Goal of spiritual life: habits of compassion and justice

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, December 11, 2014

The responses to our current series of columns on the role of religion in public life just keep coming in. Clearly, this topic is close to the hearts of many of our readers.

Cochrane resident KRISTIAN WOLD, co-pastor of Hope Lutheran Church in northwest Calgary, wrote:

I REALLY APPRECIATED your most recent column in response to the reader who questioned the place of religion in public life. I liked the metaphor of the gym, which I don’t think I had ever thought of before. But comparing spiritual disciplines to working out in a gym is, of course, right on the target. It’s exactly how the ascetics think of their spiritual lives (the word means “exercise”).

I love how you extended the image, noting that not everyone goes to the same kind of gym to get in shape, or even any gym at all. And it would be inappropriate to bring the trappings of the gym into everyday life, or to insist that everyone work out in exactly the same way, at the same gym.

But the results are what are important. That’s what I like about the metaphor; it keeps the focus on the goal of the spiritual life: not to go to church or synagogue simply for its own sake, but in order to cultivate habits of compassion and justice.

—Kristian Wold, Cochrane

In a follow-up coffee chat, Kristian noted the amazing example of Dag Hammarskjöld, second Secretary-General of the United Nations, 1953-1961. Here was a man steeped in his own personal inner religious disciplines who, in his public life, won the acclaim of the whole world, including that of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, who praised him as “the greatest statesman of our century.”

ZABI BEHIN, formerly of Cochrane and now living in the Okanagan, is a prominent voice in the Baha’i Faith. He wrote:

GOD MADE man in His Own image. That is, God has instilled in every human-being His attributes, albeit in an embryonic form. This embryonic form of godly attributes must be nurtured and trained until it becomes a strong and mature being. Just as our physical body begins from an embryo and develops gradually into a mature, strong human body. In Baha'u'llah's words: “Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures.”

Just as a set of special environmental and nutritional conditions are required for the physical embryo to go through its full cycle of development, similarly intricate spiritual conditions are needed for our embryonic divine attributes to come to fruition. Seeking protection of the ever-present Grace of God is the most potent means of survival in this long and arduous developmental journey.

—Zabi Behin, Oyama, BC

JIM HILLSON, formerly pastor of St. Andrew’s United Church in Cochrane, now living in Medicine Hat, has a concern:

PEOPLE OF RELIGIOUS conviction ought to be cautioned against any temptation to think that their commitment to justice, mercy, humility and love is somehow superior because it arises from religious conviction. Far more important is for all who share such commitments to find ways to break down the barriers which keep us from working together for a better future.

—Jim Hillson, Medicine Hat

TINA FOX, Stoney Nakoda Elder, notes that lack of forgiveness is one obvious barrier which too often stands in the way of our working together for a better future. She phoned me with permission to refer once more to a letter from her I first ran in my June 1, 2005 column. She had said:

ON MY RECENT trip to Uganda in April, I attended a conference in Kampala where I heard horrific stories of torture, rape of women and young girls, including a baby girl, and other atrocities that made me feel inadequate and helpless. It made me realize my problems were peanuts in comparison to what I heard.

What astounded me were the stories told by survivors of the genocide in Rwanda. Widows of those killed in the Hutu and Tutsi conflicts told us that after the conflicts died down, women got together and the only action they felt they could take was to cook meals and take them to the prison where the killers of their husbands were jailed – to feed them.

Feed those who had killed your husband and, in some cases, your whole family? I was blown away. I was amazed at their resilience. In spite of the horrific stories they told, they had the capacity to still joyfully sing, dance and worship Jesus! I was amazed and touched. This is what forgiveness did for them, and I was humbled by this experience.

—Tina Fox, Morley

THANK YOU, readers, for your mentorship in our common journey toward full humanity. Allow me to close for now with the words of the Dalai Lama, words that very much relate to the role of religion in public life:

“This is my simple religion,” he said; “our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”


© 2014 Warren Harbeck

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