I love the night sky, but I've never learned a lot about it.
Mostly because, when I look up, I'm always -- always! -- awestruck. Before I can get out my star book, I've slipped into prayer. Such respite is important in stressful times. Such extraordinary beauty is also an anchor in the most ordinary times.
We've had another stressful week. Families in Gilroy, Southaven, El Paso, Dayton, and Garden Grove are grieving the loss of loved ones to violence just as families in our own city have been grieving violent losses.
And then again, we've had an incredibly ordinary week. Children started school, August offered us hot weather and an occasional storm, all the regular ads for groceries and school supplies came out just as we expected.
Lots of people encourage us to find "balance" to try to bring our stressors under control. It's as if we need to stock up good and positive credits to match and counterweigh the dark and trying demerits in life.
But I gave that idea up a number of years ago when my physical balance was out of whack. I learned that our ability to stand upright actually relies on three major systems, more than 50 muscles, and thousands of unconscious minute corrections -- lots of things that are ridiculously hard to attend to when you move them into conscious consideration.
In other words, if you have to think about it to maintain your balance (as I do sometimes), you know how miraculous it is that so many of us never think about it! More importantly, this led me to consider the metaphor of spiritual balance.
I finally decided that I truly believe the Gospel message that good is greater than evil, life is stronger than death, and love is sounder than fear. This means I don't want good and evil balanced; good is better --meaning always to be preferred when presented and desired when not yet evident.
I don't want life and death balanced; death is a natural part of a natural life and life is the story to tell -- from Creation, to birth, to Resurrection. I don't want love and fear balanced; I want to find the point of love even in fear, focus on that, and grow it until it unseats fear. There is more rhythm than balance in these contrasts.
Yes, I appreciate the juxtaposition of good and evil in sussing out the difference between them. Many seductive things in our world present themselves as good when they are not.
We need to THINK about our choices for the tools we use, the groups with which we associate, and the behaviors we exhibit and accept in society. At the same time, I don't want to fool myself into believing that they're equal opposites. Goodness is better. If I were to embrace the analogy of balance, I'd say it weighs much more that evil.
In the book, "On Kindness," psychoanalyst Adam Phillips and historian Barbara Taylor say: "Everybody is vulnerable at every stage of their lives; everybody is subject to illness, accident, personal tragedy, political and economic reality. This doesn't mean that people aren't also resilient and resourceful. Bearing other people's vulnerability -- which means sharing in it imaginatively and practically without needing to get rid of it, to yank people out of it -- entails being able to bear one's own. Indeed it would be realistic to say that what we have in common is our vulnerability; it is the medium of contact between us, what we most fundamentally recognize in each other."
Life isn't always sweet; we are conflicted and pained by what we perceive and judge to be wrong, futile, or cruel. We rightly grieve (with all the emotions of grief) when we're touched by violence in our home or community or nation. Truly, in our little neighborhoods is all the world: good and bad, life and death, love and fear. It's perilous to interact with the vulnerable, but Inertia is a twin of Stress. It paralyzes you against the "big forces" you perceive out there and robs you of your contribution.
The Tao (67) offers a lovely insight for managing this: "I have three precious things which I hold fast and prize. The first is gentleness; the second is frugality; the third is humility, which keeps me from putting myself above others. Be gentle and you can be bold; be frugal and you can be liberal; avoid putting yourself above others and you can become a leader among people."
While it's perilous to be open to another's pain, in service to them and in work for a just and peaceful society, you are the good that is stronger than evil. Whatever your tradition, weave moments of respite into the trials and into your service so you don't lose perspective. Then you can see and be part of the grander picture.
The Rev. Dr. Claudia A. Ramisch is pastor at Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Owensboro.