On the second Wednesday of every month, the Surry County Master Gardeners get together for our monthly luncheon and official business meeting. We start promptly at noon by calling the meeting to order and saying grace before we load up our plates with the potluck smorgasbord we all provide. This is probably not how every master gardener group around the country starts their meeting, but for us, it is tradition.
When I attended my first meeting, I had a knee jerk reaction to the practice of prayer in a program that is publicly funded. Frankly, it horrified me because I wasn’t expecting it. I grew up in Southern California and then spent most of my adult life working in Washington DC – two places that very religiously (pun intended) hold to the separation of church and state. And to be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure what to do during the prayer since I am not religious.
I am a very opinionated person by nature, but I have spent years trying to temper that side of myself and be open to and accepting of views that differ from mine. (It’s not always easy, but I’ve been flat out wrong often enough to see this practice as a useful one.) So rather than complain or quit, I listened.
The sentiments spoken, regardless of who returned thanks each month, were always similar. Every prayer giver worried for the state of our environment, our country, and the rest of the world. They were each hopeful for the well-being of everyone in the room and our loved ones. They all sought guidance and wisdom in troubled times.
As I listened from month to month, I began to realize that verbal, shared prayer is a way of giving voice to common human concerns and hopes without partisanship, censure, or malice. Yes – it begins “Dear Heavenly Father” and ends “in the name of your son Jesus Christ.” And that part is a little awkward for those of us who don’t share the same beliefs. But it could just as easily start “Dear Diary” or “Dear Mother Earth”. The greeting and closing is personal, but the contents are universally applicable.
This morning, before the meeting, as I read the news. I felt compelled to start a blog posting. But, I got restless while writing it and left it unfinished. This is how it began:
After my January news sabbatical, I still feel reluctant to read the headlines. Every time I do, I get this feeling that the world is spiraling out of control and there is nothing I can do it about it. I like to pretend it’s just hype to make news sell. But, in fact it’s not. This stuff is really happening.
The thing I tell myself after that is that these actions are the death throes of an economic model doomed to fail. This is the last grasp attempt of an oligarchic, corporate money machine trying to hold power when its foundational legitimacy is crumbling beneath it.
Then I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and send my silent wish into the invisible current of life flowing all around us. My wish is always this.
“Let us find better ways to live before it is too late.”
We are not the first civilization to have to face these kind of struggles. But we are the most prepared to deal with them. We have information and access to resources that no culture before us has possessed. For many of us, the chains that bind us today are not literal as they have been in the past. They are cultural. Our chains are the weight of debt, the trappings of maintaining our social standing…
And that’s where I left the blog, unfinished because I was distracted by the unseasonably warm weather and the desire to go work outside. And because I had a potluck dish to make for my master gardener meeting.
Today, at our meeting when grace was said, the speaker voiced those same universal sentiments I hear each month, but with a depth of feeling that mirrored my own just hours before. And I realized that now matter where we lie on the political spectrum, where we live in the world, or how we go about sending our wish for answers out into the invisible unknown, we are really not so different.
If we can only see past the greetings and the closings that separate us, perhaps we can find common ground to come up with answers for the things that concern us all.
My sister is what I like to call a radical born again Christian (and she doesn’t disagree). My mother is more a middle of the road, church goer, who tries to treat everyone with decency and respect. My brother is a practitioner of all religions seeing them all as the many faces of the same singularity. I also have a step brother who is Mormon, and two others with no particular religious persuasion, but very different views on how they chose to live their lives. My very best life-long friends are Christian, Muslim, and Occultist. Matt is a bit like me, but his parents are Catholic. I can go on, but I think you can see a trend.
The people in my life, those I love most deeply and personally, all have very different religious and political persuasions. And yet, we always manage to find common ground and resolve our differences of opinion with respect for each other. That doesn’t mean we don’t try to convert (or corrupt) each other. But there are no deal-breaking grudges held or refusal to hear each other’s views. Even when our resolutions aren’t perfect, because we came at them with love and respect, we find a way to live with them.
Today, as grace was being said and odd thing happened. I listened as I always do, but I also said my own silent prayer of a sorts. This time it wasn’t a hope to find a better way to live, as it has been in the past. It was a prayer for more love.
Later when sorting through the emotions and sensations that accompanied my silent prayer for love, I realized the following. At first I listened to the prayers of my fellow master gardeners’ because I loved the group and the work the organization was doing and wanted to help. Then I listened because I had learned to love each of the speakers and valued their concerns. Today I listened and said my own prayer because I realized the only way we will ever see through our differences is if we can find a way to love those beyond our own small circles in a similar manner to how we love those close to us. In extending love, we can also find tolerance, commonality, and solutions.
Love makes us see things in a different way. My new silent wish isn’t for answers, it’s for more love. Because with love as a foundation, we can find answers, make compromises, and see our way through to our differences.
I spent my first two years in college at a private Christian university before I transferred. I still remember one of my professors talking about “agape”. The way he explained it was a kind of mythical transcendent love that defied relationships. Certainly he meant this to explain the way that he believed God loves us or that we should love God. It seemed silly to me back then because I was young and self-centric. But more and more, I begin to understand.