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In 2001, I shared with you this story that I believe is worth reflecting on once again.
Once upon a time there was a town that was built just beyond the bend of a large river. One day some of the children from the town were playing beside the river when they noticed three bodies floating in the water. They ran for help and the townsfolk quickly pulled the bodies out of the water.
One body was dead so they buried it. One was alive, but quite ill, so they put that person into the hospital. The third turned out to be a healthy child. They then placed her with a family who cared for her and took her to school.
From that day on, every day a number of bodies came floating down the river, and every day, the good people of the town would pull them out and tend to them — taking the sick to the hospital, placing the children with families, and burying those who were dead.
This went on for years and the townsfolk not only came to expect the floating bodies, but also worked at developing more elaborate systems for picking them out of the river and tending to them. Some of the townsfolk became quite generous in their tending and a few extraordinary ones even gave up their jobs so that they could tend full-time. And the town itself felt a certain healthy pride in its generosity.
However, during all these years and despite all that generosity and effort, nobody thought to go up the river, beyond the bend, and find out why those bodies came floating down the river.
As I’ve been reflecting on the unfolding events of these past few months, I recalled this story from Ronald Rolheiser’s provocative book: The Holy Longing.
This story challenges me to be more intentional about the whys of life, rather than simply accepting things “as that’s the way it has always been.” When we acquiesce to statements, behaviors, biases and beliefs simply “because” — we are like those well meaning folks in the town who responded to the situation in front of them, failing to ask the systemic question, why.
Why are there bodies floating into our town? What is happening upstream? Is there outbreak of disease that we may be able to help cure? Is there an oppressive government that is ruling its people unjustly? Is there a war taking place?
I believe that God longs for us to always stop — take a deep breath — and ask the whys of life. When we do, we’re more able to enter into the shoes of others. When we do, we can find ways to respond rather than react to what might be happening in government … on the local or national level. When we do, our perspectives widen helping us to understand the actions of those with whom we may disagree. This won’t necessarily change our opinions or beliefs, but our hearts can become more compassionate and open.
Think about it …. our lives and world could be significantly healthier — if we simply asked the question why before we respond.
Asking why with you,
Jeffrey Steven Gaines
I often find inspiration by the reflections of Richard Rohr of the Center of Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, NM. This was true for me this week as I read the following that I’d like to pass on to you. I believe Rohr is right … we do not have to define ourselves by what went wrong yesterday, because we can draw upon the Life and Love we have right now. In fact, as Rohr writes: Life and Love are what’s real! Enjoy reading …
“The True Self is always humble. It knows that we didn’t do it right and that it isn’t even about doing it right; it’s just about doing it. Our True Self knows that everything belongs. That means holding together the good and the bad, the dark and the light, the sinner and the saint—which are two parts of me and two parts of everything. It is our participation in divinity which allows us to be this large.
Only God, it seems, is spacious enough to include everything. Humans need to expel, exclude, deny, and avoid. We just can’t hold very much by our private selves. Only God in me, only me in God, can hold the contraries. Forgiveness could almost be God’s very name and identity.
Our first forgiveness is not toward a particular sin or offense. Our first forgiveness, it seems to me, is toward reality itself: to forgive it for being so broken, a mixture of good and bad. First that paradox has to be overcome inside of us. Then, when we allow God to hold together the opposites within us, it becomes possible to do it over there in our neighbor and even our enemy. Finally, our worldview and politics change. We can no longer project our evil onto another country, religion, minority group, race, or political party.
Only the false self easily takes offense. The false self can’t live a self-generated life of immediate contact with God. It defines itself by the past, which is to live in un-forgiveness. Forgiveness is the only way to free ourselves from the entrapment of the past. We’re in need not only of individual forgiveness; we need it on a national, global, and cosmic scale. Old hurts linger long in our memories and are hard to let go. We must each learn how to define ourselves by the present moment—which is all we really have. I will not define myself by what went wrong yesterday when I can draw upon Life and Love right now. Life and Love are what’s real. This Infinite Love is both in us and yet it is more than us.”
Embracing the Life and Love I have today,
Jeffrey Steven Gaines