The Spiritual Journey in an Instant Society

People often find that developing the spiritual dimension of life can be a challenge. While many people hope to experience inner peace or a sense of purpose in life, sometimes the experience of spiritual practice is frustration. Those frustrations are often linked to the ways the values of society conflict with living in a way that is balanced and integrated.

In my book, The Good Road: The Journey Along the Spiritual Path, I discuss some of the roadblocks along the spiritual path. Today, I wanted to share an excerpt from that book on the first roadblock discussed in The Good Road: the instant society. In short, living in a culture that’s based on instant access makes it difficult for us to be patient in taking time to develop the spiritual dimension of our lives. Here’s how I described it in The Good Road.

The First Roadblock: The Instant Society

Microwave ovens. Fast food. Real-time chat on the Internet. Overnight express delivery. Time in our culture is fast and getting faster. There is a kind of urgency in everything we do. Whether work or leisure, meals or conversation, no matter what it is, we want it fast. Time is very important to us. The faster things can be done the better.
Waiting at stoplights is an annoyance. Someone driving too slowly in front of us brings a response of rage. Standing in line at the grocery checkout, post office, or airline counter is an annoying waste of time. Time is of the essence.
In this rushed way of life, taking time to sit, be still, and focus on the spiritual life seems like an absurdity. Yet, stopping, taking time, and being quiet is absolutely necessary for spiritual growth. Perhaps nothing else is more difficult for people today.
Each of the spiritual exercises discussed in this text requires time: time to slow down, relax, and be still. Spiritual reading requires slow, thoughtful reflection to allow the words of a text to ruminate in our hearts. Faith sharing requires a relaxed, personal conversation. Centering prayer or meditation necessitates sitting in silence for what seems like a long time doing nothing in particular. Learning to stop, take time, and be still in our fast paced world is probably the biggest roadblock on the spiritual path.
Unless a person takes time for spiritual practices and does so leisurely on a regular basis, progress along a spiritual path won’t happen. To walk a spiritual path in American culture today really does require climbing the hurdle of a fast-paced life to learn to calm oneself and be quiet inside. Often, the only way over the hurdle is to just take the time and do it. It’s by regularly taking the leisure time to be quiet inside that progress toward inner stillness can occur.

Of course, you’re welcome to explore both roadblocks along the spiritual path as well as find positive insights for your journey toward integration by reading The Good Road.

© 2015, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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Discouraging Times: Can We Say All Will Be Well?

It’s difficult not to be discouraged. There’s no way to escape it. The problems of the world are huge. It seems like many people are hell-bent to make them worse. As records indicate that the Earth gets continually warmer each year and models for climate change prove themselves true, the voices of those who deny global warming grow louder. Around the world, refuges flee from war torn countries fearing for their lives and safety while politicians controlled by the wealthy claim that these people are nothing more than “economic refugees” and face no real danger in their countries of origin. Land, sea, and air are pumped full of contaminants tipping the delicate balance of Earth’s ecosystems, yet the survival of life on Earth as we know it is jeopardized for profit. Yes, it’s difficult not to be discouraged. Many scientists wonder how we’ll be able to maintain life on Earth after 2050.

I know many people share this sense of discouragement. It’s unclear how to save the planet from the dangerous course pursued by the few wealthy individuals who influence or buy control of politicians and governments. But corruption, whether the legalized form of corruption found in the United States where special interests have legal protection to buy elections or in the more traditional form of payoffs in developing countries, has long been part of human history. At times when I am most discouraged, I remember the testimony and witness of one of my heroes of the Christian tradition: Julian of Norwich.

I first read Julian’s writing in the early 1980’s. At that time, I was working as a community organizer and direct care-giver to people with AIDS in the early years of that health crisis. When I first encountered a person with AIDS, there wasn’t a clear definition of the syndrome and people died very quickly. There was horrible stigma and, to be honest, I didn’t know if by caring for others that I’d also develop the disease. At that time, no one knew about the HIV or the mode of transmission. I remember reading Julian’s work, The Revelations of Divine Love, very quickly and eagerly. Her life situation seemed to have so much in common with what I was experienced.

Julian lived from 1342 to 1416, spending her life in Norwich, England. She was an anchoress, a kind of hermit who lived in a single room adjacent to a church. She had a window to the outside. People would bring her food, ask for prayer, and seek her wisdom. Her companion was a cat who would come and go from the hermitage.

Julian lived during the Hundred Years War – a century of continual warfare between England and France. The period of her life was encapsulated by the war. As if this was not enough, when she was 30, she suffered from the plague. In her era, bouts of the plague were very common. Norwich, at that time the second largest city in England, lost approximately one third of its residents due to the plague in a three year period around the time of Julian’s illness. It was during her illness, when others thought she would die, that she has a series of revelations or “showings” of God’s love.

Julian clearly understood the fragility of life, her own life as well as all life around her. Perhaps it’s not so surprising that among her revelations is this often quoted image:

(In my revelation, God) “showed me a little thing, the size and quantity of a hazel nut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. It was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, ‘What may this be?’ And I was answered in this way, ‘It is all that is made.’ I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing because of its littleness. In my understanding I was answered: ‘It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their being because of the love of God.’”

Julian understood that all that existed was really quite puny in comparison to the wonder of the Divine. More importantly, as fragile as life truly is, Julian understood that things exist out of love, from a source of generosity that is greater than we can imagine. She knew that love, the gracious generosity as the Divine who is both Mother and Father of creation. (Yes, Julian wrote about God in the feminine, as a mother.)

Julian also knew pain, disease, and the human treachery that led people of power toward greed and war. Even though her lifetime was marked by both continual war and fear of the plague, Julian had great trust and faith. It’s from that confidence that she also wrote, “All shall be well. All shall be well. In all matter of things, all shall be well.”

While a mystic, Julian was not detached from life. While a woman in her culture and era could do little, she did what she could. She welcomed people who came to her window, encouraged them, and offered hope and consolation. It was not within her power to cure the plague nor could she change the politics of war, but she was able to encourage people to continue on and look at the tapestry of life to find meaning and purpose.

As I read Julian’s writings in the early 1980’s, I knew that I could not cure anyone of AIDS. But I could extend myself as best I could. I could be present and be with others along life’s journey. I could trust that even as I lost hundreds of people I knew in that era, that somehow all would be well.

That brings me to today. Honestly, I don’t have the influence to change the hold greed has on society today and the peril avarice is placing on humanity’s very existence. But I can do what I can and use my writing and speaking out to raise awareness. That’s what we all can do. Perhaps when enough of us trust that change is possible and we do what we can, then the tone of dialogue about Earth’s future will change. It is with that hope that I join Julian in saying, yes….all shall be well.

© 2015, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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Prejudice and the Culture of Fear

It was an invitation I didn’t expect. A representative of the Georgia Psychological Association asked if I’d be willing to speak on a panel. The topic is similar to one I see in many places: police and community relationships after Ferguson. It turns out that the person who asked me to be part of the panel regularly reads my blog: e-merging.

A few days ago, I received a copy of the questions the panelists are asked to discuss. The questions are very specific. They address existing laws and pending legislation in Georgia as well as specific law enforcement practices in the Greater Atlanta area. Many of the questions are tied to perceptions of racism or other forms of inequity.

In preparing for the panel, I’ve thought about my own dealings with law enforcement since moving to Atlanta three years ago. I live in a predominantly African-American neighborhood. That’s true for most of Atlanta. The city is located in two counties (Fulton and DeKalb) and both are over 60% African-American. When my neighborhood association has invited law enforcement personnel to our meetings, all representatives for the precinct have been African-American. About a half dozen police officers stopped in at our neighborhood block party last year. I recall one of the officers being white and the rest were African-American. My point is that the issues in Atlanta aren’t like most of the United States in terms of a racial divide. However, various forms of social division are part of life in Atlanta just as social divisions are present elsewhere.

Issues of race aren’t as simple as they once were. In the Civil Rights era, there were specific laws that enforced a racial divide. Those laws have been repealed. Yet, racism and other kinds of social division remain. Further, most people don’t see themselves as racist, sexist, or homophobic. Yet, these social ills remain evident in American life and are commonly expressed.

I think we need a different starting point in discussing social division today. Discussions about whether something is racist, sexist, or homophobic become circular. Many people are left with a sense that it’s okay for one person to say or do a certain thing but it’s not okay for another person to say or do that same thing. Instead, I think it’s more helpful to acknowledge that people around the world tend to make generalizations about the differences among people. Social differences are often the basis for division. For example, in one culture, the differences may be due to tribal affiliation while in another it may be skin color.

Generally, during periods of social change and uncertainty, prejudice based on differences becomes more common. Uncertainty often gives rise to fear and a sense of threat. Whether the threat is real (the lack of food, water, or other basic resources), or vague (the possibility of an unspecified threat from an unknown group of terrorists), people have a greater need for social control when societal fear increases. The need for social control can lead to increased suspicion, prejudice and violence toward those groups of people who are different from the majority. I believe that the increase in racism and other social phobias in the US are related to a generalized sense of fear, insecurity, and a lack of social stability.

Over the last two decades there has been a pervasive sense of fear in the United States. Some segments of the media, certain politicians, and various public figures have been very artful in using fear and the possibility of various threats to enhance themselves. The fear of home invasion, worries about the possibility of a global apocalypse, and suspicion about the activities of new immigrants have been very profitable for some businesses. Various political leaders use fear-based tactics to assure their re-election. Some members of the news media have also inspired fear of various officials to undermine their policies. Such pervasive fear builds on existing prejudice and ignorance. I believe that among the results of this culture of fear are increased racism and homophobia, Islamophobia, anti-immigrant sentiments, and a desire to arm the nation with personal fire arms as well as increase military spending.

Changing the culture of fear in which we live is not a simple task. While it’s important to call on leaders and elected officials to end their fear-based tactics, what’s more critical is that we begin to take steps to build stronger communities. Following a number of burglaries in my neighborhood, the neighborhood association invited a number of police and security experts to help address our concerns. We organized a neighborhood patrol and worked closely with police. But what helped the most was having a block party that was well organized and attended by most of the neighbors. That became a turning point to be more involved with one another. As we got to know our neighbors and had a greater interest in them, the neighborhood crime rate also decreased. When we were simply afraid and focused on security, crime continued at a higher level. But when we intentionally became an engaged neighborhood and active community, the overall quality of life improved and crime decreased.

While I still need to be able to speak about specific legislation at the panel discussion, I think I have a different perspective to bring: fear breeds division; community and cooperation improve quality of life. It’s true for my neighborhood as well as for the city and country. Our personal actions do make a difference.

© 2015, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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