Musical Chairs

Last week I attended a gathering of faith leaders who are seeking creative ways to promote economic justice. We did one exercise in which ten people sat in ten chairs, each person representing 10% of the U.S. population. Then we shuffled seating according to wealth in our country. Half of the population (5 people), clung to one-tenth of one chair, while one person owned five chairs. My first reaction was repulsion and anger at the injustice. Then…to be honest…my feelings shifted to fear. My negative future fantasies began to kick in. I have enough today (a chair of my own), but the future is completely uncertain. Don’t I need another chair, just in case?  Suddenly, I understood the fearful drive to accumulate more and more.

We live in a culture of fear. Bombings. Explosions. Recession. Shootings. Scarcity. Gridlock. War. Financial Chaos…

Let’s be honest. Our country and the world are a mess. Let’s also be honest that this is nothing new. What is new is that we are instantly aware of any trauma,, as it happens, anywhere in the world.  This drumbeat of misery and anxiety surrounds us, inundates us, and overwhelms us. We become numb. We grasp for and cling to what little security we think we have, but no amount of money, guns, foreign wars, or demonizing of others yields lasting peace. In fact, our grasping and clinging generates more trauma and misery.

“Perfect love casts out fear.” “True love has no room for fear.” Those words from John the Apostle remind me that love is more than an emotion. It is a deeply-felt-knowing that I’m connected to you, to Nature, to the suffering and the poor, to Life Itself, to a Presence that flows through us all and yet is more than the sum of our parts.

When caught up in fear and grasping, however, it’s hard for me to access love. To make the shift I remember someone whose memory breaks my heart wide open. I’ll remember my childhood dog Skippy, who was my dearest friend. Focusing on Skippy never fails to move me into love, and the fear dissipates. Who opens you like that? Who is your guide back to compassion?

When I shift from fear back to love, my way of holding life changes. Numbness melts. Overwhelm eases. A hopeful, practical set of questions emerges:

  • I can’t hold the pain of the whole world, but whose hand can I hold today?
  • I can’t guarantee my future financial security, but what one person can I help with the abundance I have today?
  • I can’t fix climate change and save all the endangered species on our planet, but what is one member of one non-human species I can care for today?
  • I can’t resolve global political crises, but what one problem can I address with determined compassion in the community where I live?

This is what love does. Love feels the fear and acts anyway. Love takes responsibility for its own life while opening its heart to all life. Love moves from a myopic “me, myself and I”, to a panoramic “we, ourselves and us”. It even occasionally vacates its own seat so that someone else can sit for a while.