She Who is Mercy
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Susannah Heschel, the only child of the late, eminent Jewish theologian, Abraham Joshua Heschel, wrote of her father -
When my father returned from the 1965 civil rights march in Selma [Alabama], he said, "I felt my legs were praying." For him, marching for justice for black Americans was holy, an act of prayer.
*Abraham Joshua Heschel. Thunder in the Soul..
Are there non-religious ways of prayer? Are there ways of praying other than saying prayers? If so, how might you be praying by the way you are living? By what you do for others? Can prayer be your heart posture in receiving from others?
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The Jewish Scriptures are filled with messages about mishpat, "justice, equality, fairness." Justice is central in Judaism. Jesus, a Jew, demonstrates the social ramification of justice: this is attested in the Gospels of the Christian Bible. There is no true Christianity apart from equality, not as an ideal, as a life, an act, including, if need be, a protest. Jesus lived as his Jewish family and culture raised him - true to his Jewish heritage; hence, he included the outsider, the so-called "unclean," the so-called "sinners."
One of the most quoted Jewish scriptures on justice is Micah 6.8. The prophet, born 740 BCE in Southwest Judah, lived in a time of social unrest and inequality. He saw this as a betrayal of the people's god and the citizens. He proclaims -
He [the LORD] has shown you, human one, what is good and what the LORD [YHWH, Yahweh, Adonai] requires of you: to act in justice, embrace loving-kindness, and walk humbly with your God.
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One way life becomes prayer is how we treat others. The spirit in which we act is more important than how much we act. Better one deed of sincere, selfless kindness than many of feigned self-righteousness or a clamoring to demonstrate one's piety.
We invite self-defacing, so our True Face shines forth in action and non-action. In fact, in acting from our True Being, action is non-action from the egoic perspective. The ego recedes in our unity with the act, unable to exert itself. Then, the ego cannot create a split between the actor, action, and receiver. The ego inserts itself for it wants to see itself reflected to itself in what it does. Even doing good deeds can become its mirror. We consciously practice this non-action.
We slowly grow into the non-action being spontaneous. And the ego is not bad; it simply does not exist when it does not see itself. Hence, action becomes a unity in the absence of reflection. We aspire to act with no traces left of what was done. Buddhists would say this leaves no residue of karma (lit., action). That is, you act to leave no action clinging to you. This way applies to what you may see as good or bad action.
Traceless action is like walking down a path and leaving no footprints, or, at least, walking on and not looking back. The satisfaction of the act is sufficient. Unity with deed and blessing consequent is only in the moment for the one practicing contemplation in work.
Therefore, in this sense, mindful work is working with total presence. You are not being totally present; total presence, or Presence, takes your sense of personal presene into itself. Total presence swallows up the mind and body and makes them the servant of the Whole. Consequently, when acting for one, you act for the whole - the Whole.
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We cannot walk humbly with the One apart from respecting and caring for others, including those unlike us. We see even those called enemies with the eyes of compassion. As the Quakers say, everyone has "that of God" within. Buddhists say everyone is a Buddha, some just do not recognize they are. Everyone is a Temple of Life, even those who seem bent on destroying what Life gives us to enjoy together, including to enjoy each other in mutual admiration and reverence.
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A prayerful life is marked by fairness, kindness, and humbleness. When we so act, our whole body prays. When I speak kindly, my mouth prays. When I breathe with loving thoughts of someone, the breathing is prayer. When we so live, our body becomes a dwelling of the Holy.
The Holy is present, while Sacredness is actualized in action. Since we inter-are with all Nature, seen and unseen, we are inevitably part of the whole. Our being is interbeing. Interbeing means we are not only one with everyone, but we are no one at all.
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Among the Buddhist teaching of the Noble Eightfold Path are "right view" and "right action." In The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching, Thich Nhat Hanh writes how right view, or thinking, precedes right action. In seeing the other apart from our prejudices and preconceptions, we see the other. Otherwise, are we seeing the other at all? From right view, we want to help bring joy to them; we want to act justly, be kind, and walk humbly with That we all know is home.
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How shall we fulfill justice and loving-kindness for all without regard for the Sacred? Do we in ourselves have the resources to be persons of equality and love in any consistent way? I agree with those who say not.
The world needs the Light, possibly more so when the darkness becomes darkest. One word of goodwill or kind smile lights up that darkness and is a beacon of hope and healing. Our world is broken, yet love is still the most potent balm available to us. Our True Self is love. This Self can sustain action in justice and reverence for all matter - for justice does not only apply to the human realm.
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Buddhists speak of bodhichitta as the heart of awakened wisdom and compassion through which we see and give to the other. Bodhichitta can be read, "heart of love." This heart is the heart of a Buddha, a Christ. So, when we see and act from this heart of love, we are a Buddha, a Christ; our body becomes a Buddha body, a Christ body. Our presence becomes a love field. In this, the Buddha, the Christ, and all compassionate beings preceding us, our spiritual ancestors, are present.
In the Gospel of Matthew 9, Jesus is traveling, teaching in the Jew's worship houses and announcing the new age. He was healing, also. Verse 36 reads, "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (NLT). The spontaneous arising of compassion leads him to say to his students, "The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields" (vv. 37-38). Interesting, too, is the joining of seeing and compassion; he sees rightly, so he responds rightly. He sees, his heart not clouded by his need to see the crowd in some way or through mere familiarity. An open heart means open eyes.
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We much need beings of a loving heart. These beings may or may not be of a religious faith. We do not have to claim a creed or dogma to be prayer. We welcome love into our hearts and allow ourselves to see through our conditioning to what and who others are. In this, we need a right view and action toward ourselves.
Do you embrace yourself with the heart of love? Are you kind to yourself? Then, by consciously practicing justice, loving-kindness, and humbleness in the Light, we grow spontaneously to see others with the loving-kindness that is our natural expression. In time, we find we naturally share the divine qualities, and we are doing this without trying to or planning to. We have become the justice, loving-kindness, and humbleness we once set out to practice. The Way becomes our unconscious Art.
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Jesus - Gospel of Matthew 5.7 -
Oh! how joyful are the compassionate, for they shall receive compassion.
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*©Brian K. Wilcox, 2021.
*Brian's book, An Ache for Union: Poems on Oneness with God through Love, can be ordered through major online booksellers or the publisher AuthorHouse.