Chaplain and Pastoral Counseling Ministry
It was Patriot's Day 2013 in Massachusetts. Few around the world are now unaware that the Boston Marathon was run that day. Few are also now unaware that the new Boston Massacre occurred on that day as well. On April 15, 2013 (Patriot's Day), I was writing on my computer at the time and getting 'pop-up' Breaking News alerts of 'an explosion in Boston.' As an example of how common, and thus de-sensitized, I think many of us, including myself, have become to such news alerts, I paid it little attention. As per my work routine, at 4:00 PM CA time I turned on TV News while sorting my email. I immediately saw, once again, that the world as many of us have come to know it was, once again, radically changed.
I want to take the lead from a seminarian who was interviewed by one of the national networks, (I do not recall which network as I was constantly flipping news channels), whose witness reminded that any experience can be made a Godly one if it is tied to prayer. The seminarian and his wife were actually caught in the cross-fire that killed one of the alleged perpetrators: the older brother. Bullets were flying around them. They used the time to pray to God for deliverance during this "nightmare."
We can think of all the responders who came to the aid of the many injured. If their service was done with a pure heart and Godly spirit, then it became a channel of spiritual and psychological healing for all involved. We can also reflect on the great endurance of the victims, their family and friends, the heroic law enforcement officers [let me mention the many from far away states] and the people of Boston, who were on lockdown and living in a state of fear. I believe the apt slogan that has emerged from those affected is "Boston Strong."
Only God knows what the state of the world will be by the time this "Chaplain's Corner" is published. So, my spiritual reflection is really dated as of the state of the world at the writing of this article (the second week of April, 2013). News sources report an unusually high awareness among Americans of the current threat of a nuclear war crisis incited by the extreme bellicose threats and actions of North Korean leaders. Words such as "represents threat," "public pessimism" and that "Americans are listening are now being heard worldwide." Such reports also indicate that a poll across all demographic groups in the United States, is that if the North's neighbor, South Korea, is attacked, the United States should respond militarily. How close is the nuclear annihilation clock to ticking to '0?' As of this writing, very close.
All this brings to my mind the words of the psalmist: "All too long have I dwelt with those who hate peace. When I speak of peace, they are ready for war." In other words, peace is precious; it is a treasure. This reflection bespeaks the necessity for all of us at all times to preserve peace and to work and hope to bring about peace. Peace is one of the fundamental teachings of most of the world's religious traditions. An example is Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist Zen master, who, since the Vietnam War, has worked tirelessly for peace. He pointed out that “Many people think excitement is happiness. . . . But when you are excited you are not peaceful. True happiness is based on peace. Mahatma Gandhi points out that “An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.” Christ told his followers: "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of God." (Mt 5: 9).
How many of us really take the time to reflect on the things we do to others and do to ourselves in our daily lives? There are some good reasons for doing such a self- analysis. Not the least of which is that by thinking over how we may have hurt others and ourselves we may foster compassion for others in terms of the misdeeds they may have done and this in turn may lead to more civility in our evaluations of others and also in our dealings with them. It is so easy for us to justify our own aberrations while seeing the immoral, improper or wicked behavior of others. In ancient Chinese tradition Confucius (551-479 BC) sadly comments: "I have not yet seen one who could perceive his faults and inwardly accuse himself." (Analects, bk. v., c. xxvi.). On the other hand, Mencius (372 – 289 BC), the disciple and commentator of Confucius, speaks about the joys of true self-reflection: "There is no greater delight than to be conscious of sincerity upon self-examination." (Bk. vii., pt. i., c. iv., v. 2.). It is only in such sincere understanding of self that true virtue can be practiced. This helps in comprehending the meaning of Confucius' statement: "To be able to practice five things everywhere under heaven constitutes perfect virtue: Gravity, magnanimity, sincerity, earnestness, and kindness." (Analects, bk. xvii., c. vi.)
Psychologists would label such a process of reflection a self-inventory. For example, Robert Enright, PhD, (2012), notes the need for an “ uncovering phase” in which an individual lists their own faults and the consequences of them. This self-understanding promotes understanding of the factors that may have influenced others’ untoward behaviors. Such understanding nurtures compassion, and compassion fosters civility.
In today's world who has not confronted the 'arrogance of power?' At first it might be easy to think that only those who hold positions of wealth or authority would be candidates to wield power. While it is true that such individuals may be in an opportune setting to display self-serving, controlling actions, even individuals who are not high on the economic, political or social status scales can exert unwarranted, overbearing power. I am reminded of an example discussed in a graduate psychology course in New York City. A well-dressed, stockbroker-looking executive, somewhat rushed, has put a bill in a subway token window booth just as a subway train on its way to the Wall Street Station has opened its doors merely a few feet away, opposite, and in sight of the booth and the entry turn-style. Objectively there is more than enough time for the token clerk to give the passenger the token and change so that he would be able to catch the train. The clerk stalls, moves his hands appearing to sort change in front of him, and just as the subway doors are closing hands over token and change, with an obvious smirk on his face implying: "I got you."
This may remind readers of the ancient Greek notion of pride (hubris). Hubris motivates someone to use, intentionally, any means, even aggression, to degrade or humiliate others. In this case, the action of the subway clerk was not outright violence but what would be termed in psychology, passive aggression. None the less, it can easily be seen as a display of arrogant power. The Bhagavad-Gita (16: 18) describes pride this way: "Egotistical, violent, arrogant, lustful, angry, envious of everyone, they abuse my presence within their own bodies and in the bodies of others."
How many of us when we first meet some new person immediately find something about them to be critical about? Alternatively, we can look at the major news stories in the media over the last few months of 2012 and focus on the overwhelming brokenness graphically depicted: war, super-storms, school massacres and mass killings, to say the least. However, we do have an alternative. We could try to see the good that is imbedded within the bad. We can see that through all this tragedy some have been encouraging others to remain affirming of hope, fostering optimism and healing, and, most importantly, inspiring others by their own good actions. We have to see that inspiring others is one of the greatest good deeds we can do for those around us.
Doing good for others is certainly not unknown among the world's religions. Buddhist tradition teaches, "Therefore, do thy duty as prescribed; for duty-bound action is superior to inaction . . . .Actions normally fetter the human being but not when they are performed as acts of sacrifice." (Bhagavadgita, 3: 8-9). The words of Gandhi are very meaningful on helping us to focus on the good: “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it--always."i