“Don’t be discouraged by your incapacity to dispel darkness from the world; light your candle and step forward.”
This wisdom from contemporary Hindu spiritual teacher Amma hangs on my fridge as a constant reminder of how to live in this troubled world.
For at least 100 years writers have used some version of the proverb “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” Judeo-Christian scriptures, from the prophet Isaiah to the Gospel of Matthew, emphasize “being light” to the world to let the ways of God be known.
What I like about Amma’s version of this ancient wisdom is that it includes taking action. Light your candle and step forward. Act in ways that add light to the world, not in ways that increase the fear and anger and violence.
Another contemporary spiritual teacher is Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun, who advises people to examine their hearts and words and actions, to see if they are adding to the aggression in the world or adding to the kindness. I find this particularly good advice when I’m driving!
Another question to ask ourselves: are we speaking and acting more from fear and anger or from courage and compassion? There is much to be afraid of in this world and much to make us angry. But we do not have to speak and act from those murky places in our hearts. We can, instead, practice courage and compassion.
Courage is a wonderful word. At its root it means “heart.” To have courage is to have the heart to face what is happening, and say and do what is needed to bring light, to bring healing, to bring hope.
There is one more word to consider as we look for ways to “step forward.” That word is “mercy.”
Tom Breidenthal, Episcopal bishop of Southern Ohio, writes: “It’s hard to pin down what mercy means. Sometimes it looks like compassion, but it is possible for mercy to be quite cool and distant. Sometimes it looks like justice, but mercy can throw justice overboard and pardon those who have done great wrongs. Sometimes mercy looks like forgiveness, but it need not entail it: when we are not prepared to forgive yet still spare the one who has hurt us, we are showing mercy.”
Mercy, Breidenthal asserts, recognizes the infinite worth of each person as part of God’s family, regardless of what they deserve or have earned. He says that this is the way God sees the human race, knowing our frequent tragic failings and terrible cruelty, and still treating us with mercy.
Mercy is God’s steadfast connection to us all, Creator to creation, whether we deserve it or not, whether we ask for forgiveness or not, whether we know it is happening or not.
What can any of us do about violence and anger and fear? Be light to the world. Practice kindness. Speak and act with compassionate courage. Show mercy, with grateful hearts for the mercy God has shown to us.
Rev. Jan Griffin is the Congregational Developer for the Southwest region of the Diocese of Spokane and living in Richland. Questions and comments should be directed to editor Lucy Luginbill in care of the Tri-City Herald newsroom, 333 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336. Or email email@example.com.