by Celia Coates
Here’s the first verse of a cheer-filled gospel song,
Jesus is on the main line,
you can tell him what you want,
You can tell him anything you want.
And then there’s a joyful chorus,
Call him up, call him up,
Tell him what you want.
It’s from the days when our conversations travelled along actual phone wires. The advice is direct, simple, and lacking in doubt – just live as though you have an open request line to the divine. * But we live in troubled, not simple, times and getting what we want can take a destructive turn. There are people and groups and whole institutions that believe that if they want something, they are free to do anything to get it. They believe that the ends (whatever it is that they want) justify using any available means, even if that harms other people, destroys nature, or ends democracy.
Annalee Newitz writes regularly for the magazine NEW SCIENTIST and this week she pointed to a myth that is part of this selfish blindness,
“… the myth that everyone in the US is a rugged individual, dependent on no one, and we should be allowed to say whatever we want to whomever we want. … When free speech metastasises into chaos, we no longer know what is true or false. We don’t trust each other. And productive debates in the public sphere become impossible.” ** (NEW SCIENTIST is published in Britain, and that is their correct spelling of metastasizes.)
The myth of the rugged individual leaves no room for community or cooperation. There’s no discussion of what might promote “the common good” which seems to have become an old fashioned and irrelevant idea. I can imagine two very different telephone calls being made by the two sides of the current battle in America.
Then, who is going to get what they want?
Since it isn’t so simple as just placing a call to Heaven, what kind of conversation with what’s greater than ourselves can we have? We don’t know what questions to ask and anyway, our questions don’t seem to have useful answers. Why is this happening? What can anyone do about these destructive disasters? How can we end all these struggles, all this suffering? There are so very many troubling questions to ask.
I came across a book that included an intriguing possibility,
“Once you start engaging in rich, deep conversation with something higher, deeper, and wiser than yourself, you’ll find yourself contemplating ideas you’ve never considered, saying things you’ve never said, and asking questions you’ve never asked. Once you open yourself to divine direction, you will receive guidance, but – fair warning – it may not be the guidance you expect. Once you start asking for more, you will start receiving more: more ideas, more intuition, more inspiration, more wisdom, more opportunities, more challenges, and more questions. Always there are more questions. Because the answers … live deep inside the questions.” ***
Like many of us I spend many hours trying to ignore what is happening around the world, even though I know it would be wiser to face the crises. I feel helpless and it’s easier to distract myself from the violence and crazy cowardice, easier to tune out the horror of what has been created by war and all the murders, especially the new ones in Buffalo and Uvalde. I would rather find a pleasant bypass and write a lyrical post about how fine and lovely life can be, but ignoring this evil has not helped anything in the years since Sandy Hook. There has always been murder – the stories about humans killing each other go back to Cain and Abel. But there haven’t always been AR-15s and super destructive bullets. We have them now, we are told, because that is what people want.
If there are ways to find answers if I “live deep inside” questions, I’d better start by finding the ones I need to ask. So – How can I follow the old advice to be an embodied soul, here “in” the world but not “of” it. How can I keep my sense of the divine and remember to see beyond materialism and getting all the stuff I want? How can I “love my neighbor” when I am frightened by their politics?
Maybe this is the time to “Call him up, call him up,” and say that what I want is to know how to face these times.
Yesterday morning, out of the blue, a very dear friend felt prompted to send me a quote from L. R. Knost, a social justice activist and author who advises,
Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world.
All things break. And all things can be mended,
Not with time, as they say, but with intention.
So go, love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally.
The broken world waits in darkness
For the light that is you.
It’s easy to get caught up in the world around us – it certainly commands attention. But it may be that intention is what is needed now, an intention to be someone who wants to be part of the mending. We are not in this alone and many, many of us are trying to figure how to get what is really worth wanting. What if we begin with ourselves and then pool our resources?
* * * * *
* “Pops” Staple and the Stapleton Singers first released an arrangement of this traditional song on July 4, 1960.
** NEW SCIENTIST, 28 May 2022, page 28
*** WRITING DOWN YOUR SOUL: How to Activate and Listen to the Extraordinary Voice Within, Janet Conner, Conari Press, 2008.
I wanted an image by artist and photographer David Lewis to lead this post, but for the first time in all these years, it wouldn’t appear! I do not know who took this substituted image of a storm over New York City.