(Open arms to all ... Church of the Sacred Heart at Mount Tibidabo, Barcelona, 2013)
- MAY 2, 2020 -
Ramadan has begun. Mornings have been deliciously quiet, as everyone is still in bed trying to sleep half the day away. Although I do not join my neighbors in the solidarity of fasting, I find other ways to pray and give thanks in this time. I catch myself daydreaming about what it may be like for muslims to spend the entire holy month in lockdown, when all the usual rituals of cleansing the mind body spirit have been suspended. How will they manage the forced isolation during this traditional time of coming together, of forgiving and celebrating each other, and of reinforcing bonds? How lonely it must be to go without, how incomplete the effort. There are not the usual opportunities of communion, no going to mosque, or meeting friends in cafe after Lftur, or sharing with anyone beyond the household. So there is no relief really, no release, and no atonement. How will that sacrifice manifest in each one?
I ask the local shop lady about how’s she’s doing and if her family is well. Everything is good, she says, thanks be to God. But even if it’s not, she does not complain. She just laughs and throws her hands up in the air, gesturing towards God. She comforts herself by surrendering to the will of Allah and just accept what comes, endures with gratitude. This is the well worn crutch of religion. It is the comfort it provides.
I have never been of the fatalistic persuasion myself, or a big fan of the concept of predestination, my life story somehow having already been written and forged in my sliver of the timespace continuum, that all has already been said and done, no matter what I do now. I still prefer to put faith in my own agency, and ability to make my own destiny. But I can see the value in yielding responsibility to a force outside of oneself, and how faith in that kind of benevolence to guide and protect you through difficult times can be reassuring. No wonder the faithful cling to God, it serves the illusion of order and meaning and purpose in the seemingly endless suffering global chaos corruption machine, void of any real peace or humanity or sense … or when you accept that things are out of your control, it makes it easier to let them go. And even if one cannot understand it, maybe one does not have to? I can see how this can be a grounding force, how it could keep one from floating off into oblivion and despair.
I would never be so bold as to claim myself as a true believer, or an atheist. Who am I to say that there is a God or not? Because there is no proof either way, only stories and interpretations, the words of God according to Man. But only the dead can truly know the answer, and they do not share with us what they know. So I have learned to be content with not knowing what will happen next, or what lies beyond the great divide. I accept that I will know when my time has come to cross over. And until then, maybe I don’t need to know? Perhaps this is just another way of being fatalistic, of getting out of the question.
Or is it that I believe positing over the existence of God, and what happens next, is a waste of time? Perhaps we should live without concern for the afterlife? Focus on life now, what we have now, and what we can do now? Somehow it seems disrespectful and ungrateful to do otherwise. God or no God, we all know what good values, ethics, and behaviors we should embrace while here on earth. Every religion speaks to the same ones. It does not matter what you label yourself. If you give of yourself and live in service to others, you will find your way to heaven long before you die. It can be that simple. Be kind, be generous, give. This is what creates paradise. When everybody gives of themselves to one another, don’t we all get taken care of in the process?
When Nietzsche professed that God is dead, as the Age of Enlightenment brought the triumph of scientific rationality over theological revelation, leading to the slow annihilation of any universal moral code of conduct binding individuals into social cooperation, I think he meant that our humanity is dead, because without any divine order to keep us in check, our compassion for one another is forgotten in the latest infotainment scandelgate breaking the internet. Of course, that is a modern interpretation that he could probably not foresee.
When you listen to the inanity of our current discourse, and look around at the absurd inequality, lack of real opportunity, and the maniacal lust for material wealth, regardless, and often at the expense of others, it is clear that God has been replaced by money. It’s not scientific or theological truth that we worship now, it is money that we pledge our undying allegiance to. The acquisition of wealth and power has become the highest good, dressed up in a prettily packaged religion, deployed by politicians and corporations to appear righteous. And we are so used to the hypocrisy, we have become blind deaf and dumb to the depravity of our own sense of entitlement.
Maybe this pandemic will be the democratizing force we need? Another tragedy to unite us in our pain and loss and remind us that we are all one sharing this earth with finite resources, that all of us are only human, sharing the same basic dreams and fears. But why does it always take this scale of tragedy to eject us from our zombie capitalistic drone states?
I find it kind of ironic the new rise of the Self Care movement, suddenly making it okay to prioritize taking care of ourselves, that we need to learn to draw healthy boundaries and stand there. Of course this is true, and important to recognize, and practice. All of us, everyday, have to find a way to create the balance we need between being for ourselves and being for others. It is a constant negotiation, and it takes strength and courage to draw boundaries, and stand by them. Because if you don’t feel good yourself, it is impossible to be good for others. It is just strange how it is being framed up now, that being selfish is now socially acceptable, popular, that we have been given permission to say no to helping others, that this refusal is considered healthy, necessary to one’s well being, righteous and an actual inherent right.
But I am not suggesting that we abandon all personal boundaries and just live in service to others. This is not some over simplified hippie dippy notion that all we need is love. I do not believe that altruism even exists in the human race. Everything we do is self serving. Because even the most generous soul will be replenished threefold. So what could be more righteous than sharing what you have with another?
I am just proposing that we reject the notion of scarcity, and that instead, we adopt the notion of abundance. Instead of being preoccupied with what one has or doesn’t have, with what one is owed, or who is taking yours, what happens if we just shifted our intentions? What if we focused on lifting each other up, instead of cutting each other down?
Because shifting to perspective of abundance makes it that much easier to give of what you have. This is one of the most important lessons I have learned in Morocco. No matter what losses or obstacles come, Moroccans seem to still embrace gratitude for what they have. They thank God. They give blessings in every greeting and goodbye. They ultimately see the world through eyes of abundance. And this is why the Berber is so quick to share whatever they have, to bring you into their homes, feed you, care for you. They look around and see what they have to give, even if it is something small.
So it makes me think, maybe if we could all give a little more, even if it is just a smile to some passersby, that can make all the difference in someones’ day? I believe in the butterfly effect of a smile, or a kind word. How we treat each other matters. The energy you give resonates throughout the community, the universe even. Pay it forward, remember? There is enough love for everyone. We just have to believe in abundance.
Everything coming to you is a gift.