Most of us in the West have religious origins going back to an historical event of a people escaping from slavery in Egypt. The story is that this people led by the prophet Moses sought freedom from slavery, carrying a collective dream of building a community of freedom and equality. (1). They wandered for forty years before entering what they perceived as their inheritance under a new leader, Joshua.
For centuries they resisted having a king. At the heart of their religion was a simple perception, God is king of all people and so all people under God are equal. They sought to live in the light of this perception and they recognized it as ‘God’s dream’ for his people. Much later they succumbed to having their own king. Later still their kings, aided by Temple officials, began to rule the people unjustly. When this happened the prophets of the day echoed in loud tones the demands of the ‘dream of God’:
What I want is mercy not sacrifice’. (2)
‘Woe to those ensconced so snugly in Zion’. (3).
“Act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with your God”. (4).
Centuries later the Jewish people were overrun by a foreign Empire. At this time they experienced oppression not only from Rome, but also from their own king Herod. Jointly these forces ruled, with the support of the temple officials. At this point the prophet Jesus entered history. He came with the same ‘God vision’, again proclaiming a universal kingdom of freedom and equality.
We know that he had few issues with those at the lower end of the social scale but he had huge issues with the Scribes, Pharisees, High Priests and all who put unjust burdens on the backs of the poor. He referred to the ‘dream of God’ as the ‘kingdom of God’, which was good news especially for the poor.
For him the ‘dream of God’ is first perceived at the deepest core of one’s being. He encouraged his followers to trust their deepest inner experiences and to recognize these as the ‘voice of God’ calling them to act justly. In this way those who trusted the wisdom of his teaching, experienced this reality in their own lives, and they too began to work towards building a community of freedom and equality. Jesus fell victim to and was eliminated by the fear and hatred of the combined ruling classes whose security he seriously threatened.
However, great progress had been made and many of his followers lived the vision and proclaimed ‘God’s kingdom’. Many more died at the hands of those who without an inner authority exercised a strong outer and controlling authority over those they called their subjects. Each true follower of Jesus continued to recognize that the ‘dream of God’ was for more than one’s own personal wants. Some who traveled to the ends of the world would never have considered the possibility that others, who claimed to belong to their own community, would themselves come to ‘lord it over others as the pagans do making their authority felt’. (5).
A few centuries later the Church was 'hand in glove' with the Roman Empire and it too became comfortably ensconced in Rome, while the poor under-classes again suffered indignity at the hands of the rich and powerful. This time it was within a so-called ‘Christian’ Europe. While striving to become richer and more powerful the Church and many 'Christians', the inheritors of the ‘vision of God’’, shifted the focus by arriving at theories about trinities and virgin births, while using dualist concepts about an alternative 'spiritual’ world. Meanwhile here on earth the ‘God vision’ of a Community of freedom and equality was tragically ignored.
This process was greatly accelerated in the age the Enlightenment, when for many people science became a substitute God and thus scientific knowledge was often used at the expense of the ‘dream of God’. Compassion, mercy and communal life became second rate values. In a more aggressive climate Countries, while competing with one another, exploited the world beyond their shores and proceeded to appropriate for themselves the world’s inheritance. Empires made inroads into the New World and through greed whole ancient and innocent peoples were virtually eliminated. Nations set up profitable trading routes, and African men and women were traded as slaves as a very favorable commodity within an elitist economic system.
The same Dream of God for freedom and equality fired George Fox and his early followers, and especially John Woolman. They came to know and experience the power of the inner light, that enlightens those who wait in the silence for the promptings of love and truth that arise from the depths of one’s being. The call of such promptings will always be to - ‘doing the will of God’.
Forty years ago a new prophet again proclaimed the ‘dream of God’. People of good will responded to Dr. M. L. King Jr. His dream of men and women, the children of both slaves and slave owners, poor and rich, sitting down at a common table sharing the task of building harmonized communities within a single fragile world. His dream struck a chord, and re-ignited hopes in modern people who once more saw the potential of 'an ancient dream'. He knew that erroneous dreams do in truth offer comfortable living to the rich but that they lead too to misery for countless millions, and the lives of all become circumscribed by fear. Many people began to live with an inner trusting that ‘God’s dream’ could take a giant leap forward. In that spirit people continued to pray “Thy kingdom come on earth”.
These past months amid the ashes of centuries of exploitation, domination, terror and war we heard from across the Atlantic contrasting speeches about love and fear. Today an Afro-American stands before the American people as President-elect. He carries the hopes and projections of the whole world. Once again ‘hope and history rhyme’ . (6). We know that the political, social and economic challenges facing Barrack Obama are enormous, but if each individual would commit to working towards ‘the dream of community' – rather than persisting with the values of 'rugged individualism', who knows!
A contemporary writer reminds us that ‘what is, is’. ‘What is’, is determined and so unalterable. We need to give our full attention to all ‘that is’, rather than delude ourselves into believing that it should be otherwise. (7). On the other hand 2009 is not determined and so what January 2009 needs is our intention. If enough men and women can hold the dream of realizing the values of freedom and equality, arising from their own highest values, and shift the focus of ‘faith’ from ‘believing in theories’ to an ‘inner trusting’, then with confidence we could stand behind a leader of integrity, like Barrack Obama, as together we enter this new era in history.
With our past behind us, we like the mythical phoenix, could rise from the ashes of a fragmented world. America has taken the first faltering steps towards a new metanoia - or an 180o turn. Perhaps America can actually lead the movement away from the greed and avarice at the heart of all egocentric economic dreams.
Together we can work towards building a single world of freedom and equality, on the foundation of love rather than fear. If men and women can have the courage to publicly stand up for, and work towards, their deepest dream and if in their loving intimacy they could have the inner and outer freedom to ‘let the soft animal of their body love what it loves’ and come to know where they truly belong in the family of things. (8) the possibilities for our fractured world would be beyond calculation.
I loved Barack Obama’s victory speech on election night. John McCain too, was magnanimous in defeat. It is possible that Democrat and Republican, men and women, black and white, rich and poor, can work together towards a new but ancient common goal – that of forming national communities of freedom and equality secure enough to respect the freedoms of other nations in pursuit of similar goals? Today we stand on the mountaintop of ‘now’ looking down into the valley of tomorrow. The important thing is the intention we carry as we enter each new situation. We can share a dream and go on making the very best choices, day by day, that we know how? This Christmas we can sing our ancient carols, while consciously acknowledging the Christ-center-within, as around the world we sing:- “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in us tonight”. (9).
1) John Macmurray (The Clue to History). 2) Hosea 6:6. 3) Amos 6:1 4) Micah 6:8. 5) Mk.’10:42. 6) Séamus Heaney (The Cure at Troy). 7) Eckhart Tolle (The Power of Now). 8) Mary Oliver (Wild Geese). 9) O Little Town of Bethlehem.
6) Irish poet, Séamus Heaney, expressed a profound truth in ‘The Cure at Troy’ – when hope and history rhyme, we can hope for a great sea-change.
The Cure at Troy
Human beings suffer,
they torture one another,
they get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
can fully right a wrong
inflicted or endured.
The innocent in gaols
beat on their bars together.
A hunger-striker's father
stands in the graveyard dumb.
The police widow in veils
faints at the funeral home.
History says, Don't hope
on this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
the longed for tidal wave
of justice can rise up,
and hope and history rhyme.
on the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
and cures and healing wells.
Call the miracle self-healing:
The utter self-revealing
double-take of feeling.
If there's fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky
That means someone is hearing
the outcry and the birth-cry
of new life at its term.
8) The American poet Mary Oliver offers further words of wisdom to those who hope.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.