What we choose to invest in indicates something about how we view the future, especially when our choices reflect personal aspirations and concerns. And those choices, which we may have made a long time ago, also carry forward in less obvious ways.
Just as in those films where a father abandons one family to start another, and a child from the first family hunts him down, the consequences of our past actions wait in the wings until they show up one day on our doorstep.
Those consequences are reflected in the law of karma, which says that we won’t succeed in leaving anything behind until we have learned what we need to learn.
The longer I live, the more apparent the reign of karma in my life becomes. As my active engagement in the world of responsibilities recedes more and more into memory—I have begun to notice that those memories carry the legacy of what I have failed to honor in my life. Could it be that we have been born–like eggs laid by a cosmic chicken–in order to be given another chance to learn what we failed to learn last time around?
That sounds as if I imagine we are chugging along through a series of cosmic Amtrack stops, and will continue to do so until our soul finally accepts that we need to choose a destination for our journey. But I have no personal acquaintance with reincarnation, nor visions of other lifetimes. I’m just increasingly aware that memory keeps returning to past scenes of fulfillment and failure; and that I prefer revisiting the former.
It seems that some kind of “karma” must be in operation. Otherwise, why aren’t we happier than we are? Why can’t we banish bad memories and cultivate good ones? Why can’t we wake up from the bad dream that our society has become, where –as strenuously as we try to push the realization back down into the darkness–our ways of living are inflicting pain on countless beings for whose wellbeing we are responsible?
It’s not just all the feedlots and chicken coops in which our fellow beings stand in their own feces, unable to move more than a foot in any direction. We are robbing future generations of a world where people are kind and considerate to one other.
How many find welcome in the time and space that they must inhabit? Where can we invest our yearning for a caring world when we are so deeply emmeshed in this one? Could it be that human beings must first realize that not everything has the same kind of value before we will know how to “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:17)?
Some of us have a vision of a greater, kinder realm, but if we can’t see it in the world in which we awake each morning, are we just dreaming?
Perhaps it’s not because there is no path that leads into the light that we find ourselves outside in the darkness. Perhaps we have just never learned to trust that we have the strength and faith to follow that path ourselves.
In the past few months, I’ve been trying to learn how to pray; and this week I encountered a way that I can be more involved in the practice, by developing three foundations of prayer: gestures, attitude, and receptivity to blessings.
I’ve previously encountered the advice to make gestures when we are not yet able to be the real thing. For instance, although I am unable to be generous as long as I secretly hope that others will reward me with their good opinion, I can still practice acts of giving as a step toward one day becoming truly generous. I’ve also encountered the idea that the attitude I bring into my interactions and engagements is important. But the third foundation—developing my receptivity to blessing–seems more difficult. Praying for blessings from a Great Being still feels different than that other virtue: self-reliance.
The Serenity Prayer expresses an attitude that accepts the fundamental nature of life while actively trying to make things better:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
In this initial verse of the original, longer prayer, the trials of being human are at the center, and our prayer is that we be reasonable, balanced, and modest about our ability to affect what happens to us in life. It doesn’t ask that any particular benefit be granted. That’s what makes it a powerful prayer, and one which offers genuine help in the times when life threatens to wash away our foundations. Perhaps it’s in the first line that we can hear a request that we be shown how to be open to blessings. And among those blessings are acceptance of the things we cannot change, courage to work on what calls out for change, and the wisdom to live our lives as we are carried along, we know not where, on the river of time.