Like many people, I’ve been trying to swallow the latest Colorado massacre, and how it is possible for a mentally ill man to buy 6,000 rounds of assault-weaponry firepower without anyone noticing anything untoward. Or to carry weapons into a movie theater without being stopped. Are we truly so powerless? Or apathetic? Or are we simply cowards, our elected officials corrupted by the NRA?
Couldn’t we make it against the law to buy the bullets for an assault weapon (these being designed to use only against humans)? Couldn’t we require that anyone buying more than one weapon is automatically checked out by the security agencies that are supposed to protect us from Terrorist Attack? Couldn’t we ban assault weapons (dream on!) and keep only our hunting rifles?
In the 12th step program of Alcoholics Anonymous (and many other groups from Narcotics or Gamblers to Sex Addicts Anonymous), the first Step is to admit to being powerless over addiction. The second step reads, “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
Surely that’s what we need in our society now – a little sanity. In addition to assault weapons, I’ve been thinking about how it is that we “come to believe.” There are two ways. First we “believe” in something because we’re told to. The problem is, that many of the things we’re told aren’t true. For example, that the possession of assault weapons brings us Freedom instead of Fear. Or here’s another: “Opportunity knocks but once.” That aphorism was drilled into me as a child. It’s totally false. Opportunity knocks over and over again, so generous in the Universe, so unstinting is the Spiritual Grace that pours upon us daily. All we have to do is notice—and then give thanks. I think our angels love to be noticed! I think when we give thanks that they turn themselves inside out to offer More!
The second way we come to believe is through personal experience. I want to tell two stories – both heard in the same day–because I’m superstitious enough to believe that when things come in twos and threes like that, they must be paid attention to.
How often have our Guides and Angels crumpled the warp of Time to create an amazing coincidence, or showed you in a period of unutterable despair the unfathomable degree to which you are loved. Both stories require “giving up” or “letting go” of our puny efforts at control.
The first comes from my friend Margaret Dulaney (she runs the fantastic Blab, www.listenwell.org., which is well worth listening to). She was taking a walk in the woods one day and thought to herself: “I am now going to think as a Quaker and trust that God will at any moment get in touch with me.” Not a minute later, the loveliest scarlet tanager flew to a nearby tree and cocked his head to get a better look at her. A scarlet tanager is a shy little forest bird. He flew from tree to tree, accompanying her on her walk, each time cocking his head to get a better view. This lasted, she says, a good three minutes. She almost expected him to land on her finger, he was so curious. Here is a link, if you’d like to see what a scarlet tanager looks like. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/scarlet tanager/id
My friend is deeply spiritual. It was God’s way, she says, of saying, “Here I am! Am I not sooooo lovely?!” But I laugh at her. I think it was God’s way of saying, “Here you are! Aren’t you beautiful? Don’t I adore and admire you? Look how beautiful you are!”
The other story was told me that same afternoon by a German friend who had heard it on German television, and for those of you who speak German here is the YouTube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q7o6TqyXYi8.
A man decided on his three-week holiday to hike to see a friend of his in Austria, a journey of about 500 miles. He set about his trip with Teutonic thoroughness, gathering maps and trail guides and settling on how far he could walk on any day and where to stay and how to eat along the way. Only once did he get lost, and after wandering without success he became so distraught that he finally spoke aloud: “God, show me where to go!”
At that moment an old man came round the corner. “I’m not God,” he said, “but I can show you how to find the trail.”
In this case the man had spoken out loud, though we don’t know how noisily he called out– or how quietly. I like to think the old man was his Angel coming to him in human guise; but maybe he was simply a living human placed by divine coincidence in just the place and time to help our lost hero—the Angel using an ordinary human, to guide him to the path.
I hear these stories all the time, and surely if they happen like this to us individually, aren’t the hierarchies of angels likewise guiding us toward societal sanity? We’re not supposed to murder one another. We’re not supposed to help the deranged acquire weapons of mass destruction. Not so many would be hurt if he’d had access only to one hunting rifle. Only to a knife. Only to his fists.
Can we come to believe that a higher power will restore us to sanity? an we begin the Third AA Step and surrender our fears and our lives into the care of a caring, loving God, and then do the footwork to change those conditions that we can? We could begin by standing up and challenging the violence of the NRA.