"The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Wisdom of Pursuing the Impossible

If you haven't heard about it yet and why would you when the corporate media has practically blacked out all coverage, go to Iraq Veterans Against the War and watch the Winter Soldier hearings, described as follows: "Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan will feature testimony from U.S. veterans who served in those occupations, giving an accurate account of what is really happening day in and day out, on the ground. The four-day event will bring together veterans from across the country to testify about their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan - and present video and photographic evidence. In addition, there will be panels of scholars, veterans, journalists, and other specialists to give context to the testimony. These panels will cover everything from the history of the GI resistance movement to the fight for veterans' health benefits and support." - ivaw.org

The soldier's words, often halting, are describing some of the blackest patches in the human soul at this point in history. But we are a part of that blackness and until we can face it and live it, we cannot embrace the spirit of repentance which we must receive in this season of Lent. Our silence and inaction, our false spirituality which pretends that religion bears no responsibility toward the inherently corrupt world of power and war have directly contributed to the horror in which we, the Iraqi people, and these soldiers have inured ourselves.

I know that many of you may wonder why we should struggle against what seems utterly inevitable. Why waste my small store of energy on a hopeless battle for truth against an empire that seems to control all the levers of power? For one who is spiritually alive, there are a lifetime of answers to this question. One answer is that the empire actually hides a fundamental weakness - that it only understands force and manipulation, but the spirit of humanity can never be bound by material forces.

Another answer comes from one who watched the priests of Latin America struggle against violent repression in the power of the spirit:

Once a wise old Spanish anarchist was confronted with the fact that his beautiful ideals were unrealizable, and he replied, "Of course it is impossible to realize them. But don't you see that everything that is possible today, is worthless?"

Why worthless? Surely, the great works of our day are worthwhile - the medical advances that cure sicknesses that formerly led to inevitable death, the technological wonders of the Internet, the flood of cheap goods that gives the lowliest American wealth unheard of in history. But as one who tries to keep Jesus in at least one eye most of the time, I have to agree - worthless. Because these things are built on a foundation of injustice and without justice and the love which is built upon it, such material rewards can only lead to Hell.

In the words of Joel Kovel regarding the Spanish anarchist: "Sensible people might see this as evidence of quixotism, but they would be wrong. For a radically spiritual attitude, though it may have no immediate possibility of realization, is, when turned outward, the most practical thing in the world. The reason we should fight for spirit is the here and now, is because spirit creates a new sense of the possible, and the belief that the possible is worth striving for. Thus the impossible must be imagined if it is to be realized, and it is true sanity to do so." Joel Kovel, "History and Spirit"

Can we let the darkness of this present age destroy our humanity? Can we not, like Malcolm X, make prison into a seminary in which we are regenerated into the living truth? Spirit can only be kept alive by imagining what seems impossible to realize given the present realities of power. We continue to speak the inner truth even though we hear no echo in the world around us because we know that one day that echo will come and be all the more beautiful for its long travels through the wilds of this world.

We give birth by bearing witness to the best spiritual visions which we hold, impossible as they may be to realize in this present darkness. Death is the same voice that spoke through Martha in the gospel of John when she told Jesus, "If only you had been here, my brother would not have died!" The culture of death is not comfortable with possibilities that lie outside the boundary of its power and profit. Jesus' response is to thank God for his responsiveness to our requests for life. Christians are never bound by the circle of death, no matter how hard the empire tries to convince us that Christianity is really a matter of adherence to the conventional social norms that support a system that has no alternative. In the regime of controlled despair, the only releases are hedonism and alienated spirituality, but Jesus calls out, "Do not despair!"

"We all know despair. We think: 'There is nothing that can be done. We will always have war, poverty, nuclear weapons and global warming. We will always be violent. Death is in control. Militarism rules the land, violence rules our hearts.' But the voice of Jesus rings out across the centuries: 'Take away the stone. Come out of your tombs. Unbind the oppressed and let them go. Live and let live. From now on, you are free of despair and the culture of death. Live in hope, in the new life of resurrection and give thanks to the God of peace.' That is the mission for the rest of our lives." - Fr. John Dear, "The Lenten Journey of Gospel Nonviolence (Part 6)

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