Idolatry of the brokenness.
That phrase stopped me in my tracks yesterday.
I was walking while listening -- as I often do -- to an audio program. When I heard those words, I stood stock still and took them in. Then I replayed them over again to go deeper.
Idolatry of the brokenness. Something in that phrase resonated so profoundly. I woke up still thinking about it in the wee hours of this morning. I've been up ever since.
The speaker, James Finley, was talking about the Power of Infinite Love to love us back whole. This Power loved us into existence and never stops loving us. This Love has instilled in us the longing for Love -- which not only plays out in all the human forms of love we experience, but in our longing for the Divine, which is, of course, All Love.
For months now, I've been having a hard time posting my daily practice of joy. My actual joy practice remains steadfast -- I walk, I look, I stop, I see, I photograph, I meditate, I pray, I journal, I read, I take back roads, I talk to strangers, I am grateful every day for wherever and however I am. But I can't seem to muster up enough joy to write about that joy I experience every day.
Instead I find myself thinking, "How can I possibly write about joy when the world is going to hell in a handbasket? When so many people are behaving so badly? When we seem to be going both regressing into hideously antiquated beliefs and hurtling headlong towards global annihilation? In the face of all this, who cares about one little person's silly little daily practice of joy?"
This morning I circled back to something Finley said a few minutes before he spoke the words that stood me still: "The root of our suffering is that we think we are what's wrong with us, and so we lose ourselves in the history of our suffering. . . We give more authority to what's wrong than we do to the Invincible Authority that loves us through and through."
Right now we are in the midst of the holiday season for many different religions and spiritual traditions around the globe. A time of holy celebration -- of both taking in and sharing "good tidings of joy". The good news -- another word for which is gospel.
Well, as we all know, there seems to be precious little good news these days. The one piece of good news I saw yesterday was footage of a young man in the middle of one of the massive wildfires in Southern California, so distressed by seeing a rabbit in the flames, that he rushed in to save this small frightened wild animal. An animal he might never have noticed in any other circumstance. An animal who would never have run toward that human in another situation. That footage made me cry; it made me believe in the Power of Love.
Most of the time, however, I find myself rubbernecking all the bad news. As I drive by the headlines, I find myself gawking at the latest horrible boldfaced type about boldfaced lies, and I stop my own traffic and stare at the carnage of civility and common decency and morality. Meanwhile, Mother Nature is doing her level best to level her playing field by letting us know that we can't keep screwing around with our planet. And in my own quiet little life, I am often too terrified to face my own music, even though I have spent my whole life learning to play this symphony of joy.
These are dis-heart-ening dis-courage-ing times. It is very very hard to stay in joy, let alone to believe in its necessity.
That's why Finley's words arrested me. Idolatry of the brokenness. He made me see that the more attention I pay to what's wrong, the more what's wrong takes over my existence. As the old adage reminds us, "Energy goes where our attention flows." The more energy we pay to the brokenness, the more broken we feel.
I was talking to my dear friend Karen last night. Her younger son is on the West Bank -- right where protesters were burning American flags and pictures of Trump yesterday after his controversial declaration that he would view Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Karen was understandably concerned about her son's safety. So she texted him about what she had seen. He wrote back that he hadn't seen anything like that where he has been.
In her relief, she was reminded of another friend in Israel, who was often asked by his American friends about all the bombings and acts of terrorism we see on the news. He replied, "It wasn't until I came to the United States and started watching your news coverage that I even thought to be scared. This is not what we experience in daily life in Israel." Karen went on to share with me that when she worked as a trauma counselor for the families of victims of 9/11, the one thing that anyone struggling with excessive anxiety and fear had in common was watching too much of the news. She would advise them to take a news sabbatical, and when they did, their anxiety and fear always decreased.
It struck me this morning that our news has become idolatry of the brokenness in our world. The news to which we are all drawn is about everything that is going wrong, everything that should make us afraid, everything disastrous and horrifying.
Yes, there is plenty that is broken. But what about all the good that is surfacing during these incredibly challenging times? Whole sectors of the population are finding their voices. Groups are coming together in the face of immense hardship. Corporations and millionaires may be a big part of the problem, but many are also stepping up and trying to do the right thing in becoming a voice and champion of those who cannot. Whistleblowers are risking everything to tell the truth. And although road rage is at an all time high, I also notice that people are going out of their way to be kinder to one another.
For almost a year now, I have been on a personal Facebook hiatus, because I feel so buffeted by the fear and fake news and false hope it seems to purvey. But I have also missed knowing how my friends are -- in times of natural disaster or just in their everyday lives. I try to circle back from time to time, but I only end up feeling more dis-heart-enment, more disc-courage-ment.
Thinking about those two words, I found a clue. Heart and courage (which comes from the French word for heart, coeur) are the human manifestation of our longing for the Love that is always loving us whole. By idolizing or fearing or rubbernecking the broken, I am choosing to focus on fear. When I do, I tune out Love.
My lifelong mentor, Rainer Maria Rilke, once wrote that "most people have (with the help of conventions) turned their solutions toward what is easy and toward the easiest side of easy." Rilke suggests that we must learn to trust and love what is difficult -- most especially love. Not by throwing ourselves at romantic love -- but rather into the deep work of loving one another, loving ourselves, and loving the world.
Paradoxically, the constant barrage of bad news becomes a kind of easy button -- just like all the things and pills and people and escape the ads in between the news proffers. When we buy into the barrage of the bad and the broken, we end up right where Rilke knew we would and where the world finds itself now: Sitting atop what Rilke called a "heap of half-broken things" which we come to regard as our happiness. We think we will feel better if we watch, buy, eat, take, use, consume. From this place of we lose "the vast distances and possibilities, give up the approaching and fleeing of gentle, prescient Things in exchange for an unfruitful confusion, out of which nothing more can come; nothing but a bit of disgust, disappointment, and poverty, and the escape into one of the many conventions that have been put up in great numbers like public shelters on this most dangerous road."
This most dangerous road is right where our idolatry of the brokenness in the world has gotten us. It is up to us to find our way back. To turn away from the conventions that have led us to a world in which we begin to feel that nothing and no one can be trusted. In which we believe that we are the sum of our brokenness rather than the possibility of our capacity to love.
We are at a crossroads as a planet, and this crossroads is a profound place of paradox. We can either succumb to the history of our suffering, or we can, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, begin to love ourselves whole. Rubbernecking the news, praying for a disaster so bad that it will finally wake us all up before it's too late -- this is just playing into the hands of everything we fear. The only way to save ourselves and the world is to learn to love more deeply.
That's precisely why all of our daily joy and love and life practices are so important. They are the way we stand up to the lie that we are the sum of what is wrong with us by instead acknowledging our gratitude for everything that is right.
In their wonderful book about joy, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama -- two men who have witnessed more of the brokenness of the world than most of us and yet have refused to idolize it -- write that joy gives us all "a way of handling your worries: thinking about others. You can think about others who are in a similar situation or perhaps even in a worse situation, but who have survived, even thrived. It does help quite a lot to see yourself as part of a greater whole. The path of joy is connection and the path of sorrow is separation. When we see others as separate, they become a threat. When we see others as part of us, as connected, as interdependent, then there is no challenge we cannot face—together.”
They go on to say, "Discovering more joy does not, save us from the inevitability of hardship and heartbreak. In fact, we may cry more easily, but we will laugh more easily too. Perhaps we are just more alive. Yet as we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard. We have heartbreaks without being broken.”
To refuse the idolatry of the brokenness is not to disavow the heartbreak we all feel right now. The young man who rescued that rabbit did so because his heart broke for that helpless creature. We must all let our hearts break open rather than letting ourselves be mesmerized by the headlines of all that is broken. When we focus on what is broken, we end up shutting down in fear. When we let our hearts break open, Love comes in so it can flow out.
This is easier said than done, I know. Each week I vow to share more of my joy practice. Each week I get caught in the headlights of all that is horrific, persuading me that to share what is joyful is selfish, foolish, a waste of time. But something's got to give.
So starting tomorrow, I am going to try a new approach: I am going to Act As If.
Act as if I always feel what I fundamentally know -- that there is nothing more loving I can do for the world than to share joy.
Act as if it is always easy to love -- myself, my practice, my life, as well as those those I fear or even sometimes revile for their hateful actions.
Act as if I truly want to live what I always say -- knowing that joy is the great connector, and anytime we connect to one another in love and joy, we help heal the world.
Act as if I truly believe that what I preach is true -- one person's practice of love, joy, kindness, gratitude, and generosity really can make a difference in the world
And from there I hope to go from acting as if -- to acting. I will write about something joyful every single day,
I know that to write about food or fun or music will not always come easily to me. Some days it will feel much easier to wring my hands and tell everyone that the sky really is falling.
I know that some days it will be an act of faith and deep trust in the power of Love and Joy to write about love and joy. Talk about a paradox.
But I also know that this way isn't working. What has feeling worse and worse about the state of the world done for anyone other than make us all feel more disconnected, more isolated, more afraid, more fearful, more alone?
So, counterintuitive as it may seem, while I cannot turn my back on the horrors of the world, I am going to focus on spreading the gospel (good news) of good cheer -- which is to say, I plan to keep singing out Joy to the World.
I invite you to do the same. To be of good cheer even when you don't feel that good cheer is possible. To deck the halls even when you feel you don't have the time or energy. To keep the faith and hold sacred all that is holy to you -- whatever that may be.
To celebrate what is holy is to honor the Whole instead of idolizing the broken. In this way, let us all let Love love us all home for the holidays!