Source of material commented on: http://tinyurl.com/lr47l2
A big story in the news recently has been the election in Iran and its aftermath. After current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner, supporters of challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi claimed that the election results were rigged and took to the streets and rooftops in protest. But the details of the election controversy are not what I want to report on here; we have CNN and Reuters for that. Instead, I want to highlight a video of the protests I saw which to me captures perfectly the choice on which the salvation of the world depends: the choice between sacrificing one another at the dark and bloody shrine of the ego, or offering one another the lilies of forgiveness that transform the darkness of our world into radiant light.
The video opens with Mousavi supporters marching down the street protesting the election results. They are chanting and shaking their fists. Then, all of a sudden, there is a growing roar in the background and panic sweeps through the crowd. The crowd scatters as police in riot gear, armed with truncheons, plow through the crowd on motorcycles. The protest erupts into a riot, with more vigorous chanting and people running everywhere. (A narrator on the video describes the scene, and I wish I could understand what he's saying; he's speaking what sounds to me like Italian.)
The video then cuts to one of the police motorcycles lying on the street in flames. And then, you see something surprising: A man has his arm around one of the policemen and is leading him through the crowd. The policeman looks dazed and confused; though it's not one hundred percent clear, I'm guessing that the burning motorcycle must be his. Though some in the crowd appear to be yelling at the policeman (I can't be sure; my Farsi is a bit rusty), the man leads the policeman through the crowd without incident. Eventually, the policeman is brought to a corner by a window up against a building. A group of men and women surround him to protect him from anyone in the crowd who might cause trouble. Finally, you see the man who escorted him and a female companion gently tending to him. They offer water to him and pour it on his head to cool him off. It is such a kind and tender gesture.
Think about it: This is one of the same policemen who moments before had roared through the crowd on his motorcycle with riot gear and a truncheon. This is a representative of the ruling authorities the crowd was protesting against, brutally enforcing the will of the oppressive State upon them. It's easy to imagine the crowd, once it got a hold of him, tearing him limb from limb. (And I'm sure at least some in the crowd would have been happy to do that.) It's probably all too easy for Westerners to imagine that, given the stereotypes about the violence of Muslims. Yet instead, a man wraps his arm around his brother policeman and leads him through the crowd without incident, and with some of his compatriots lovingly tends to the policeman who had been beating back the crowd just moments before. It is a truly amazing reversal.
In my mind, this short video captures the choice that the entire world, from the macro level of governments and religions and ethnic groups to the micro level of our daily interactions with the people in our lives, faces each and every moment. Each instant we choose separation or joining, war or peace, the ego or the spirit. All too often, of course, we choose the first option in these pairs. We seek vengeance on those who seem to oppress us (one of the popular chants of the Mousavi supporters is "Death to the dictator!"). Or perhaps we are the oppressors, calling out our riot police and brandishing our truncheons, literally or figuratively. As we make this choice again and again, moment by moment, what we end up with is the nightmare world we see, with all of its insanity and brutalities large and small.
The Course, speaking of the faith we place in the ego, describes this world using a graphic metaphor that mixes the image of Jesus' crucifixion with that of a primitive religious ritual:
In suffering, the price for faith in it is so immense that crucifixion of the Son of God is offered daily at its darkened shrine, and blood must flow before the altar where its sickly followers prepare to die. (W-pII.12.4:2)
The entire world groans under the yoke of this terrible suffering. We all grimly go to that darkened shrine and pay our respects to the god we made, knowing somewhere deep down that we are killing ourselves in the process. And so life goes on. I have a friend from Iran who despairs of anything ever really changing there. So most of us feel about the entire world, if we are honest with ourselves. There seems to be no end to the madness.
Yet as insane and seemingly doomed as this dark world is, the Course promises that this horrible nightmare can be reversed in the twinkle of an eye, simply by choosing to turn away from the dark, bloody altar of the ego and bring the healing blessing of forgiveness to our brothers in need:
Yet will one lily of forgiveness change the darkness into light; the altar to illusions to the shrine of Life Itself. And peace will be restored forever to the holy minds which God created as His Son, His dwelling place, His joy, His love, completely His, completely one with Him. (W-pII.12.5:1-2)
The tender moment in the video, as ordinary as it appeared on the surface, looked to me like that one lily of forgiveness. In the darkness of anger and condemnation and retaliation, a few people chose to see their apparent oppressor not as an enemy but as a dear brother in need of help. The Course tells us that the briefest moments of what looks like mundane, ordinary kindness are the moments that can transform our world: "That moment will be enough. Salvation has come" (M-3.2:7-8). I think that in that simple act of offering the policeman water, salvation came. Yes, the bloody world is still with us, and I suspect it will remain with us for a while. But that extension of love was a spark of light in our dark dream, and it is only a matter of time before the tiny sparks offered all over the world come together and grow into a radiant sunbeam that will shine all of the darkness away.
So, whom do you regard as your oppressor (or whom are you oppressing)? Whom do you regard as your enemy, the one whose death you are calling for in your heart, the one whom you'd love to take a truncheon to in your darkest fantasies? This is the person to whom you can offer a lily of forgiveness today. You may not believe you want to do this, but what do you really want: the darkened, bloody shrine of death, or the radiant shrine of Life Itself? Endless conflict, or peace forever? A life of exile in a crazy world that cares not a whit for you, or the realization that you are forever God's holy Son, "His dwelling place, His joy, His love, completely His, completely one with Him"?
Offering one lily of forgiveness, Jesus says, will give you the latter. And while it may seem difficult, if Iranian protesters can extend such an offering during a riot to a man who represented everything they were protesting against, a man who had just plowed into them with a motorcycle and beat them back with a club, can you not do the same for that person who always leaves the toilet seat up? That lily and all the joy it brings is always yours to give. Why not give it today?