Paris: The Patient Urgency of Now

by Greg Mackie

Everyone in the world knows what happened in Paris on Friday, November 13: a massive terrorist attack, with 129 dead and many more wounded, and the terrorist group ISIS (called “Daesh” by its Arabic-speaking opponents) claiming responsibility. All of us at the Circle of Atonement join the world in sending love, light, and comfort to France and to anyone touched by the attacks in any way. We pray that the love of God our Father will bring healing to the victims, wisdom to all who are called to respond to this tragic event, and illumination to the misguided brothers who carried out these attacks. May we all find a better way.

It seems that I’ve been writing about events like this more and more frequently, and I wonder what I can say that I haven’t said already. In broad terms, my advice to Course students about how to respond to such events is unchanged: With the help of the Course’s teachings and practices, 1) Ask the Holy Spirit how to perceive this situation lovingly with the eyes of Christ, and 2) Ask the Holy Spirit for guidance about what specifically to do in this situation. In addition to this, I’ve shared some more specific thoughts about terrorist attacks—specifically 9/11—in an article I wrote entitled “9/11 Ten Years Later: What Would Jesus Have Had Us Do?

But what more can I say? In contemplating this, it occurred to me that my partner Patricia and I, who live in Mexico, are currently in a situation of ongoing violent attacks: the drug cartel wars here that have taken 60,000 lives (more or less, depending on the source) in Mexico in the last ten years. Patricia works with migrants’ human rights defenders who deal with violence every day, and while we ourselves have not been attacked (knock on wood), the threat is real. In fact, just this Saturday night, a twenty-something young man Patricia met in Guatemala—a nonviolent man who was training to be a Mayan shaman—died in a hospital, the victim of a brutal beating by men who robbed his store. So, given this situation, Patricia and I have reflected quite a bit on how to live in the midst of the threat of violence.

Our answer pretty much boils down to the two points I’ve already shared above, but what we also keep coming back to is encapsulated in the subtitle of this piece, which draws from Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “fierce urgency of now.” In short, we try to adopt an attitude of patient urgency. This may sound contradictory, but I think once I unpack the phrase, you’ll see that it is a very practical and effective way to look at situations like this.

First, the “patient” part: What tends to happen when violent events like this occur is that people get impatient: They feel anger at the perpetrators and fear for their own safety, and out of their desperation they want a solution now. Unfortunately, decisions made from the perspective of anger and fear are never good ones: Usually they are just some version of “Destroy the perpetrators!” (Or anyone who remotely resembles the perpetrators—in the case of the Paris attacks, Muslims.)

But I think instead, we need to cultivate patience. We need to step back, take a deep breath, and recognize that there are no short-term answers to problems like terrorism. Yes, of course there may be some steps that can be taken immediately to lessen the danger, but the larger problem isn’t going to disappear overnight. Paris is not the first terrorist attack, and it won’t be the last. Truly undoing the problem of terrorism will require a sea change in how human beings relate to one another, and that is a long-term project of training hearts and minds to see in a whole new way, a way rooted in selfless love.

This, then, is a process, a marathon rather than a sprint, and as Course students we can help by doing our best to set aside knee-jerk reactions fueled by anger and fear. We can instead cultivate patience rooted in a deepening trust that “a happy outcome to all things is sure” (W-pI.292.Heading). To the degree we can do this, we can experience the peace the Course promises us, even as we grapple with thorny problems like terrorism: “Sure of the ultimate interpretation of all things in time, no outcome already seen or yet to come can cause [us] fear” (M-4.VIII.1:10).

Next, the “urgency” part: While the term “patience” may suggest complacency, nothing could be further from the truth. While the Course counsels patience regarding the unfolding of the promised happy outcome, it simultaneously stresses the urgency of taking our own part in bringing about this outcome, for “it us up to us when this is reached” (W-pI.292.1:3). The “celestial speedup” guidance that Helen received from Jesus describes our current world situation as an “acute emergency” requiring immediate action. The Holy Spirit has given us a plan for salvation, and the Course urges us to take up our part in it. As Jesus says, “I am making His plan perfectly explicit to you, and will also tell you of your part in it, and how urgent it is to fulfill it” (T-5.VII.4:4). The plan is long term, but we need to roll up our sleeves and start working on our part of it now.

This, to me, is the Course’s answer to the common and very understandable lament after an event like the Paris attacks: “What can I do?” The Course’s answer is that we can find and fulfill what it calls our special function: our particular part in God’s plan for salvation, a part that the Holy Spirit has designed especially for us. Discovering our special function is itself a process that takes time. But to the degree that we find and fulfill our particular part in God’s plan, we will be doing the best thing we could possibly do to undo the problem of terrorism—even if our own special function has nothing overtly to do with the specific issue of terrorist attacks. The crucial thing is simply that we do it, for “salvation needs your part, and…the whole depends on you” (W-pI.186.4:4).

This may sound daunting, but I find it inspiring. We all crave lives of meaning, and here we are told that rather than being powerless, we each have a meaningful and crucial role in God’s plan to undo terrorism and every other manifestation of lack of love. I like to think of us as miracle-working EMTs, responding to the world’s acute emergency not with frantic anger and fear, but with the calm assurance that with God’s Help, we have what it takes to address the emergency and bring about the inevitable happy outcome. Ironically, though that ultimate outcome may be far away in time, trusting in it will give us a foretaste that we can experience right now, for as the Course tells us, “only infinite patience produces immediate effects” (T-5.VI.12:1).

Let us, then, respond to the Paris attacks with the patient urgency of now: the patience of realizing that we are on a long journey to a goal that is assured, and the urgency of playing our part in that journey right now. That part might include helping our French brothers and sisters recover from their trauma, encouraging our Western governments to offer a more loving and generous response to our brothers and sisters in the Middle East, or extending a loving welcome to the Muslim brothers and sisters in our neighborhoods. Or, as I said, it may have nothing overtly to do the specific problem of terrorism—it may simply be something that makes our own little corner of the world a more loving place. But whatever it is, let’s do it. What kind of life could be more meaningful and more rewarding than fulfilling our function of “loving in a loveless place” (T-14.IV.4:10)?

May God bless Paris, and every one of us as we learn, in the words of Peace Pilgrim, to “overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.”

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