July 9, 2017 “Virtues: Pathways of Peace”
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.
A Native American Story
An elder Cherokee Native American was teaching his grandchildren about life. He said to them, “A fight is going on inside me … it is a terrible fight and it is between wolves. One wolf represents fear, anger, envy, regret, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego. The other stands for joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. This same fight is going on inside of you, and inside of every other person too.” They thought about it for a minute and then one child asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
Vices and virtues - which ones are we feeding? and how does it affect our bodies, minds, emotions, spirits, our lives, the lives of those around us and even those we don’t personally know? People have been writing about vices and virtues, probably as long as people have been writing. They are part of our psyche. They are talked about throughout our scriptures - warning us about our vices and lifting up the virtues. Just open the book of Proverbs, you’ll get an ear full.
Today, in the press, we seem to be hearing more about vices than virtues, and a steady diet of bad news can certainly take its toll. That’s why I love hearing the stories of people nominated for CNN Heroes, or the one positive story they tack on to the national news at 6:30. So, today, to bring a little balance in our lives, we are going to lift up virtues. I’ve listed many of them on the front of the bulletin. These are our pathways to peace.
I draw wisdom from others people’s stories - from their experiences, as well as my own. So I’ve decided to look back over stories I’ve collected, about virtues and how they play a part in people’s lives. Some of them come from a wonderful book entitles Spiritual Literacy, and others from various sources. Today we will share them with you, and light a path to peace along the way. I hope they will trigger memories of your own stories and serve as a reminder of our need to cultivate these virtues in our lives.
KINDNESS: Leo Buscalia
Author and lecturer Leo Buscalia once talked about a contest he was asked to judge. The purpose of the contest was to find the most caring child. The winner was a four-year-old child whose next door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife. Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman’s yard, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there. When the mother asked him what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy said, “Nothing…I just helped him cry.”
JOY: Anne Scott
Years ago I had read that it was a tradition among some California Native Americans to go into the redwood forests when they needed strength. Standing with their backs against a tree they would remain there until they were quite literally recharged. I remembered this brief description the day I took my husband to a hospital room and watched him struggle for his life with asthma.
After leaving Stephen in the hospital, I returned home, drained of hope and exhausted. I went to the redwoods nearby and leaned against one of the trees. Feeling soothed and calmed, I remained in this position with my eyes closed for several minutes. As I moved away from the tree, ready to go home, I noticed that my palms tingled. At about six inches from the tree, the tingling intensified, but any further away it weakened. I repeated this motion many times to convince myself that I wasn’t imagining that I could feel what the Chinese refer to as ch’i. In Japan they call it ki, and in India prone; we know it as the life force.
This glimpse into the unseen, which for me had previously been the unreal, gave me great comfort. I was no longer alone. I know that I was held, a single thread within the intricate lacework connecting all living things. Before this awareness, I would have only entered into the darkness of matter, seen only the pain that is held in the body. But now I had experienced in my body the joy that is hidden in matter. It was safe for me to listen to my own rhythms.
CHARITY: Eric Butterworth
A college professor had his sociology class to into the Baltimore slums to get case histories of 200 young boys. They were asked to write an evaluation of each boy’s future. In every case the students wrote “He hasn’t got a chance.” Twenty-five years later another sociology professor came across the earlier study. He had his students follow up on the project to see what had happened to these boys. With the exception of 20 boys who had moved or died, the students learned that 176 of the remaining 180 had achieved more than ordinary success as lawyers, doctors and businessmen.
The professor was astounded and decided to pursue the matter further. Fortunately, all the men were in the area and he was able to ask each one, “How do you account for our success?” In each case the reply came with feeling. “There was a teacher!”
The teacher was still alive, so he sought her out and asked the old but still alert lady what magic formula she had used to pull their boys out of the slums into successful achievement. The teacher’s eyes sparkled and her lips broke into a gentle smile. “It’s really very simple. I loved those boys.”
FORGIVENESS: Helen Brejean
Lloyd Le Blanc has told me that he would have been content with imprisonment for Patrick Sonnier. He went to the execution, he says, not for revenge, but hoping for an apology. Patrick Sonnier had not disappointed him. Before sitting in the electric chair he had said, “Mr. LeBlanc, I want to ask your forgiveness for what me and Eddie done,” and Lloyd Le Blanc had nodded his head, signaling a forgiveness he had already given. He says that when he arrived with sheriff’s deputies there in the cane field to identify his son, he had knelt by his boy …and prayed the Our Father. And when he came to the words: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” he had not halted or equivocated, and he said, “Whoever did this, I forgive them.” But he acknowledges that it’s a struggle to overcome the feelings of bitterness and revenge that well up, especially as he remembers David’s birthday year by year and loses him all over again… Forgiveness is never going to be easy. Each day it must be prayed for and struggled for and won.
GRATITUDE: Holly Bridges Elliot
I remember this illumination happening to me one noontime as I stood in the kitchen and watched my children eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We were having a most unremarkable time on a nondescript day … I hadn’t sprinkled the placemats with holy water, or uttered a sanctifying prayer over the Wonder Bread. I wasn’t feeling particularly “spiritual.” But, heeding I don’t know what prompting, I stopped abruptly in mid-bustle, or mid-woolgathering, and looked around me as if I were opening my eyes for the first time that day.
The entire room became luminous and so alive with movement that everything seemed suspended - yet pulsating - for an instant, like light waves. Intense joy swelled inside me, and my immediate response was gratitude - gratitude for everything, everything in that space. The shelter of the room became a warm embrace; water flowing from the tap seemed a tremendous miracle; and my children became, for a moment, not my progeny or my charges or my tasks, but eternal beings of infinite singularity and complexity whom I would one day, in an age to come, apprehend in their splendid fullness.
COURAGE AND HOPE: Nancy Burke
Someday I may get to personally thank Patti La Belle for sharing her magnificent voice and extraordinary heart in person. Until then, this will have to do. Every week, for two winters and two summers, as I drove to and from the cancer clinics for treatments, I played her renditions of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “There’s a Winner in You” over and over again. When I was frightened and thought I couldn’t make one more trip, I played those songs to get me there. Afterwards, when I was tired and afraid I couldn’t make the drive home. I played them again. My spirits never failed to recover, and the miles just flew by. I found such courage and hope in her passionate music. In the midst of the darkest time of my life, that voice made me feel grateful to be alive…
There’s a song for everyone, one incalculable mix of melody and magic that so neatly wraps the heart that we are lifted out of the here and now, and something is healed. Search for your song.
FAITHFULNESS: Parker J. Palmer
I have another friend who has devoted most of his adult life to resisting the madness of war through actions of justice and peace. He has done everything from painfully unearthing the seeds of violence in his personal life to living in poverty so as to stay below the taxation level. He owns nothing in his own name because, if he did, the government could collect back taxes. The money he “should” have given the government over the years, and more, he has donated to peace and justice projects.
Does he have any results to show for his efforts? Has he been effective? Hardly - at least, not by the normal calculus. His years of commitment to peacemaking have been years of steady increase in wars and rumors of wars. So how does he stay healthy and sane? How does he maintain a commitment to this sort of active life? His answer completes the koan offered by my friend at the Catholic Worker: “I have never asked myself if I was being effective, but only if I was being faithful.” He judges his action, not by the results it gets, but by its fidelity to his own calling and identity.
LOVE: May Angelou
One day the teacher, Frederick Wilkerson, asked me to read to him. I was twenty-four, very erudite, very worldly. He asked that I read from Lessons in Truth, a section which ended with these words: “God loves me.” I read the piece and closed the book, and the teacher said, “Read it again.” I pointedly opened the book, and I sarcastically read, “God loves me.” He said “Again.” After about the seventh repetition I began to sense that there might be truth in the statement, that there was a possibility that God really did love me. Me, Maya Angelou. I suddenly began to cry at the grandness of it all. I knew that if God loved me, then I could do wonderful things, I could try great things, learn anything, achieve anything. For what could stand against me with God, since one person, any person with God, constitutes a majority.
PEACE: Wayne Muller
Brother David Steindl-Rast reminds us that the Chinese word for “busy” is composed of two characters: “heart” and “killing.” When we make ourselves so busy that we are always rushing around trying to get this or that “done” or “over with,” we kill something vital in ourselves, and we smother the quiet wisdom of our heart. When we invest our work with judgement and impatience, always striving for speed and efficiency, we lose the capacity to appreciate the million quiet moments that may bring us peace, beauty and joy. As we seek salvation through our frantic productivity and accomplishments, we squander the teachings that may be present in this very moment, in the richness of this particular breath.
In the book of Ecclesiastes, there is a proverb: “Better one hand full of quiet than two hands full of striving after wind.” Unpracticed in the art of quiet, we hope to find our safety, our belonging, and our healing by increasing our levels of accomplishment. But our frantic busyness actually makes us deaf to what is healing and sacred, both in ourselves and in one another.