Keeping the Faith

In my time streets led to the quicksand.
Speech betrayed me to the slaughterer.
There was little I could do. But without me The rulers would have been more secure.
This was my hope.
So the time passed away
Which on earth was given me.

For we knew only too well:
Even the hatred of squalor
Makes the brow grow stern.
Even anger against injustice
Makes the voice grow harsh. Alas, we
Who wished to lay the foundations of kindness Could not ourselves be kind.

But you, when at last it come to pass
That man can help his fellow man
Do not judge us
Too harshly.

Bertolt Brecht

Victoria Gray-Adams wrote something for the Arthur Kinoy memorial in mid-November in NYC that has stayed with me. She referred to “two primary constituent groups in movement communities, those who are in the movement and those who have the movement in them. Those who have the movement in them become ‘the long distance runners;’ they do not burn out, nor do they give up or lose sight of the prize/goal.”

How does this happen? How do we who wish to see a decent future for our children and grandchildren keep the faith? More to the point, how do we prevent the negative influences and pressures of this corrupt corporatist culture from dragging us down, affecting how we interact with others, frustrating our collective, honest efforts to build effective organizations and movements?

For some of us, regularizing efforts to deepen our spirituality is a key component of becoming a “long distance runner” and an effective organizer.

This does not necessarily mean joining a church, synagogue or mosque, or converting to a particular religious faith.

What it does mean is working every day to keep the Higher Good foremost in our consciousness as we go about our sometimes-difficult, sometimes-boring work.

To be more specific, here is a slightly paraphrased excerpt from a favorite passage of mine from a recently-discovered

“A still small voice speaks in the depth of my spirit of the things I must do to attain a connection with the best and the most profound within me. I must do my allotted task with unflagging faithfulness even though the eye of no taskmaster is on me. I must be gentle in the face of ingratitude or when slander distorts my noblest motives. I must come to the end of each day with a feeling that I have used its gifts gracefully and faced its trials bravely. Speak to me, then, Great Spirit, as I seek your power again and again in the stillness of meditation, until your bidding shall at last become for me a hallowed discipline, a familiar way of life.” (1)

I bought this book, “God Makes the Rivers to Flow,” by Eknath Easwaran, over the recent holiday season. I bought it because I was feeling the need for spiritual inspiration.
The period of time just prior to heading off to visit family for the holidays had not been easy. Besides the press of work, I was immersed for weeks and even months in an intense, internal back-and-forth over email with others in one of the organizations I am part of, having to do with what tactics we should use in 2004. On the day that our family left to go south, someone on the other side of this issue had sent out an email to the organizational list attacking me in a personal way. I was deeply upset. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the fault lay not just with him but also with me, that although I profess to be concerned about internal process and a qualitatively superior way of interaction within our movement, I had made problematic comments in several of the emails I had sent out, including a recent one to him.

It was time to step back and take a closer look at myself. I got off all the email lists I was on of this particular group. I thought about what I had said and how I had said it. I bought the Easwaran book and found it helpful, including these words in the introduction:

“By removing that which is petty and self-seeking, we bring forth all that is glorious and mindful of the whole. . . We need people if we are to grow, and all our problems with them, properly seen, are opportunities for growth. . .
Trying to live in harmony with those around you right now will bring out enormous inner toughness. . . Our petty selfishness, our vain illusions, simply must and will give way under the power of these universal principles of life, as sand castles erode before the surge of the sea.”

It has now been over three weeks since I returned from my holiday travels, rejoined the email lists and have gotten back into my work. I am pleased to say that I have begun a new discipline, taking some time just about every day to read a few pages in this book, to make a genuine effort to connect up with that wellspring of love and peace that we all have within us. And I am even more pleased to say that, so far, it seems to have made a difference in the way that I interact with others. I find myself being much less emotionally reactive, much more conscious of saying things in a way which respects and does not personally malign those with whom I continue to have disagreements.

I hope and pray that I and others within the people’s movement will have the wisdom and the strength to function day to day in such a way on a consistent basis. It’s not just the right thing to do on a personal level; it’s a prerequisite to us having any chance of winning.

1) “Evening Prayer for the Sabbath,” from The Union Prayerbook for Reform Judaism, as found in God Makes the Rivers to Flow, by Eknath Easwaran