Over the years, I have always found the wisdom of Joan Chittister profound and challenging. Joan is a Benedictine Sister from Erie Pennsylvania and has written many profound articles and books. Today, I am going to share some of her gathered wisdom, based on the Scriptures – but on more that the words. She moves into the spirit of things – and digs deep. Growing up in a very large family, we learned about going deeper than the surface; we learned that it is the spirit that gives life and that we are all connected – from one generation to the next. Joan also finds the spirit in others and it is in the shared wisdom that she becomes a life giver.
“I firmly believe that our salvation depends on the poor;” (Dorothy Day)
“WHO WILL SAVE US?”
“This insight itself is a kind of life-changer. The heart stopes for a moment as the words sink in. It is, at the very least, certainly a soul-stretcher. We begin to look again at the way we see the world.
Even more than that, perhaps, it changes our very sense of the purpose and direction of our lives.
It takes. a while, in fact, to process the words: Our salvation depends on the poor? Surely that’s impossible. A kind of holy exaggeration. Our salvation depends on ourselves.
No, actually not. Not if we rethink some of the things wee know about life.
Like everything else in life, the very concept of work has evolved over the centuries. We’ve gone from communal farming in agricultural communities to individual positions based on individual interests or opportunities in a money economy. As a result, of course, our social systems over time began to look very different. Except for one thing. The fact is that whatever work we do, we still work for the reasons people have always worked. We work to maintain ourselves. We earn our bread by the sweat of our hands, The Rule of Benedict tells us in the sixth century.
But more than that, we also work to maintain the planet itself: “Till the land and keep it,” scripture commands us in Genesis. We’re not put here, we come to understand, to exploit the land or threaten the life of the planet. We are to develop it and protect it. We are to take responsibility for the creation we’ve been given.
At the same time, we work driven by the internal need to develop ourselves – our interests and our talents. We are to create with the creator, to bring ourselves to the fullness of ourselves just as we are to develop the rest of creation.
And yet, despite the obvious, despite the fact that humans are obviously interdependent, we struggle between becoming fully human and being spiritually underdeveloped. The issue that is most in question, actually in danger, in a highly individualistic society, is whether we must also work to care for the rest of humanity as well. And, if not, what will happen to those who cannot find for that enables them to care for themselves? And what will happen to the quality of our own humanity as we’ll?
What kind of human, human beings, shall we become if we become human for ourselves alone?
We must work, in other words, to develop the human community itself.
Work, you see, is bigger than ourselves. Work is a community responsibility, a community act, a community gift.. But therein lies the problem. In a highly competitive, capitalist society, the new capitalist scripture is that “God helps this who help themselves.s” Which is pious code for “In the end, it’s all up to you – and you are on your own.”
Unfortunately, that will be each of us before life is over. And then what? Then, like everyone else who is alone and unprotected on our streets right now and waiting for help from us. we will be alone and unprotected. Then, we will be the ones needing help. And where will that help come from if not from those who know their own salvation depends on their willingness to help others?
Scripture is clear: We are taught to “do unto others as we would have others to unto us.” (Matthew 7:12)
“Being our. brother’s and sisters’ keeper” is about more than praying for the salvation of a set of disembodied souls. We are not bifurcated human beings, part body, part soul. Whatever we do, we do wholly. Or, as N.T. Wright says, “The work of salvation, in its full sense, is about whole human beings, not merely souls.”
There are as many ways of being saved as there are of being lost. Then we all need someone special, someone committed to helping us save ourselves. Mother Teresa says, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
. . . To see those in need and do nothing is to become a little less human ourselves.
Do not hesitate to weep and cry for those who weep and cry in front of us. The tears we shed for the pains of others are a measure of our own humanity.
To fail to respond to the poor around us makes the entire world a more sterile, inhuman place. What’s even more true, it marks us as a little less developed ourselves. Martin Buber teaches, “A person cannot approach the divine by reaching beyond the human. To become human is what this individual person has been created for.”
To save the poor it is necessary to love the poor. Not because they are poor but because no one is meant to be poor in a world of plenty.
If some people are destitute, it is because others have been dulled by affluence. Then we become just one more “Let them eat cake” society where the secure simply assume that the poor are poor because they want to be. As if the poor do not have the needs, the desires, the hopes of us all.
Only what we do for the poor will count toward the valuation of our own. humanity.
To ignore the poor is to ignore the very quality of human life in general. “Love and compassion are necessities,” the Dalai Lama writes, “not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”
The poor are not the “other.” They are myself in different circumstances. They remind me that I am only one incident away from losing what I think I am entitles to.
It is one thing to talk about caring for the poor, it’s another to work to make it happen – even in our own town, our own institutions, our own country. “If you want make a difference,” Brene Brown says, “the next time you see someone being cruel to another human being, take it personally.:
These are excerpts from her recent book “WE ARE ALL ONE. In our society today, we find ourselves fighting the battle between our demand for independence and isolation, set against the common good; the reality that we need one another; that we are connected and part of the ongoing creation. We are responsible for our world. We see around us, great fear of others – we feel threatened by change and by giving up our own sense of ego. We like to pretend that we are independent – and fear of losing our independence pushes us to find ways to build walls and create great chasms of division. The Evolution of the Universe; our galaxy and life itself is not finished yet, but we have both the power to accept the gift of life – or to choose to die – because life is too demanding and threatening. Real Community and contemplation are the sugar that makes the medicine go down.