Early fall is when all the crops are being gathered in. And even though most of us aren’t farmer’s anymore, we understand what it means to harvest something. What it means to reap what we’ve sown. While this phrase is most often used to communicate something negative these days, I think it’s an interesting idea to explore. Because as I said last week, at any given moment in time we can look at our life and understand that our current situation, whatever it is, is 90% the byproduct of our past decisions. We do indeed reap what we sow.
Please notice the fact that I said 90%. There is much in this world that is beyond our control and any myriad of things—disease, poverty, systematic racism—can and do greatly impact our lives. But our thoughts, feelings, and behavior, the things we have direct control over, have the biggest impact on the quality of our experience and the way we move through life.
Part of living a spiritually mature life means accepting self-responsibility. And to take self-responsibility, we must pause to regularly ask ourselves two critical questions:
- Who am I becoming?
- And what direction am I moving in?
I talk a lot about the importance of personal practice—of spiritual practices that support our efforts to live with intention, meaning, and mystery. I talk a lot about ancient stories and ancient teachings. It’s imperative that we remember that all of these things are merely tools. And they’re only useful tools if they help us root our identity in our Highest Self.
Bad things happen in the world and our understanding of spirituality is only useful if it helps us to respond to oppression and suffering with love, grace, vigor, courage, compassion, hope…
Martin Niemöller, a Lutheran minister and early Nazi supporter who later opposed Hitler’s regime and was imprisoned, famously said:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
This quote calls those of in positions of privilege to notice our ability to be complacent. Niemöller gives us an example of transformation. Through his self-awareness and self-responsibility he moved in the direction of justice. Earlier I offered disease, poverty, and systematic racism as examples of how our lives can be effected by things beyond our control. We can’t control things. We can’t stop the reality of change. Every part of our life and our world exists in a constant state of change. But we can work to direct the course of change in our lives. And through our lives we can work to direct the course of change in the world. Are we becoming the kind of people that fight for health care? For economic equality? That stand up against white supremacy?
The harvest season invites us to examine the fruit of our labor. It’s a time to pause and ask: Who am I becoming and what direction am I moving in?
I recently heard a quote about hope from Vaclav Havel, an artist and activist who became the first president of the Czech Republic. He said that:
Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good.
Are we becoming the kind of people that can maintain a mental state of hope and work for something because it’s good?
Unless our answer is an emphatic yes, then we must reexamine our spiritual understanding and our personal practices because the world needs us. Can we follow the examples of Niemöller and Havel and so many other warriors for justice and work for good in the world?
Let us all together say YES! And let us not be overwhelmed. The harvest the world offers us in this season teaches us to remember abundance. The Light within connects us with a never empty reservoir of support. Echoing the Jewish prophet Micah, the Mishnah offers us this encouragement:
Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.
We can’t solve everything. And it would be arrogant to think we could. What we can do is take self-responsibility. We can practice self-awareness. And we can do the work of recalibrating of our attention. We can make the commitment to move in the direction of love.