In the midst of winter darkness, people of various spiritual traditions are preparing to celebrate the return of the light. For me, this year’s Christmas pageant was especially poignant, as the children acted out the story of the birth of a special child. Following the killings at Shady Hook Elementary, a shroud of darkness has settled across our land. How can we celebrate in the midst of such unspeakable tragedy? Where is God, where is the light?
The only light I see is the light of Love, which brings us into being, nurtures us and works through us to nurture others, and leads us in the direction of hope for a more peaceful, just, and compassionate world. This Love, which is the only God I know, enables us to keep going, caring for the children, enduring hardship and even suffering to make their days bright. It was this day-to-day Love that motivated Shady Hook’s principal and teachers to try to protect the children in their care.
This Love, “in which we live and move and have our being,” is the light in the midst of this present darkness. This Love is our only hope. It points toward a brighter future. But we can’t see the way Love is pointing if we can’t see where we are. We must awaken to where we are as a people if we are to see the direction we need to go.
Many of us think of ourselves as spiritual, but we live in and tolerate a society that is violent to the core. We can see the outward evidence: bullying of children and others, child and spousal abuse, hate-filled rhetoric in the media, violent movies and video games, military-style weapons available on the open market, gun violence. We are outraged and frightened by the most shocking incidents, but we don’t know what to do. Start carrying guns, as suggested by the gun lobby? Will more people with more guns make us safer? I don’t think so.
The problem is that there is also an inner dimension to the violence that we see all around us, and even within us. The violent milieu of our society is supported by a world view that is largely unquestioned by politicians, by the media, or by religious institutions. US society glorifies domination and violence. We see ourselves as the Number One nation and promote the “American way of life” as better than other ways of life. We take for granted our right to use any means at our disposal, including drone warfare, to enforce our will. Our criminal justice system, which is racially biased and unfair to the poor, is based not on restoration, but on retribution. Our foreign policy is based on a view of global Empire and is supported by a military-industrial complex that seeks to dominate the world.
At the same time, our society glorifies the Market. We are told that the Market can best allocate society’s resources, and that taxing the wealthy at a higher rate or putting rules on corporate behavior will drag down the economy. This is the rationale for cutting services of every kind. Giving “the Market” so much power means giving power to those with money. This enables powerful corporations and wealthy individuals to consolidate their power and wealth by dominating political and economic policies. Such policies do not support services for the mentally ill, victims of domestic violence, or other vulnerable people. They do not, for that matter, support schools, libraries, or any other public institutions that we have until now taken for granted. Rather, they increase the gap between rich and poor, which studies show is linked to increasing levels of violence.
To prevent more mass killings, gun control laws are necessary, along with increased funding for mental health services. But these actions alone will not bring about the social transformation that is needed. To live into a more compassionate future will require us to face the current darkness and acknowledge that we, as a people, are on the wrong track. We have allowed ourselves to be swept along by compelling myths and powerful institutional forces that harness money and use violence to dominate our world.
We can choose to resist complicity and join with others to work for the common good. We can face the darkness, celebrate the light, and by our actions embody hope so we can assure the children that there are brighter days ahead. Love will be our guide.