Comforting Words: Purveyors of Love

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Purveyors of Love

Like most of you who watched the early reports on television of the bombings in London approximately ten days ago, my heart sank with the question whether this was an IRA action or has the “terrorists” reached the British Isle? Not that it would have made much of a difference.

As the events unfolded, my concern grew as we have family and friends living in London. My elderly uncle, with whom I stayed as a student in Europe years ago, lives in London. A couple of our best friends are also Londoners, residing and working in that city.

For some reason, however, I was not afraid that they were dead, which I guess has something to do with a conscious decision I had made following the September 11 attacks.

As far as I am concerned, paranoia will not serve anyone, and although I was wondering whether my relative and friends were unharmed, I found myself praying that they will be in the embrace of the Divine. My prayer also went out to the families of those confirmed dead or injured in the bombing.

Ten days later and I am still praying as more details are revealed about the people who died or were injured and we learn more about the ‘terrorists’. I am also praying for the leaders of the world, particularly of Great Britain, the United States of America and Canada as they assess the situation and make decisions regarding a response to this criminal event.

My prayers are also going out for me and for healing of my heart, lest it causes anymore damage. You may ask, “Why?” Well, the Sunday immediately following the September 11 attack, the Minister of the Church I attended led us in prayer and she said something that has remained with me.

Therefore, since July 7, 2005, as I pray for those who perpetuated this atrocity against Londoners, I prayed that the Divine would make me a “Purveyor of Love.” It is this prayer, one that I hope you will pray with me; I share as my Words of Comfort along with these Words from Scripture and the Words from the Heart.

Words from Scripture
From Jainism:
Acarangsutra 1.147
“One who knows the inner self knows the external world as well. One who knows the external world knows the inner self as well.”

From African Traditional Religions:
Igbo Proverb (Nigeria)
“As you plan for somebody so God plans for you.”

From the Christian Bible:
Galatians 6:7
“Do not be deceived; God is not mocked for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.”

From the Judaism and Christianity:
Hosea 8: 7
“For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.”

Proverbs 4:23
“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”

Excerpts from Jainism and African Traditional Religions are from World Scripture: A Comparative Anthology of Sacred Texts pages 212 and 125

Words of Comfort

Sitting comfortably and ‘safe’ in my living room each evening watching the news of the bombings in London I wondered when will this end. The African mother who travelled to London to find her son puts the question to us all very succinctly, “How many more people has to die before this suffering ends?”

Her grief and pain reminded me very much of Grace who a couple years ago lost her son to gang warfare in Kingston, Jamaica. She asked the same question and I would dare say has received the same answer, “We don’t know.”

Truth be told, however, we do know the answer. However, it is an answer so simple that for the majority it borders on ridiculous. The answer has been at the core of centuries-old sacred texts; it has been the lyrics of songs and it is the basis for best-selling novels and blockbuster movies.

Love. That is the answer.

Sages have told us. Saints and martyrs have told us. Philosophers and theologians have given courses and written volumes on the power of love. Poets, musicians and artists have weave this simple notion into their craft and placed it before our eyes – but we have chosen to ignore it.

One of my favourite songs from Bob Marley, “War,” speaks to this.
“Until the philosophy that holds one race inferior and another superior, is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned, everywhere is war.”
What Bob has put to music is not a call to revolution; at least that is not how I chose to interpret it. Rather, for me it is a call to love.

What we do not know or understand we hate. People who seem different we push aside and call them “inferior,” “strangers,” “foreigners,” “aliens,” “those people,” or worse yet “infidels,” and “heretics.”

More hurtful, at least to me, is when we refuse to acknowledge their humanity and their history and call people by colours – “the blacks,” “whites,” "yellow people,” “brown people” or “reds” for Native Americans. The sad truth is we can sing Bob’s song and interchange “race” with religion, gender, culture, and sexual orientation or viewpoint.

In this most recent bombing, this need to distinguish between “us” and “them” intensified as more information about the “London Terror,” as one network chose to dub its reports, revealed that one of the terrorist is Jamaican-born.

“Jesus, no, no!” was my cry. “That is the last thing we need, dear God, for a Jamaican to be mixed up in terrorism,” I said to my mother-in-law who has been glued to the television since her arrival.

My out cry had to do with what has become the norm for such situations – where the person committing an atrocity has to be made into an “alien,” or “not really one of us.”

As the news reports developed, the young man was no longer a citizen of the United Kingdom who was born in Jamaica, hence the earlier designation “Jamaican-born.” By the second day of reporting the identities of the suicide bombers, the new designation for Lyndsay Jermaine was simply – “Jamaican.”

This is typical of news organizations and government officials of the so-called developed countries when something ‘bad’ or scandalous occurs involving one of their citizens whose parents or the “once one of us person” originates from a developing country.

We saw it with Ben Johnson, for example, when news broke of his alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs. No longer was he the celebrated Canadian athlete once his ‘crime’ was made public but the disgraced Jamaican athlete who so happened to run for Canada.

My reason for mentioning this is that it points to something deeper. It is indicative of the tendency to create “others” out of people who are different in any way. We also distance ourselves from situations that we deem inferior to our standards without an attempt to understand how we might have impacted the persons involved.

Not only do I contend that this tendency is wrong but it also belies the truth of our involvement in the creation of religious, ideological and political ‘terrorists’, suicide bombers, serial killers and even athletes that use performance-enhancing drugs.

I vividly remember when my then Minister asked the congregation to think about the role each of us might have played in September 11. My initial response to her challenge was “Sister, I had nothing to do with that, thank you.”

However, as she talked her talk – something that she does extremely well – it became more apparent to me that she was right. While I may not have designed the bomb or have any direct connection with the people who attacked the United States, my silence on global poverty, racism, heterosexism and fundamentalism of all types contributed to the injustice many face daily.

One more voice, I realized, can make a difference to the women and children being terrorized by men who misuse sacred texts and power entrusted to them to satisfy their personal lust, greed and thirst for power.

How can I or anyone of us forget that because so many remained distant and silent while Hitler made “others” of the Jewish people that we now mark an ‘anniversary’ of the Holocaust. Silence, inaction and thinking that it is an “African problem” caused the killing of almost a million people in Rwanda.

Thinking, “I am a good person,” while laughing at or making jokes at the expense of another’s ethnicity or culture is sowing a seed of hatred in the heart of the child listening to you.

Thumping your sacred text and praying on the hour every hour while you ignore the screams coming from next door is not being your “brother’s keeper.”

Years ago while I was a student of international relations, one of my professors reminded us that a nation’s foreign policy is reflective of its domestic policy. In other words, to understand why a government relates the way it does towards other countries, check what its policy intentions are for social security, women’s affairs, how the elderly are treated and how it manages its natural resources.

The same is true for us individually. Jesus it was who said, “By their fruits you shall know them.” Want to understand ‘my world’ then check my heart. The Proverb, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life,” has been an important one for me.

It has been even more so since September 11 and increasingly so now with this new attack. In every one of us, there is an Osama Bin Laden, a George Bush or even a Hitler. With every attack on ‘democracy’, there is the potential for a response dictated by hate, the need to avenge the death of innocent people and to defend ourselves with "pre-emptive strikes."

While it would be silly of me to suggest that governments around the world should not take steps to protect their citizens, I join the many who plea for compassion, mindfulness and love to be the guide in these decision-making process.

As I watch the news reports about these four young men who decided to participate in this criminal act on July 7, I wondered about love in their lives. How did they experience or not experience love? What led them to believe that killing others was the way to appease the hurt and pain they obviously were feeling.

I also wonder whether we, all the rest of us, would ever have the courage like these young man, misguided as we think they were, to take a stand for love, to sow love and respond in love.

Could we have the courage to be ‘sowers’ and purveyors of love rather co-creators and breeders of terrorists in our homes, in our communities, at work and abroad?

Words from the Heart

Love in Action

Thich Nhat Hanh

This Vietnamese monk and teacher of mindfulness offers these fourteen precepts for living in our contemporary world.

1. Do no be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory or ideology.
2. Do not think that the knowledge you presently possess is changeless, absolute truth.
3. Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever to adopt your views.
4. Do not avoid contact with suffering or close your eyes before suffering.
5. Do not accumulate wealth while millions are hungry.
6. Do not maintain anger or hatred.
7. Do not lose yourself in dispersion and in your surroundings. Plants the seeds of joy, peace, and understanding in yourself in order to facilitate the work of transformation in the depths of your consciousness.
8. Do not utter words that can create discord and cause the community to break.
9. Do no say untruthful things for the sake of personal interest or to impress people. Always speak truthfully and constructively. Have the courage to speak out about situations of injustice, even when doing so may threaten your own safety.
10. Do not use the religious community for personal gain or profit or to transform your community into a political party. . . [but] take a clear stand against oppression and injustice.
11. Do not live with a vocation that is harmful to humans and nature. Select a vocation that helps realise the ideal of compassion.
12. Do not kill. Do not let others kill. Find whatever means possible to protect life and prevent war.
13. Possess nothing that should belong to others.
14. Do not mistreat your body.

Blessings, until Wednesday’s voice post.

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