Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Reflections On Living One’s Faith: Notes from a Contemplative Friend

In about a week and a half I will graduate from Earlham College with major in History and a minor in Religion. Last Saturday evening the Bonner Scholarship Program held a reception dinner for the senior Bonner scholars of which I am one. The Bonner Scholarship Program is a national community service based scholarship for low-income students. The director of the program at Earlham’s, Jana, picked a quote she felt most embodied each of us, as Bonner scholars, and our work in the community. For me she picked this quote by Myles Horton,

“If you believe that people are of worth, you can’t treat anybody inhumanly, and that means you not only have to love and respect people, but you have to think in terms of building a society that people can most profit from, and that kind of society has to work on the principle of equality. Otherwise, Somebody’s going to be left out.”

I don’t think of myself as someone who works in the world a lot. Of all the members of my family I am one of the least activist minded among them. I have a “one social justice issue in my life at a time” policy that confuses and sometime annoys other members of my family. Starting last year I totally embargoed the news because of American politics. I refused to listen to it or read about it because, I felt it was too hate-filled with too much emphasis on “use against them” especially due to the election. It paralyzed me, it kept me from seeing the good in people and only pulled me down into anger over the things I couldn’t change. So I stopped having anything to do with politics.

On Facebook a couple weeks ago I took a Facebook-quiz on “what is your ministry” evidently my ministry is working within the world, living my life according to my values and social justice issues. It’s not that that isn’t important to me it’s just in comparison to other people I know it simply doesn’t seem to be my major emphasis. So I shrugged off the quiz, like you do, and moved on.
Last week during our last senior Bonner meeting we all got our applications back so we could see exactly what had caused the selection committee to accept us into the program in the first place. There was a lot of laughing, a lot of reminiscing. It was fun to see what was important to us then and how much has changed. Yet I couldn’t help noticing the desperation that came through in my application. Over and over again on every page of my application I seem to be saying, “please let me serve, I need to be doing community service, I need to be out in the community.” Sometimes I forget how important service is for me, how much I can’t just sit back and do nothing in my life.
For the last month or so I’ve been easing into politics again as well. Mostly through watching The Daily Show. Everyone laughs when I tell them this, but watching Jon Stewart on an almost daily basis is helping me be a better political person. Politics in this country can by so hateful, we can get so wrapped up in the political arguments, making our point, standing for what we believe, that we forget we’re all people, and compassion is key. I am all too aware that I can fall into this, that I can forget to be compassionate, I need humor, not anger, I need to be smiling when I think about these issues, even the serious ones, even the heart breaking ones, especially those.
In some ways it seems right that I am coming to realize and reflect on this part of my spiritual life now. I tend to work through things in a certain methodical order, and one needs a strong personal spiritual foundation before one can reach out into the world. Like everything about spirituality the way you live your faith through our life has to reflect your own personal understanding of God. The last four years of my life seem to have been in large part about me taking a step back and saying, “ok, this is what I believe in, this is who I am, as a religious person.” Now maybe it’s the time for me to start thinking “and this is what it means for me to live that faith.” Or maybe I’ve already started.