We Share One Life, We Are One Life
*Brian Wilcox. 'An Exquisite Brokenness'. Flickr.
If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.
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When loving one for what he or she is
we are able to love what he or she appears to be
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When a little boy, my dad was driving in town in the Southeast USA, when racial segregation was central to our lives. Whites and blacks kept apart, attending different schools and churches, and blacks were not seen in the same restaurants. This is the world my little brain was trained in, to see the world in black and white. White meant superior race, superior person, superior people, smart people, more deserving of respect; black meant inferior race, inferior person, inferior people, ignorant people, less deserving of respect. Yet, at the same time, there was this double-bind in the churches: God loves everyone equally, we are to do the same, respecting everyone as a creation of God; Jesus invites all equally, but blacks are not allowed in my church. How does a little boy deal with this contradiction, especially if he is devoted to his religion, where the contradiction is lived out, a contradiction no one wants to speak about, but is always present.
How does an early, elementary school boy work with this contradiction: Whites and blacks, if Christian, will resurrect bodily from the grave, so retaining black and white, and they will all live together in peace in heaven, but on earth, they do not belong together, they are not to live in peace, but intolerance? This makes no sense, for prejudice makes no sense. Prejudice is based on ignorance, on fear of the apparent otherness of the other.
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Well, though I was born a gentle and welcoming lad, for some reason on that day in town I acted radically different. I was in the back seat and, with window down, saw a black man crossing the road. When he was near our vehicle, I, with head pocked outside the window, spoke with a defaming voice to him, and I referred to him gleefully with a racial slur. All I recall of response, is the dear man looked back at me, calmly. My dad spoke angrily to me, telling me I was not to do that. I was silent. This was not simply a little boy acting hateful to a dear one, this was the world I lived in in the Southeast USA in the 1960s.
At age 58, I have just gotten where I can think of and speak of this event without feeling deep shame. Years before, shame washed away regarding all else shameful I have done, but this I remained ashamed of and never spoke of it to anyone. This is the first time I have referred to this in any context.
How do I see this man now? When my mind goes back to that Saturday in Hazlehurst, GA, I recall it with some vividness. I see this one looking at me. He is looking with a smile. He is forgiving. And I, too, with shame gone, see him through Love, and I love him. I would like to have the opportunity to talk with him, to say, "I'm sorry." I see the color of his skin is sacred, even as mine is, both equally so, yet one; I deeply feel gladness for him being the being he is.
I know, too, the entire white culture in that time and place was speaking through me, such is the power of racism to veil the innate innocence of a child born free of prejudice and hate, a lad naturally loving and gentile of heart. I spoke in my childlike innocence, before I could see how wrong it was, what the adults thought but rarely did speak, if ever. We whites lived it, as though this was the most natural way to be. Blacks lived it, too, aware more than we can know of how this was not the natural way to be. Then, of course, racism leads to counter-racism, and the separation only widens, the wounds of both are unable to be healed, until we see and act, yes love, from the heart.
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Ironically, I came to feel a deep devotion to racial equality, and that is one of the reasons I left my native religious group. By high school, most of my friends were black; the one girl I most felt a closeness to as dear friend and wished to date was black, but the culture of white and black was far from being ready to accept that in the early 1970s. The persons I have most been comfortable around in life have not been my race, but the race of that man I defamed on that Saturday morning over 50 years ago.
Ironically, too, many years later, in the late 1980s, I became a Professor of Religion at an all-black seminary in New Orleans, LA. I was there the recipient of racial discrimination, as some of the black males did not appreciate my being a teacher of black females. I learned, likewise, that racism was not simply between colors, but among blacks at that time, between darker skinned and lighter skinned of the race.
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One of my fondest memories in chaplain work is when being a hospice chaplain for a dear, black woman of age 104. She was nearing her end, eyes closed, but she could still hear and enjoy Bible readings and Gospel singing. In singing for her, I let myself sing more like the cadence of black spirituals. I found it quite enjoyable, and she enjoyed it much. By doing this, I was receptive to enter her world, to, in a sense, leave behind my culture, to bring her comfort through what she was familiar with. This is what Grace does. In this receptivity, one discovers the two worlds are not really separate worlds, at all. There is one Song, with many styles; the differences invite us to celebrate the styles and, maybe, like I was blessed to do, enter into another style of the Song to love someone else.
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If raised in cultures of racial prejudice, socialized to be racist, are we ever free of racism? Possibly, possibly not. I do not know. What we can do is mindfully grow in inclusion of others unlike us, persons we were taught are not equal to us. We can admit if thoughts of inequality arise, and we can, in exposing them in the Light, heal more from the untruth of inequality.
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Word spread abroad about a Holy Man who lived in a small house atop a mountain. A man from the village made a long, difficult journey to visit him. Upon arriving at the house, an aged servant greeted him at the door. "I would like," said the visitor, "to see the wise Holy Man." The servant smiled. He motioned for him to enter. Walking through the house, the villager looked eagerly around, anticipating meeting the Holy Man. Soon, he had been led to the back door and escorted outside. He stopped and turning to the servant, said, "But I want to see the Holy Man!" "You already have," said the servant. "Everyone you meet in life, even if they appear plain and insignificant, see each as a wise Holy Man. If you do this, whatever problem you brought here today will be solved."
This story, from the East, reminds us that by embracing others as all sacred beings, we ourselves find healing. Problems oft diminish, may even disappear, simply through the power and grace of loving, and not only other humans, but any aspect of creation.
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Months ago, after a heavy snow, I hiked the trail behind the cottage here. I came upon a tree ~ see opening photo. The tree was broken. I wanted to hug it closely. I did, wrapping the arms around it, in total oneness, in closeness. When I moved back, I had difficulty processing how intimate I felt with that tree, as though I felt what the tree felt, and I sensed a sadness for the brokenness of that one tree. This reminded me, when we embrace others, others includes all beings, not just humans. While many of us may not be, for instance, racially prejudiced, we are prejudiced against other life forms, we act as though they are here for us, not that we are here for each other. And love can begin in any moment we open our heart to another person, a tree, a flower, the sky, anything and anywhere.
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For relationships to be graceful, transformation of how we see persons occurs. Transformation is not only a change in behavior, how I act toward another person, but, more and prior, how I see him or her. For example, racism is not essentially acting differently toward a race, but seeing differently the race. If, also, a Christian sees a Muslim as evil, how can the Christian treat equally the Muslim, and vice versa?
By growth in Grace, we are shaped by and into Grace; so, our seeing of and treatment of others becomes more graceful. We see through the personality of others, with its makeup of traits, including race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, past behaviors, economic status, gender, ... Then, likewise, we can be receptive to spontaneous respect, even reverence, both for the essence of the other and the personal or collective traits of the other. This means, for example, a Christian not only welcoming the Hindu, but embracing that which makes the Hindu a Hindu, and vice versa. And the employer sees male and female as deserving of equal pay and respect. This means, we are seeing and acting beyond tolerance, we are seeing and acting from Pure Love.
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When entering the Silence, heartfully, essentially we are no more merely persons of a race, a color, a religion, a gender, .... In the Silence, we belong with everyone, we are together. Then, living from the Silence, we live belonging with everyone. In the heart we find everyone is one.
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WE ARE EACH A LOVELY ROSE
IN THE GARDEN OF GRACE
*Kat-Morgan. 'Just a Rose'. Flickr.
The Sacred in Me Bows to the Sacred in You
*(C) Brian K. Wilcox, 2019