As we stand witness to the violence and the protests across the country we are forced to ask: what is the heart of the matter? What is the core issue driving all of this? I’m not sure anyone has an answer to that question, but until we acknowledge our own culpability, there is little hope for a lasting solution. The change we seek – and so desperately need as a country - will only come when we see a change of heart in enough people to tip the balance toward peace, community and respect for each other.
As I reflected and prayed about this, seven actions came to mind. These are actions each of us can take to heal our own hearts and to heal the hearts of others with whom we are connected. The first three have served as my personal mission statement for over a decade and I share them with you here.
Listen Deeply – Listen deeply to those we meet and listen deeply to the stirrings deep within our own soul. Listening deeply to those we meet is more difficult than it seems; especially when we are called to listen to those who don’t agree with us. But listen we must. When we commit to listening deeply it means that we commit to honoring the dignity and value of others. We listen deeply when we start with the belief that we can learn something from the other person; something we may not have considered before. If we begin with the assumption that the other person has value and thus has something valuable to say – true communication can happen.
Listening to the stirrings deep within our soul is an act of faith. The Quakers teach that “there is that of God within each of us.” And, if we listen to the voice of God within, we will be guided to act in big ways and in small. But the key here is to still our hearts and minds; to listen to the leadings of the heart and then to act on them.
Act Justly – Acting justly means that we follow the “Golden Rule”; that we do unto others as we would want others to do unto us. It also means that there is an integrity between what we believe on the inside and how we act on the outside. We can’t go to church on Sunday and tolerate bigoted comments at work on Monday. We can’t oppose abortion, but also oppose using tax dollars to support needy moms and children.
We would do well to remember the advice of the Catholic Monk, Thomas Merton when he said that the essence of the universe is “mercy, within mercy, within mercy.” If we act with mercy, we will also find justice.
Trust God – Martin Luther King said that “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” Trusting God means that ultimately we believe good will prevail over evil. But that doesn’t mean we should just kneel down and pray for everything to be all right. What it means is that God is active within the world, speaking to and through each person. God’s guidance is here, but what may be lacking is our willingness to listen and to act on that guidance. I believe that the building blocks of the kingdom of God are here now, but we must each act to bring that kingdom about person by person and day by day.
The next four actions are ones that we can take alone but are more profound if we take them in consort with someone with whom we are having difficulties. They are detailed in the book Ho’oponopono: The Hawaiian Forgiveness Ritual . Some have taken the below “four graces” and used them with families facing end of life issues to help them heal and say good bye to loved ones. Some use these graces to forgive themselves and to forgive others. These are four simple yet powerful phrases if said with a true intent to heal and to forgive.
I’m Sorry – No matter what the situation or confrontation, we played a role in its development. We need to say the words out loud to the person who is the focus of our attention. Are we alienated from our parents? From our siblings? From our children? Say the words: “I’m Sorry.” Are you and your friend or co-worker no longer talking due to political differences? Say the words: “I’m Sorry.” Have you gossiped or caused harm to someone either intentionally or unintentionally then say “I’m Sorry” to them. Heal the wound in your heart by showing sorrow for your actions or inaction.
If we take this in a broader context, from the personal to the societal – we can say I’m sorry for the social ills causing our country pain. In this instance, there is no one to say I’m sorry to, but the action of saying it helps to create a personal conversion of heart. And once enough of us acknowledge the pain we have caused as a nation and say “I’m Sorry” then we can begin to witness a communal conversion of heart. I’m sorry for the genocide of the Native Americans; I’m sorry for slavery and the ongoing pain it has caused; I’m sorry for wars that were started to gain profit and resources. I’m sorry for pillaging the environment and for causing climate change. I’m sorry for school systems that fail the children. I’m sorry for the structural systems that promote income inequality and which create a permanent and growing class of families who are falling behind.
If we don’t name the pain that is the heart of the matter of our societal inequity and violence, then we have no chance of healing it.
Please Forgive Me – Just as we need to say “I’m Sorry”, we must also ask for forgiveness and mean it. Asking for forgiveness is the first step in freeing ourselves from guilt and pain. For everyone to whom we said “I’m Sorry”, we now need to ask for forgiveness. Perhaps the person from whom you seek forgiveness has died. Ask anyway, from your heart and soul. Asking for forgiveness is as much about seeking our own peace as it is in receiving absolution for our words or actions.
On a societal level – forgive me for not speaking out against injustice. Forgive me for not taking a stand when others were harmed. Forgive me for seeking to protect my way of life at the expense of others.
Thank You – saying a sincere “Thank You” honors the gift we are given and it honors the person who provided the gift. No matter what the relationship, if we look deeply enough we will find reason to give thanks. Saying thank you is also recognizing that I don’t have all of the answers. It means that I can’t make it through this world on my own and I need the help of others. Saying thank you acknowledges that we are who we are today due to the multitude of gifts we have received from others. And for these gifts, we should give thanks.
I Love You – sometimes, saying “I Love You” is difficult to do. We learn from the bible that we should love others as we love ourselves. Perhaps, the first person we need to say I love you to is our selves. Because much of the pain in the world is born from a pain deep within our own hearts. A Quaker friend of mine said that where there is great anger, there is great pain. I would take that one step further and say where there is great anger there is a broken heart. And the only way to heal a broken heart is to open up our arms and our hearts and demonstrate our love.
As you can see from the seven tasks listed above, these really aren’t about healing the world. They are about healing ourselves. They are about finding a place in our hearts for love and forgiveness. A broken or wounded person cannot fully honor and value another; especially another who does not look like me or who does not think or act like me. A person who feels loved and respected is more likely to reach out to others with love and respect. And that is how we will bring about the kingdom of God on earth.
Michael Soika has been a community activist for more than 30 years working on issues of social and economic justice. His work for justice is anchored by his spiritual formation first as a Catholic and now as a Quaker.