Posted by: Harold Knight | 11/01/2010

All Saints Day: The Communion of Saints, Politics, and “Sacred Wounds”

Picasso

Picass0

Saints:

Anna Bleyle, who worked tirelessly in a mission to the thousands of guest workers who came to Western Nebraska from Mexico in the 1950s. Who took care of her mentally ill sister month after month to avoid having her hospitalized. Who spread a kind of blessing and joy wherever she went. Who was a friend to people who had few friends. Housewife.

Sue Mansfield, who was able to hold her students and her friends up in an embrace of truth and reality even when they were in crisis. Whose religious belief made possible a suspension of disbelief with her understanding that, “You don’t have to believe, just believe that we believe.” And who worked tirelessly to help feed the hungry in Southern California. College professor.

Many more saints have touched my life, so it’s curious to me why these two women always come to mind when I think about sainthood, which I don’t often think about per se. Those two women had about them a quality of humility and grace that I’ve never known in anyone else. I’m sure my saying that will surprise other of their friends. Perhaps both of them showed me grace in some special way they did not show others. I doubt that. With both of them I felt (are feelings safe indicators of the truth?) a kind of real presence that I feel now and then with everyone I have known. With Anna and Sue the real presence never failed.

Anna was the only adult I addressed by her first name when I was a child. Sue was the only friend with whom I was comfortable talking about all of my doubts and fears (including fear of the symptoms of temporal lobe epilepsy for which, when I knew her, I did not yet have a diagnosis or a name). Anna loved. Sue listened. And both of them lived in and for the world around them perhaps more than anyone else I have known. I’m sure they had their personal demons, their enmities, their doubts, their fears. Others most likely saw them differently. They were sinners like the rest of us. But I witnessed them as they made connections with the world around them, and I experienced that connection from both of them as with almost no one else.

Living in and for the world around is, at least from my perspective, a rare ability—especially in a time when hatred, anger, fear, and self-righteousness seems to be at a premium. Are people in general uglier in public than they were for most of my lifetime, or have I come to an age that my desire for peace of mind and action outweighs almost every other desire, and, hearing the vitriol of our public discourse—which obviously mirrors the anger in our hearts—grieves me. It grieves me because I see both its roots and its fruit (oh my, can I write only in tired cliché?) in the lives of my friends.

Everyone I know and love seems to be angry about something, as does everyone who speaks in public.

I should know. I have been impossibly angry most of my life. Anger and fear are the emotions I know best. Perhaps I simply project my anger onto the world around me instead of making connections in the manner of Anna and Sue.

My felt need to explain (always, perhaps, to whine about) my personal demon, never quite feeling that anything is real because I live in constant TLE seizure activity or fear of it, is symptomatic  of my own unwillingness to make connections as Anna and Sue did. But that is only my unconnectedness. You have yours. If you live in the “developed” West, you are automatically disconnected from the world around you. We are all lost in a confused miasma where ‘want’ has replaced actual need, where cosmic place and social purpose have been subsumed to mean one’s position in ‘the economy’” (1). And, Newton continues, this confusion has produced an

. . . . empty dialogue of [marketing] constantly fostered by mainstream. . .  communities. Absent is a socially celebrated sense of the joy of life and a reflective consciousness on this planet. . . particularly in the secularized, emotionally stunted west. The actual meaning of “work” for many people is a degrading survival issue in the monetary economy, engaged in processes and tasks which have little real meaning or satisfaction (2).

St. Edward, Peacemaker

St. Edward, Peacemaker

That’s the source of the meanness of our political climate. People who are trapped in lives where work has become “a degrading survival issue” and where tasks “have little real meaning or satisfaction” are terrified when they believe their “survival” is threatened. If, as pop psychology asserts, depression is fear turned inward, anger and meanness is fear turned outward.

Anna and Sue, whatever else they were about, were empathetic. Empathy does not foster anger. And, I suppose, although I don’t have much authority from which to speak on the subject, empathy probably goes a long way to counter fear. My spiritual tradition, as usual, has an explanation.

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love (I John 4:18).

So this is what sainthood is all about, I think—casting out fear. Jonathan Newton, while he uses no language of “love” or theology, observes that

. . . Continuation of these unpleasant aspects . . . into the present day have shaped and brought about a culturally immature society, lacking in empathy. This inherent inability to connect or empathise with others creates a social world without meaning, and the sense of an “empty self” (2).

The consequences of our “super materialistic and environmentally unsustainable consumerist lifestyles” and “lack of empathy and connection can be understood as ‘sacred wounds’” (3).

Saints must be then those few people who seek to care for our “sacred wounds.” For example (to use a perhaps self-centered instance of personal anger-and-fear-making), in the midst of all of the current vitriol aimed at LGBT persons (4), one christian leader makes a clean break with dis-connectedness and expresses empathy—for himself (miraculously) and for others.  Jim Swilley, founder and pastor of the Rockdale County (Georgia) Church in the Now, said earlier this week, “I know all the hateful stuff that’s being written about me online, whatever. To think about saving a teenager, yeah, I’ll risk my reputation for that” (5). He came out of the closet having known he was gay since he was a teenager.

. . . and empathy

. . . and empathy

I’m guilty of dis-connection. Sarah Palin is stupid. Sharron Angle is an extremist. Karl Rove is evil. Rush Limbaugh is a big fat liar. Guilty. I don’t know how to be a saint in the vitriolic climate we have made for ourselves. I know I fear the take-over of the Congress by the Republicans. I know I fear homophobia. I know I dislike to the core of my being the Islamophobia rampant in this country.

But I also know that none of my fear stems from Temporal Lobe seizures. My fear of physical dis-connection, my sense of aloneness in a world no one “understands” (whine), my inability to act peaceably and with empathy is of my own doing, not the misfiring of synapses in my brain.
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(1) Newton, Jonathan M. “Altruistic economics: the gift culture and end of the culture of extinction.” Pacific Ecologist 18 (2009): 21+.
(2) Newton.
(3) Newton cites as the source for“sacred wounds,” Bernard Lietaer and Stephen M. Belgin, Of Human Wealth. Boulder, CO: Citerra Press: pp. 191-194.
(4) Without comment, except for a shudder of fear, see
http://www.couragecampaign.org/page/s/NBCTAKEACTION
(5) Advocate.com Editors. “Megachurch Pastor Comes Out .” The Advocate. Advocate.com. October 29, 2010. Web. 1 Nov. 2010.

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