A friend asked recently if I got in fights with family about politics. Disagreements? Yes. Inner turmoil? Yes. Fights? No. But, oooooh, can it gall.
Given these times of extremely divisive political action and rhetoric, and the general breakdown in civil discourse, so often, where this hits the hardest is within. Even if we aren’t involved in shouting matches violence plays out in our inner field of vision, in inner tension, inner arguments, disbelief at someone else’s anger, hatred, xenophobia, support for policies that seem extremely damaging to the world. But of course, when the anger or resentment or resistance builds up internally, who is that harming, exactly?
As an avid reader of harder literature and a former inner city school teacher, I sometimes like to think there’s not a whole lot that can shake me up. But there were two stories I came across this week that got to me. One was about a former professional football player getting out of prison after serving his sentence. His crime? He was convicted of hiring a hit man to kill a woman carrying his child. The woman died. The child survived, but grew up severely brain damaged and is now 17. The other story, more widely reported, was ISIS’s use of the citizens of Mosul, including young boys, as human shields, and their later systematic execution.
As I reflected on why these two stories struck me deeply, the answer was fairly simple. In this season of life, with a four-year-old son, part of my ego-identity is that of father. And beyond that, it took us years to be able to conceive going through several rounds of testing, tracking, and fertility treatment. If there’s a greater gift in life than parenthood, of being a caretaker and nurturer of a life, I can’t think of it right now. So to have these two stories, one part of an ongoing war, the other more domestic and intimate, of this level of desecration, was jarring.
On a recent trip for my day job, I headed to the main office for a week of meetings and strategy. It can sometimes be a bit of a culture shock to go from my predominantly left-leaning community into a right-leaning context.
In one conversation, a colleague became heated about current affairs and started spewing angrily about Obama and the Clintons and lunatic Sanders supporters and we needed someone strong like Trump to finally have the intestinal fortitude to do what needs to be done, and so on.
Coming from a daily context where almost the polar opposite can be heard in a coffee shop or in casual conversation drives home the deep divide in our civil discourse. And then the news this past week pours in with tragedies in Orlando and Leeds. And it strikes me all of this has something to do with contemplative practice.
So, what’s the connection? It can seem pretty far afield on the surface. If we have any context for the word contemplation at all, it might call to mind escapist monks chanting Psalms in a distant mountain monastery, hiding out from the world.
But let’s look a little more deeply.