By Rebecca Hall
We rehearse, and then we perform. We practice, and then we play the big game. We train, and then run the marathon. We learn, and then we put the skills to use. Rehearsing, practicing, training, and learning are valuable in and of themselves. But we also might be called upon to use what we have developed for something greater.
Spiritual practice is no different. We usually practice for the fruit – to develop and maintain a relationship to God and to grow in generosity, compassion, wisdom, joyfulness, patience, self-control, faith, and love. And as St. Paul reminds us, the greatest of these is love.
But how do we love in times such as these? Polarized times. Times when the person you are supposed to love (no matter where you fall politically) is absolutely wrong – more than just wrong, their views are dangerous.
Jesus lived in polarized times, too. The communities who wrote the Gospels were very polarized – maybe more than we are. And yet Gospel teaching continually exhorts us to love. Love God. Love our neighbor. Love our enemy. As talk of civil war leaves the fringes and enters mainstream conversation, this is a question we cannot neglect: How do we love people with whom we so deeply disagree?
The danger in polarization is that it can devolve to the point that we no longer see and feel the humanity of other people. The danger is when our hearts are hardened and others become two-dimensional archetypes. We don’t like to admit that this can happen to us (maybe to ‘them’ but not to us!). The fact that our society is so polarized is evidence that collectively, our hearts have hardened. We have very little control over the state of our nation. But we do have some level of control over the state of our own hearts.
I know of nothing better for softening the human heart than contemplative spiritual practices. We cannot rationalize our way into loving people for whom we have developed some level of contempt. In his 2005 essay “From Cruelty to Compassion: The Crucible of Personal Transformation”, the last thing he wrote before he died, psychologist and spiritual teacher Gerald May admits to struggling with his own thesis: that cruelty (he specifically discusses tribalism and polarization) can only be overcome by transforming ourselves, by softening our own hearts.
How are you caring for yours? As we enter 2022, let’s take stock of our own ability to feel, speak, and act both out of love and out of contempt and let’s commit to practices that generate a softer stance toward others.
If you’d like to know more, following are some articles and resources for starting or supporting a meditation practice. Stay tuned to The Abbey for more conversations, resources, and groups geared toward navigating these polarized times paired with spiritual practices that continually point us toward transformation.
Mediation changes our brains, hearts, and bodies for the better and is good for reducing stress, anxiety, and depression.
Research has been done on the connection between Centering Prayer and empathy.
Lynda Young Kaffie and Joyce Palevitz explain here how to start a contemplative practice.
The Abbey has two meditation groups open to everyone looking for community with people developing a practice.
Timely, helpful, and on target. Thank you, Rebecca.