Food for Thought

In the aftermath of the 10-year anniversary of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, our attention is once again diverted to other things. True, it doesn’t do to keep revisiting painful memories and wallowing in the despair that such events cause in our psyches.

However, if there is ONE THING that we should keep in mind when we are called to bring to mind heinous acts of violence–personally or collectively–it is that which was the subject of yesterday’s homily at my neighborhood Parish. It is a lesson that always weighs heavily on our consciences; one that is very difficult to embrace, as it goes absolutely against our most atavistic human instincts. It is the call for FORGIVENESS.

This is difficult, because whenever we feel violated, attacked, or the subject of humiliation, our natural reaction is to reciprocate in-kind, to right the wrong, to inflict pain and “even the score.” But the message I heard yesterday was a reminder that it is not our duty to punish evil. That we are called by our faith to do right, to do good. To let God do the punishing. We are called to forgive those who sin against us. To forgive is to let go of the pain that others have caused us. Forgiveness allows us to start over and to move on. Forgiveness is a relief.

Resentment, on the other hand, eats away at our souls, changes us, makes us hard-hearted and vindictive. Without forgiveness, the world (and us) cannot overcome the troubles of the past. We see this every day, at every moment; in the day-to-day human interactions, at the micro as well as the macro level. Is this not what causes most conflicts between nations? What stands in the way of progress? What makes us resent our neighbor, our own family members sometimes? Is this resentment not what is at the bottom of every dispute? Some may say that greed is the cause of most conflicts, but I say even more basic than greed is the resentment that we feel when we are unable to forgive our fellow human beings for their apparent and–in our opinion–undeserved position of advantage compared to our own.

For the unbeliever, the position of letting God “take care of business” for us is quite untenable, I know. But perhaps if we all practiced this virtue, whether motivated by religious beliefs, or just plain practicality, wouldn’t the world be a much better place in which to live?

Food for thought.

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4 thoughts on “Food for Thought

  1. My “inner Viking…” I like that! I can’t trust this guy sometimes tho. He comes out when I least expect it, and gets me in all sorts of trouble. I try to keep him squashed, but to no avail. Thanks for pointing him out to me, because I couldn’t figure out what–or who–was driving the car sometimes. 🙂
    Also, thanks for your vote of confidence. Sometimes we need someone to shake us out of the despondency that is so easy to surrender to and so difficult to overcome (now you know where A… gets it from…) 😉

  2. Hello Monica!

    I certainly feel the sense and value of what you’ve written here. As you say, it’s just common sense.

    That said, I assert that we need much more than this. Not only do we need more in order to prosper, quite plausibly, we’re going to have to demand more of ourselves and each other in order to survive.

    I have posted two installments of my own commemoration of this day, which is also a critically important date in the history of Chile, of course, at http://www.sermcap.wordpress.com. Yesterday, I scribed about another important September date, when the U.S., after snuffing the lives of two hundred thousand Japanese civilians, signed a peace treaty.

    Two days ago, I presented an overview of the current moment and how 9/11 fits in. I noted at the outset how lucky people are to live in such a favorable cosmos, how were we to avail ourselves of that fortune, we should all “be as happy as kings,” as the saying goes.

    I continued however, that “This happy outcome, lasting creativity and peace, does not seem like a safe bet … as the tenth anniversary of the inception of the present period approaches amid memorialization and appeals to patriotism that make not the slightest attempt to comprehend either what happened a decade ago, or why vicious, suicidal madness unfolded as it did on a brilliant September day in 2001.” I encourage you and your readers to take my challenge.

    Read what I’ve written, and then let’s talk about it. Outside of a context of understanding, neither active forgiveness nor the passive release of resentment is likely to improve our prospects. Our state of mind–and karma–will undoubtedly improve, but such a self-centered approach won’t do much for the Earth, its creatures, and the future when the likes of old farts such as the two of us have long passed on.

    I like to think that we have a responsibility, collective and dialogic and democratic, to that possible future. It requires knowledge and action as well as forgiveness and letting go of resentful feelings.

    Or so it seems to me, in any event. But as I said, read, and then let’s start talking.

    • Yes, I read your piece. I was waiting for the 2nd installment to comment. I agree with your insights (your article); the main difference between your approach and mine is that you are much more of a “warrior” than I. My temperament is mostly non-confrontational. Maybe I’m just a woos. I also have no faith in humanity. We’re all flawed. I still don’t understand why we were put on this earth if we are so riddled with faults and weaknesses. I don’t really see a real purpose. On one hand, this imperfect humanity is an impenetrable wall, impossible to crack; but on the other, it’s probably what allows for a select few to rise above and become heroes (or saints). Maybe that’s the sole purpose of it all.

      • Monica!

        If I were to limit my reply to one note, it would be this: “Consider the dialectic!”

        This is a word with which many people are unfamiliar. It can be an adjective, along with ‘dialectical,’ or, as here, a noun. The noun means any process that develops or manifests as a result of contradictory impulses or forces.

        In this vein, one can quickly determine that the entire universe is one big dialectic, since forces that are in opposition underlie everything. Protons need electrons(though neutrons have a role too); night balances day(mediated by dawn and dusk); male necessitates female and vice versa; and so on and so forth.

        Not everyone can want to debate, which I am oh-so-fond-of. I’m not a warrior so much as a believer in dialog(which is another sort of dialectic); you are also committed to conversation, and quite good at it(think about when we’ve had little wagers, many of which you’ve won, you little stinker), meaning that your inner-viking cannot be too deeply buried, whatever your making-amends normal process.

        You’re definitely not a wuss!

        That said, your response to my comment did reveal much deeper meaning and provide important insights about how you engage the world. Of “faith, hope, and charity,” according to the canon, none is equal to “hope.” To lack faith in humanity is to abandon hope. Your sense of frustration is understandable, but perhaps as a matter of spiritual commitment, you can act AS IF you had some hope for humankind, some faith in humanity. As my sister sometimes said, “sometimes you just have to fake it till you make it.”

        You also point out, aptly, that we all have flaws. Otherwise we would be dead. Think about that; only death is never-changing, and hence ‘perfect,’ since perfection cannot get either better or worse.

        Thus, our inevitable foibles and imperfections are not a sound reason to lack faith in humanity. Humanity is the lot of us; humanity is part of the evolutionary process of life; humanity contains all that is angelic and demonic in consciousness, all that is highest and lowest in the tree of life. This is what ‘variation through natural selection’ means, at some profoundly simple but also deeply rooted level.

        But this is not a defense of some people’s propensity to dominate and garner everything for themselves. In fact, in an evolutionary sense, theirs is a pathway of doom, a ‘vaya con diablo’ choice that must ultimately lead to human destruction. That is precisely why, whatever one’s ‘faith in humanity,’ whatever one’s recognition of personal and universal error and lunacy, one has no choice, unless one abandons a commitment to life and decides instead to serve death, to stand up, to speak, and to act.

        This responsibility is not about ‘purpose,’ nor does it mean a ‘ticket to heaven.’ Purpose is the realm of the deity, and we haven’t the ken to see it, if it exists, at least not regularly or for very long; similarly, we can’t be certain–whatever the strength of our faith–about the pearly gates.

        But we can learn about the world. We can see, or at least intuit intelligently, the impact of our life-course on the human and planetary prospect, which contains this profound gift and curse of existence and consciousness. In that context, of seeking to learn and knowing ourselves, we must confront that either–through design or inaction–we will serve doom, or–again through design or the occasional lucky decision to get out of the way and hope our scurrying away helps out–we will serve creation.

        I’m going to do my best to serve creation, as best I’m able, despite the risk that in my partiality and ignorance and perplexity I may instead accomplish the opposite of what I intend. I guess that means that I have faith in myself; and that probably implies that I have faith in other people. I definitely have faith in you.

        Just keep pondering it all. Ask the cosmos for a clue. Seek guidance from what you put your faith in. The journey is a pretty interesting trek, in any event. Vaya con Dios; ask ‘what would the Nazarene do?’

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