Saturday, December 25, 2010

Love, Love, and Love Some More!

And the angel said unto them, “Be not afraid; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all the people…And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God by saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward all.” Luke: 2:10, 13.
* * * * * *

In a lowly stable, an infant lay in a manger. His very birth shook the powers that held sway at that time and set off rumblings that traveled to wise men in the east and shepherds tending their flocks in the field. As a man grown, though, Jesus changed the world.

For some, he was a prophet or wise rabbi. For others, Jesus was a man who fanned that divine spark~~the one that lies within us all~~until it completely consumed him, obliterating divisions between self and other, spirit and matter, above and below. And for many, he was the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one, Savior, the Son of God.

Regardless of the view you hold, there is no doubt that Christ’s walk among us changed everything. And while there are variations among the canonical gospels, the theme that resounds most frequently is Jesus’s message of love.

In John 13:34, Jesus says, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” The gospels are an articulation of this as they weave together parables and events that show what the living of this 11th commandment looks like.

Jesus reminds us to be gentle with one another. Judge not, that ye be not judged. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Consider the beam in your own eye before focusing on the mote in the eye of another.

He identifies the favored ones~~the poor, those who mourn, the meek, those who thirst for what is right and just, the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted~~and the children, always the children.

He urges us to social action. Tend my sheep. Feed my lambs. Give to the poor. As you have done unto the least of my brethren, you have done unto me. Invite to your banquet the poor, crippled, lame and blind.

He implores us to relate generously to our companions on this journey, be they friend or foe. Turn the other cheek. Do unto others as you would have done unto you. Love your enemies. Forgive seventy times seven. Go in peace.

Quite a tall order, indeed! Surely we fail. Yet, as we turn this light of love on ourselves, we honor our fledging and faltering efforts and, in faith, rise up to try again.

As we celebrate today the birth of Jesus, we can recommit ourselves to enacting his message of love. In the stable of our own lives, within the manger of our own hearts, we can greet this impulse to love and vow to nurture it, day in and day out.

Martin Luther gave us one of the sweetest prayers ever. “Ah! dearest Jesus, holy Child, Make Thee a bed, soft, undefiled, Within my heart , that it may be A quiet chamber kept for Thee."

Let us make a quiet chamber for thee in our hearts. And what springs forth from that chamber will surely sing thy name.

Amen. Hallelujah! And a Merry Christmas to you all!

Loanne Marie

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Loving Speech

A long time ago or just the other day, in a sprawling town or a small village, a gossiping man or a tale~telling woman goes to see the rabbi. “On a day when the wind howls,” directs the rabbi, “take a feather pillow to the top of the highest hill. Once there, slice the pillow through, shake it until all its feathers have blown away, and come see me again.”

The individual does as directed and returns to the rabbi. “Now go find every feather,” instructs the rabbi, “and gather them together once more.” “But that’s impossible!” the person protests. “I doubt I can find even one feather, let alone all of them, for the wind has flung them far and wide.”

“Your words, too, are feathers in the wind,” replies the wise teacher. “Once spoken, they are released in many directions and you can never pull them back again.”

* * * * * *

This traditional wisdom tale speaks to the Jewish teaching on lashon hara, which translates as “evil tongue”, and refers to speaking unconsciously or with ill intent.

“Lashon hara is a very complex phenomenon,” explains Rabbi Birdie Becker of Pueblo’s Temple Emanuel. “It doesn’t simply refer to speaking ill of others. It’s also about not being party to such talk by listening to it.” Jewish teachings are quite clear on this point. In listening to disparaging speech, we offer ourselves as the necessary platform for its manifestation and are, thus, implicated as much as the speaker.

Lashon hara doesn’t only refer to speech about others,” Rabbi Becker continues, “Denigrating oneself is not acceptable either.”

Proverbs, that most pithy of all the books of the Tanakh, the Jewish name for what Christians call the Old Testament, puts it this way: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Just like the babbling person in this tale, we often open our mouths without discernment, and what flies out can enliven or destroy. But just as the person in today's tale, we can turn toward wisdom by choosing our words with care, aware of their possible consequences.

This is not an easy task. Living in community with others gives rise to conflict~~both within us and around us~~which must be addressed for resolution to occur. But true peace cannot come or be sustained without respect. Our charge, Rabbi Becker reminds us, is “to keep the level of conversation moving always upward.”

I love that line! In the days since I first heard it, I've seen words spiraling upward, scented smoke swirling from a lit stick of incense.

We can interact with our fellows civilly, even during periods of strife, by holding a compassionate awareness of our essential kinship. Not only are we each trying to negotiate this perplexing human journey, but the very flaw we recognize so readily in another likely lies within us as well, though perhaps in a slightly different form.

If every human being carries a spark of the Divine, then to defame, belittle or disregard someone also defames, belittles and disregards the Divine. In speaking unconsciously or with malicious intent, we also actively reject our own true potential and, in the process, do a disservice to the gift that is our life.

We bear responsibility for these pillows of ours. They contain all that we are, all that we can be. Our every word and deed become feathers on the wind, the gift of ourselves to the world. What shall we offer, and what will become of these feathers of ours?

As another Jewish sage put it, “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind. The answer is blowin’ in the wind.”

Speak well, listen well, be well!

Loanne Marie

PS. This essay had an interesting developmental process. A couple of months ago, reader Giselle Massi, sent me a link to an article she had published in the online magazine, The Edge. In it, she referred to the concept of lashon hara, without naming it. I was intrigued and spoke with a Jewish friend of mine, Judi, who supplied me the name along with her thoughts on the subject. Thus began a flurry of research, leading me at last to Rabbi Becker. Thanks to all of you!

PPS. For a Buddhist spin on lashon hara, see Thich Nhat Hanh's Fourth Mindfulness Training, in which he expands on the Buddha's fourth precept which prohibits lying.