In the past months I’ve been going through one of those dark periods that fall over me
now and again, of dismay and despair.
My distress was so great that I felt the greatest kindness I could offer anyone
was silence– inflicting no words, blogs, bubbles of vanity or boastful confidence on
the world. So it has been months since I sent out a blog. And in that time much has
happened, with most of it only increasing my anguish. How hard it is to hope that with
God “All things are possible” or that (in the words of St. Julian of Norwich) “All will be
well… All manner of thing will be well.” How hard to remember that angels surround
us, loving, guiding, guarding, and always – always – bringing out of something terrible
Little children were shot and killed in Newton, CT. and also all over the country. The
NRA decided that putting guns in the schools would eliminate fear, though it is known
that people in homes with a gun are three times more likely to die of gunfire (their own)
than homes without, and that families are 18 times more likely to be wounded by their
own weapons than by those of intruders. 1000 children a year in the U.S. are hurt or
killed by guns, 18 a day, 10,000 people a year, says one radio report.
During this period U. S. military continued to bomb homes in Yemen and Pakistan
and Afghanistan, sending mechanical drones to do the killing, which spares the lives
of our own soldiers, while shielding them (and us) from images of women, children,
old men or young boys bloodied, screaming, mutilated by the rain of fire. Somewhere
between 3000 to 4700 civilians have been killed by drones in the last few years. The U.
S. spends more on our military than the next 10 countries combined, and some are allies!
We spend almost 8% of our Gross Domestic Product for killing (the next closest country
is China, which assigns 2%.)
Oh, there’s no dearth of darkness. In Syria, 60,000 have been killed in the civil
war. In Mali I don’t know how many. Congress has once more showed itself unable to
reach across the aisle in compromise, to trust the good intentions of one another, much
less (God help us) to rise to the highest ideals, as Statesmen must do, sometimes to the
point of bravely making decisions for the common good that ricochet to their personal
I remember when I was a little girl how at the dinner table my father would throw
out a topic for discussion. We would all take sides and argue our positions like terriers
shaking a mole—until our father would shout: “Change sides!” and we would have
to argue the very positions we had earlier despised! That exercise teaches not only
intellectual rigor and respect for the slithery nature of Truth, but also empathy. For what
is humanity without compassion for another’s fear and suffering? “My way or the
Highway”—where does that position lead?
I think we are crazed by fear in the United States. We live in a culture of fear, fed and
battered by the hourly (minute-ly) news, and in these weeks, like everyone, my heart was breaking not only for the suffering of this pretty world, the little children killed and the grief of their mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers, but for what we have become: a nation in fear.
I’m known for writing about angels. I have seen angels and been drawn into the
spiritual dimension, and it is more glorious than human words convey. (That’s because
we have no words for it.) But here’s what we learn there and what every religious
“Don’t be afraid,” the angels cry. “Fear not! We are caring for you. You are loved.
Everything is all right. Don’t be afraid.”
But how hard it is to remember, when you hearken to the news.
And then for Christmas (like a gift from angels) I was given a fascinating book,
Proof of Heaven by Dr. Eban Alexander (Simon and Shuster, 2012). It is the first-person
story of the neurosurgeon’s near-death experience, when he lay for six days in a coma,
brain dead. He writes of what he saw “on the other side,” of meeting the deceased sister whom he had never known, of witnessing the extravagant beauty and colors, music and sensations, and of feeling the unfathomable love of what he calls The Core, or Om, or God. He came back into his body, itself a medical miracle and then—a second one—recovered all his faculties.
As a neurosurgeon he takes us step by step through the medical possibilities, showing
that his experience was no fantasy, no dream, no neurons quivering the final death throes, because his brain had not been working at all.
Finally, he reminds us how we can all have such experiences, all the time: We don’t
have to die. All we have to do is remember to pray and meditate.
How could I have forgotten? Now I am living again, tremulously, in the wisdom of
the heart, and I wonder– What if we humans (each one of us poor frightened creatures)
knew that we were loved? Really knew? What if we could each experience the presence of angels, God, of this unconditional love and beauty that pours out onto us? I think we would have so much joy, compassion and sympathy, such empathy and humility, that it would be impossible to hold a gun or bomb a city or kill a six year old.
We’re given this weird planet to live on for a brief moment, the blink of God’s eye,
in which we get to experience all the terrors of being alive (loneliness, anger, anguish,
sorrow, grief, fear, envy, happiness, joy). But the good news is, each moment we get to
choose: love or fear? With awareness, we can trust and love.