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? I’m not sure that anyone has an answer to that question. Until we acknowledge our own culpability, there is little hope for a lasting solution. The change we seek will only come when we see a change of heart in a sufficient number of 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.
Listen deeply to those we meet, and listen deeply to the stirrings within our own souls. This is more difficult than it seems, especially when we are called to listen to those who don’t agree with us. When we commit to listening deeply, 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.
Listening to the stirrings deep within our souls is an act of faith. The Quakers teach that there is that of God within each of us. 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 stilling our hearts and minds, listening to the leadings of the heart, and then acting upon them.
To act justly means to 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 also tolerate bigoted comments at work on Monday. We can’t oppose abortion and 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.
Martin Luther King Jr. 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. That doesn’t mean, however, that 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 our willingness to listen and to act on that guidance may be lacking. 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.
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 a sufficient number 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 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.
Ask for Forgiveness
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.
Say Thank You
Sincerely saying “thank you” honors the gift that we are given, and it honors the person who provided the gift. Saying “thank you” is also recognizing that I don’t have all of the answers. 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.
Say 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 ourselves. Much of the pain in the world is born from a pain deep within our own hearts. A 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 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. The final four 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 as the Key to Your Life’s Fulfillment). They are all about finding a place in our hearts for love and forgiveness. If we are broken or wounded, we cannot fully honor and value another, especially another who does not look like us or who does not think or act like us. 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.