in myself, how I am drawn to the protection, the defense of those who have no voice, no place, how I am repelled by the mis-uses and abuses of power. And how that is mixed up with my own neuroses/wounding. I have, over the years, untangled many knotty threads to begin to claim my own voice and my own place. Enough so that I can sigh and say, well, there it is again. Enough so that I can begin serving more than my own wounding.
Then I have to remember another potent pattern that is active here – a certain way that I steel myself, withhold myself from life, from the moments that are especially dicey, aka life-threatening for me. I wrote about this “held-back goodness of the heart” some months ago, about the nuances to my withholding, each supported by a faulty assumption. Meanwhile, I remind myself here again. Goodness – goodness itself is unchanging. It doesn’t vary in quality or go bad, like those food storage experiments lingering at the back of the fridge. It’s not “my” goodness, but the Goodness of Reality of which I partake, of which I am made. The Goodness of which Nabra was made. The Goodness of which even her killer is made. The Goodness of which even congressmen whose behavior I abhor are made.
Saving my sanity
It is only throwing all this up against the Radical Oneness that saves my sanity and gifts me with clearer seeing, a bit more choice and courage. A bit more capacity to be in relationship with what is – so I am less and less trying to save myself from my own terrors and actually capable of serving.
By naming my feelings, even the shameful ones, I have given them a place. This does not mean that I have either solved or dissolved my conflicting feelings. Nor am I absolved from acting. I can and must choose from the abundant opportunities life offers me to show up, to protest, to act locally, to pray globally.
It is a great goodness to allow myself to sorrow still for my own childhood difficulties even as I sorrow for Nabra, even as I work to separate out these streams of sorrow.
And I must continue to wrestle with my own privilege – the privilege of a material security in which I can fall prey to the terrors of psychological life-threat, when so many humans are in urgent, immanent, physical danger of violence and death.
Pragmatically, materially speaking, we need all the wisdom we can access, and all the wholeness we can muster, to meet life.
From a spiritual standpoint, we each are born into this world to bend the arc in a particular way: that particular way of bending that we are born for, born to, heals our soul, and heals the world. Inseparably. Simultaneously. The very same life.
May we each succeed gloriously: for the sake of our loved ones, for the sake of those we serve in our personal and professional lives, for the sake of the civic body and our common good, for the sake of the earth.