“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” Thank you Albert Schweitzer.
Life squeezes us all. And in our world, there is much that needs mending, so no surprise that we can feel on edge, or unraveled, what with anger (and polarization) sizzling just under the surface.
In her book The Sabbath World, Judith Shulevitz tells the story about an experiment Social Psychologists performed, intended to explore a dimension of human personality and compassion. Along the way, they stumbled onto something significant about the “ethics of time.” Their experiment question? What makes a passerby decide whether to stop to help someone in distress? Is it personality, cultural conditioning, or the situation at hand?
The researchers recruited students (all on track to be future clergy) from Princeton Theological Seminary. Their study proceeded with the following elements:
One, tests were run to determine each student’s personality type.
Two, the students were told that more information was needed, which required them to give a lecture. Half of the students were asked to deliver a sermon on the parable of the Good Samaritan. The other half was given the assignment of discussing job prospects facing them as future ministers.
Three, the seminarians were instructed to walk to another building on campus, where they would deliver their lecture (sermon) to an awaiting audience.
Here is where the experiment gets interesting. One third of the participants were told to hurry, because they were already late and the audience was growing impatient. One third was told they were on time, but shouldn’t dawdle. The last third was told that the lecture was delayed, so they could take their own sweet time.
Approaching the building where their audience waited, each student encountered a man slumped in the doorway. (This, of course, was the real experiment.) The man in the doorway coughed and groaned. If a student stopped and asked, the man explained that he had a respiratory condition and was waiting for his medicine to kick-in. If a student insisted on helping, the man consented to be led to a nearby building where he could sit and be comfortable.
Here’s the intriguing part. After all the data was analyzed, only one variable could be used to predict who would stop and help. The important factor was not personality type, or the student’s career path, or whether the parable of the Good Samaritan was foremost on their mind. Or even whether the student had a compassionate heart.
The determining factor: whether or not he or she was in a hurry. (Note: Personality difference only affected those who actually did stop. The more empathetic students stayed longer with the stranger.)
Okay, this hits home with me. And makes a whole lot of sense in the world we live in. The bottom line from the experiment? It’s hard not to conclude, “that ethics becomes a luxury as the speed of our daily life increases.”
Let me rephrase… living from our heart with empathy, kindness and compassion becomes a luxury when the weight of hurry and the deluge of distraction become our norm. Hurry changes us. And not necessarily for the better.
But we already knew that didn’t we?
Yes, of course. We can say, speed and distraction are the culprits. Even so, there is still something tantalizingly addictive about it. (Excuse me a moment, I need to check my phone…) Maybe it’s just endorphins, or maybe we feel important or indispensable, or maybe we like the attention from people who marvel at our seeming “productivity.”
I really liked this from Bruce Springsteen. “I never believed that people come to my shows, to be told anything. But I do believe that they come to be reminded of things. To be reminded of who they are, at their most joyous, at their deepest, when life feels full. It’s a good place to get in touch with your heart and your spirit. To be amongst the crowd. And to be reminded of who we are and who we can be collectively. Music does those things pretty well sometimes, particularly these days, when some reminding of who we are and who we can be isn’t such a bad thing.”
Yes. With stories we can hit the reset button. In order to remember our way. To remember that the light inside does indeed still shine. A reminder that we are designed to live with empathy, altruism and cooperation.
Because here’s the deal: Whenever we forget that we belong to one another, we lose our way. And we see only what we want to see. And we live afraid.
And whenever we forget that everyone is a child of God, who begins with unique divine DNA (“an imago Dei that begs to be allowed, to be fulfilled, and to show itself,” writes Richard Rohr), we lose sight that we are wired to care. Wired to give a damn.
Wired to not let anyone fall through the cracks of distrust or hatred or suspicion.
Wired to slow down, to stop for the man or woman “slumped over”.
This is important to see. Empathy (our capacity to rekindle a spark) is not about what is missing in some and alive in others. This is about what can be too easily buried in us all. The light that shines in each of us, including the man slumped in the doorway. However, we can be essentially cut off from our own heart.
Or in the words of the song we sang as children, “This little light of mine, I’m going let it shine. Put it under a bushel… No…”
Let’s take the bushel off, shall we? There are so many wonderful small ways to rekindle empathy and spill the light.
I’m enjoying Johann Hari’s book, Stolen Focus. He argues that reading long books cultivates empathy. Putting yourself in other’s shoes as empathy is essential to a just and flourishing society.
I spent my weekend on Vashon Island (where I lived for 32 years). And yes, I went by to say hi to the sheep.
I was guest preacher at Burton Community Church, where we talked about self-care and rekindling sparks.
This time of year, foxglove and lupine blanket the hills and line the roadways in this part of Washington state. Sheer spreezatura (effortless grace).
Quote for our week…
And love is not the easy thing… The only baggage you can bring… Is all that you can’t leave behind. You’re packing a suitcase for a place none of us has been. A place that has to be believed to be seen. U2, Walk On
Today’s Photo Credit: “Terry, I was reminded of this photo taken after reading today’s reflection on the gifts that come through the senses in the moment and nurture one’s spirit. (Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, Boothbay) My deepest gratitude to always bringing light to my mornings!” Kathleen Bowers… Thank you Kathleen… Keep sending your photos… send to terryhershey.com
Yes, your gift makes a difference… Donation = Love…
Help make Sabbath Moment possible. I write SM because I want to live with a soft heart; to create a place for sanctuary, empathy, inclusion, compassion and kindness… a space where we are refueled to make a difference. SM remains free.
(NEW address by check: PO Box 65336, Port Ludlow, WA 98365)
UPCOMING EVENTS —
August 12 – 14 — Mary and Joseph Center, Rancho Palos Verdes CA, Soul Gardening: Sacrament of the Present Moment.
Letters that do my heart good…
–Good morning Terry, Your invitation this morning: If you are reading this, now is a good time to pause. Look up from the screen (or page if you’ve printed it out). Give yourself the permission to pay attention to this moment. What do you notice? What do you see, hear, smell, taste, touch? What is it that makes you glad to be alive (in this very ordinary present moment)? On non work days, I begin my day taking my two labs for a walk at sunrise. It is my most favorite part of the day. Today is a work day so I am going to miss my sunrise walk with my pups. Although I am very grateful for my job, I am always a little sad because my morning walk is when I say my prayers and get to connect with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit before the busyness of the day takes my attention. Your invitation to pause while I was reading sabbath moment this morning gave me an opportunity to watch the sky from my window, change from dark blue to light blue with a hint of pink on the edges. Wow! Beautiful and the sunrise has not yet even happened. It filled me with peace and joy (like my morning walks). I would have missed this gift, this blessing had I not accepted your invitation to pay attention to this moment. Thank you. I pray that I keep myself open the blessings of every moment. Sincerely, Denise
POEMS AND PRAYERS
You don’t have love. Love has you. You do not have the wind, the stars, and the rain. You don’t possess these things, you surrender to them. Surrender happens when we give up our illusions.
Anthony de Mello
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
Naomi Shihab Nye
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which He looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which He blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are His body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
St. Teresa of Ávila