Monday, September 25th 2017

Memorial Day: A spiritual way to honor makers of peace

Watching our thoughts from a place of awareness, before they become action, is the path to peace — and highest way to honor fallen service men and women


DATELINE: Memorial Day service at the Presidio Interfaith Chapel, San Francisco. A sermon by Fr. DAVID RICKEY — On this Memorial Day 2009, we gather again to honor and remember those who have served and sacrificed for freedom in this country and around the world. Here and at national cemeteries throughout this land, row upon row of white markers pay silent but eloquent testimony to the thousands upon thousands of women and men who have lost their lives so that others may live in peace.

But they have not lost their lives so much as they have spent their lives, spent for a cause that was much deeper than themselves. It is not because they were killed or served in battle that we honor them, but because they lived in distinction. Not only did these heroic individuals fight for freedom and justice. So many of them lived in witness to the values they held with such deep respect.


“Blessed are the Peacemakers . . .” and so are the Peace-keepers

Fighting tyranny and oppression will always be a two-fold process: fighting back against those who would abuse and harm fellow human beings and destroy civil liberties in order to gain selfish power, and demonstrating compassion, justice, and simple civility, witnessing to the highest levels of human dignity. Only by fighting against injustice and at the same time demonstrating compassion, will we bring about a lasting peace on this planet. The people we Honor and Remember today accomplished both of these goals, and we honor them best by striving to live in those same ideals.

“Blessed are the Peacemakers.” “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” As we honor the Peace-keepers and Peacemakers, we remember our deepest truth: that we are fundamentally one family. Regardless of national,  racial, cultural or religious identity, we share this one common trait. We are human. This is the deep truth that impels people to throw themselves on hand-grenades or sacrifice their own lives without thinking of personal safety to spare the lives of fellow human beings. This is the deep truth that nurtures compassionate action even towards those who may be identified as “enemy.” That deep awareness of being at-one with all human life.

compassionWe honor best those who have spent their lives in service to their country by dedicating our lives to the same self-less pursuit of compassion and justice. We must today and every day strive to live from the ideals these men and women fought to preserve and extend. Each one of us is called by our several faiths to live from the deepest awareness of love, to be an instrument of peace moment to moment, to transform our thinking, our very minds to emulate the minds of those great teachers of the past: Lao Tsu, Muhummad, The Buddha, Jesus, Sri Aurobindo, Abraham.

“Know thyself” is the first step to creating peace

How do we do this? The way is simple, although the practice is difficult. The first step is to know yourself. That’s easy to say but requires a deep discipline to achieve. Knowing yourself is less about knowing who you are then it is about knowing what’s going on inside, what motivates you, what your fears are, and what your unhealed wounds are — ultimately, how your mind and ego work. The simplest thing you can do is learn to become aware of your thoughts, the workings of your own mind, to notice the thoughts before they become actions and attitudes, prejudices and predispositions. Then, in that space of noticing, try making more conscious choices according to the deeper truths of your faith.

A duty greater than the self

samuraiI am reminded of a story about a samurai warrior, whose purpose it was to defend his lord against attack. This samurai lived, not for himself but for his lord. One day his lord was murdered, and it was the samurai’s duty to hunt down and kill the attacker. After a long and arduous pursuit, he had the attacker cornered and drew his sword. At that point the attacker spit at the samurai. After a moments pause, the samurai put his sword back in its sheath and walked away. The reason for this puzzling behavior was this: He had been pursuing this man out of duty to a higher cause than himself. However, when the killer spit at him, the rage that rose up in the samurai was his own personal rage, no longer a matter of duty to higher principles. In that slight pause, the samurai could sense the shift in what was motivating his action. And his deeper self would not let him kill from merely personal rage.

This may be an extreme story for us, of another time and culture, but the message applies. In war, and in our daily life, our actions and choices must come from a deeper place than personal anger or pain. Training ourselves to know the nature and workings of our own minds, teaching ourselves through disciplined self-observation to watch our thoughts from a place of awareness. This creates a space and a spaciousness in which we can find motivation for higher and deeper levels of responsiveness.

Right now, can you be aware of the thoughts going through your mind as I am speaking? Perhaps you’re having reactions to something I am saying. Perhaps you’re wondering how much longer I am going to be. Or perhaps your planning tonight’s dinner. Can you notice those thoughts? Who’s noticing? It isn’t thoughts. It’s awareness. It’s consciousness itself. You can train yourself to live in that awareness. Then watch your thoughts and reactions, and choose what is true. Otherwise you are driven bygosananda the thoughts and reactions.

Maha Gosananda, a Cambodian Buddhist monk said: “Peace is a path that is chosen consciously. It is not aimless wandering but a step-by-step journey.”

How often do we find ourselves reacting to a perceived insult, or simply experiencing personal frustration with others and lashing out? These moments generate the behaviors, that, on a larger scale create war and strife.

After 9/11, how difficult it was to think about an appropriate response. Yes, justice had to be served, but how many people began to experience rage and fear that led to discrimination and attacks on anyone who was perceived as different? On the other hand, how many people were able to step back for a moment, and then reach out with concern and compassion to those who were of a different faith and surround them with love and express solidarity, union, at-one-ment?

sulha21There is a second kind of knowing we need to practice. This is the knowing of others. I believe that most, if not all, the hostilities in the world would end if we human beings first knew ourselves, and then learned to know each other. All fears, all prejudices, all hostile attitudes are created in ignorance — ignorance of our own inner workings and ignorance of what we experience as “the other”, the unknown. In this ignorance we project differences when in fact we share, even with our so-called “enemy” the same desires, aspirations, and anxieties.

eladvazana1Recently, I was privileged to meet an amazing young man named Elad Vazana (pictured left). Born in the deserts of southern Israel, he grew up fearing Arabs because he had never gotten close to any. Through a series of dreams and synchronicities, he found himself in Granada, Spain, where, for 700 years Muslims, Jews and Christians and lived in peace. He had a vision creating spaces and places where young Arab and Jewish men and women from Israel and Palestine could meet and share the stories of their lives.

With the help of others groups doing similar work he has created the Sulha Peace Project. Sulha is an Arabic word meaning sulha_peace_project_green_177_1forgiveness, and is the indigenous process of mediation which aims to rebuild trust, restore dignity and move beyond the political agenda. By transforming the minds and hearts of young people, they are sowing the seeds of a lasting peace — simply by have people listen to each other.

Albert Einstein said “You cannot solve problems with the same mind that created them.”

We gather in this place of interfaith awareness, each of us being nurtured by the wisdom and example of so many who have gone before us, showing us the way of compassion and peace. Today we honor and remember those who acted out of duty, not out of personal anger, and we honor them best by dedicating ourselves to that same quest.

“Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” Peace will not come unless each one of us takes up the mantle that was carried by those we honor this day. Peace will not come if we wait for others to make it happen. In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus says: “The Kingdom of God is laid out upon the world, but you do not see it.” Let us open the eyes of our faith, let us live from the compassion of our hearts, let us transform the very nature of our minds, so that we might not only see this kingdom of peace, but manifest it within our own lives, in our own communities, and finally on this our world.

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2 Comments on “Memorial Day: A spiritual way to honor makers of peace”

  1. David, thank you for sharing your sermon with us. As always, your sermon was thought provoking and inspiring. I have tried over the years to discover my motivations for doing the things that I do. While some things are still unexplained, some are apparently behaviors that I perceive as "what is expected of me" not what was true to my faith. I, just this week, lost a friend and coworker to a brain tumor. Her death was unexpected and I felt compelled to attend her funeral even though I am recovering from a severe hip fracture. I wrestled with the thought of going or not going, take the wheel chair or the walker and several other decisions. Then I took a step back and thought why am I doing this? Am I needing to attend because of my own grief and the need to attend to it or was it because I felt I needed to because coworkers would think badly of me if I did not attend? That realization came as quite a shock to me, but getting it out in the open (or just in the forefront of my mind) caused me to rethink my motivation. In the end I went to the funeral but it was for me and my need to honor my friend and not because I was worried about coworkers and their perceptions of me. In the future I will try to check my decisions/motivations against my true self before I act on them. Thank you for making it all clear to me.

  2. You are taking the steps toward mindfulness. Congratulations. As you do watch your thoughts, it is also very important that you don't judge what you. Having compassion for yourself will help you have compassion for others, and also help you see yourself more clearly. What goes on in our minds can be a "shock" - so try to be gentle.


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