Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Discerning and Embodying Sacred Presence in Times of Violence and Strife

I don't know about you, but I'm finding myself feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the numerous acts of terror that are taking place in our world, the most recent being the terror attack in Lahore, Pakistan on Easter Sunday.

The Lahore attack by a suicide bomber killed at least 70 people, many of them children, and wounded as many as 300. One family lost 10 members.

A faction of the militant Taliban group known as Jamaat-ul-Ahrar has claimed responsibility for the attack and a spokesperson for the group said they purposely targeted Christians. Most of those killed, however, were actually Muslim.

By one count, Lahore is the ninth city hit by violent extremism this month. As such it now joins the eight cities cited in the following meme.

Where is God in all of this?

On the day of the Lahore terrorist attack I shared an excerpt from Cynthia Bourgeault's book, The Wisdom Jesus. In part, this excerpt talks about how Christ profoundly permeates all creation.

One way I articulate my understanding of Christ is by saying that Christ is God's spirit of compassion and justice. It's a spirit that Jesus of Nazareth opened himself to and embodied so beautifully and completely that we refer to him as Jesus the Christ, or simply Jesus Christ.

Another way I articulate my understanding of Christ is by saying that Christ is a level of awareness, of consciousness. It's that type of consciousness that recognizes God, or Sacred Presence, within all things. It thus recognizes and calls us to live from an awareness of our intrinsic oneness with each other and creation, from an awareness of the connection between love of God and love of neighbor. Jesus not only embodied this type of awareness but invited people to follow him in this ongoing journey of such embodiment.

I like how John Sanford puts it in his book, The Kingdom Within: Jesus, he writes, "did not say that this higher state of consciousness realized in him was his alone for all time. Nor did he call us to worship him. Rather, he called us to follow him. He called us to share in the new condition, to enter a new world, to incarnate the same Spirit he incarnated, to be one in the supramental Christ consciousness that alone can dispel the darkness of our minds and renew our lives."

This level of awareness that Jesus embodied – and calls each of us to embody – is often referred to as Christic or cosmic consciousness.

I know, I know . . . I'm getting a bit heady here. And you're no doubt wondering what any of this has to do with the tragic events in Lahore and elsewhere.

Well, I mention my previous post and share my thoughts on Christ because these very same thoughts, as important and meaningful as they are to me, can definitely be shaken and challenged by all the terrible happenings in our world.

I mean, how can Christ, God's spirit of compassion and justice, permeate all creation when violent atrocities such as those in Lahore, Brussels and Paris are taking place?

Where is God in these horrific attacks?

Well, I certainly don't believe such acts of violence are part of some mysterious plan of God's; that God somehow wills such things to take place. Instead, I've come to understand that these types of terrible things happen because of people, not because of God. They happen because people choose not to open themselves to and embody that sacred presence at their core; chose not to embark on the journey toward and into cosmic consciousness. They happen because people choose to reject the sacred within and beyond them and this sacred reality's intrinsic and life-affirming qualities of compassion and justice.

Yet in the midst of carnage and chaos God can be discerned whenever people embody the life-affirming qualities of the sacred. I was reminded of this when I read the following from Marina Koren's article in The Atlantic about the recent events in Lahore.

. . . Hundreds of citizens went to hospitals to donate blood to the victims of the attack, Reuters reported. Careem, a mobile app-based car service that operates in Pakistan, said it was offering free rides to those seeking to donate blood. Facebook activated its safety-check feature in Lahore, allowing users near the attack to notify friends and family about their safety.

It's responses like these that give me hope . . . and remind me that while ever there are people willing and hopeful and courageous enough to embody God in our world then God's loving and healing and transforming presence will be experienced.

For myself, I pray that I may always have the wherewithal and courage to be such an embodiment of Sacred Presence, especially in times of violence and strife. With this in mind I share the following prayer by William Cleary (with a slight modification on my part).

How utterly mysterious, Creator Spirit, is this existence you have placed us in. If we were to despair of understanding it at all, we could feel justified: conflict and tragedy, pain and death surround us but so does every kind of love, with beauty and wisdom in the makeup of every tree and star.

Astonishing evolutionary forces are measurably at work, and there is evidence of genuine altruism among humans. In addition, we find your own mysterious ways gracious and surprising. Be with us in making sense of it all, in keeping up our trust – against so many countersigns – that [we can be your loving and strengthening presence for ourselves and others in times of violence and strife].


Related Off-site Links:
A Most Violent Month: Terrorism Rocks the World – Robert Christian (Millennial, March 30, 2016).
A Year After Kenya College Massacre, Teachers Step In to Address the Counter-terror Vacuum – Charlotte Alfred (The World Report, March 31, 2016).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Thoughts on Prayer in a "Summer of Strife"
Prayer and the Experience of God in an Ever-Unfolding Universe
Questioning God's Benevolence in the Face of Tragedy
What We Can Learn from the Story of the Magi
Prayer of the Week – February 16, 2015

1 comment:

McAuley said...

Thank you, Michael. Beautifully said.