The last couple days I have reflected on writing this blog post; gathering my thoughts, praying about it, doing some research. I felt I was just about ready to compose my message, until I was reading the Sunday comics this morning. Yes, I read the Sunday comics quite regularly. I read them not only for the humor (which we need in our lives), but I also read them in light of a commentary on our current society. But this morning’s Mutts strip seemed to solidify the message I would like to convey. Those who have read my posts from the beginning know that I try to provide us with a differing perspective on the world around us. To challenge all of us, myself included, to look at nature, people and events in a different light then perhaps we typically would look at the world. For in changing our perspective we may change our responses to our world.
I feel that the last couple weeks have been somewhat stressful for many of us, especially us in the USA. The news has not trended in a positive light. And it seems that my blog posts have followed suit in my attempt to help us to make sense of a seemingly senseless world (review my last few posts reflecting on Boston, forgiveness, etc). In that vein I have reflected on this blog post, myself trying to make sense of where we go from here. In my earlier posts I have reflected on ways of coping, psychologically and spiritually, with the tragedies, so what next? Do I move on, as if the topics have been exhausted? Is there more to say? Are people tired of hearing of this? In my own reflections I came to understand that much of what I had said, as well as other writers, focused on the reactions to an event. Maybe the reflection needs to focus on preventing the events.
You may ask, how can we prevent such tragedies? The quick answer: I don’t know, I don’t work for a security firm. My longer answer, and the basis for this reflection, comes from an essay, written in 1961, entitled “The Root of War is Fear“, written by a Trappist monk, Thomas Merton. Here is an excerpt:
If people really wanted peace they would sincerely ask God for it and He would give it to them. But why should He give the world a peace which it does not really desire? The peace the world pretends to desire is really no peace at all. … to practically everybody peace simply means the absence of any physical violence that might cast a shadow over lives devoted to the satisfaction of their animal appetites for comfort and pleasure. … So instead of loving what you think is peace, love others and love God above all. And instead of hating the people you think are warmongers, hate the appetites and the disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed — but hate these things in yourself, not in another.
This excerpt quite succinctly sums up my reflection. If we want a world of peace, or, if we want peace between us and our neighbors, or us and our family, then we must first look deep within ourselves. Merton exhorts us to notice, not our flaws per se, but rather those deeply entrenched feelings of hate and injustice. It is not necessarily that big cruel world out there which is keeping us from a true inner peace; it is ourselves!
Yet, as easy as Merton’s quote makes it sound, we all know it isn’t that easy in practice. Here is a video I use when teaching my college students about stress reactions (my apologies for the commercial at the end of video):
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As funny as this video may seem, how many of us watching feel similarly everyday? How many of us feel “stuck on an escalator” with no idea how to change the situation? In a previous blog post I spoke in detail on this topic, even offering a counseling technique I often use (check it out here).
As we continue to hear news about tragedies and economic hard times; or if there is a lack of peace within our families, I challenge us to reflect on the Merton quote. Spend some quiet time reflecting on those areas of our life which needs changing. Honestly try, one day at a time, to think and to react differently to the world around us. Focus on those feelings and thoughts which really matter; God, family, love. Honestly, nothing else matters if we truly live in a way which honors those three values. Try it! I have faith that not only can we make the changes within us, but as we do so, we will be changing the world!