Freeing the Spirit of Change

Ethical behavior and loving generosity are at the core of faith—so why is the world hurting? Rabbi Ted Falcon on why paying attention to our interconnection is the first step toward healing.
Flower escape, photo by Jenny Downing

Photo by Jenny Downing.

We believe that at the core of each of our three Abrahamic faiths is the clear recognition that our spirituality must express itself through ethical and socially responsible behavior. So why does the world appear as it does? Why are we still attempting to solve conflicts violently? Why is there such economic disparity in our society? Why are we fighting each other?

I believe that there are two major reasons for the failure of our faiths to motivate loving action in the world. One is the struggle by religious institutions for their own survival and expansion; the other is the struggle of our personal institution, our ego identity, to support its own survival through a focus on fleeting self-satisfactions. As long as our religions confuse their spiritual mission with their institutional success, spiritual teachings will suffer. As long as we pursue our individual desires as if we are not in fact interconnected to each other, we will at best only mouth words of spiritual wisdom but never truly express them in our lives.

The political polarization in our country reflects this same confusion of ideals and institutions. Instead of a language of caring, we are party to the constant rhetoric of attack: It’s Us versus Them, and We are always right. Out of this polarization comes frustration and anger, helplessness and hopelessness, and a loss of the spiritual awareness that alone can help us escape the Us and Them battles taking place everywhere—in our homes, in our families, in our communities, in our country, among our countries and, perhaps most essentially, within ourselves.

How can we awaken to the greater context of our lives? How can the self-centered focus of our separate selves expand to include a vision of our common humanity? How can our religious institutions step into the authenticity of their teachings, and our personal institutions walk paths of mutual cooperation and support?

Perhaps we must first acknowledge that our world reflects our confusion of priorities and accept the challenge to create climates of remembering within ourselves. This is one of the deepest functions of all spiritual traditions: to support inner environments of awareness from which effective and loving action in the world can be born.

These lines from the 8th century B.C. prophet, Micah, are among my favorites:

It has been told you, humankind, what the Eternal One asks of you: Only to act justly, to love lovingkindness, and to walk with integrity in the Presence of your God. (6:8)

The last injunction is often translated “to walk humbly,” but we are also asked to discover and share the authenticity of our being. We are not to pretend that we are more than we are, but we are also not to pretend that we are less. Living with honesty allows us to share our gifts with our world, while at the same time welcoming the authenticity of others.

From a significantly earlier literature come these injunctions, appearing in a section of the Book of Leviticus called the Holiness Code:

And when you reap the harvest of your land, thou shall not completely reap the corner of thy field, nor shall you gather the gleaning of your harvest. And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the Eternal One your God. 

These lines urge us not only to provide for those in need, but to support their dignity as well. For those who do not own their own land, but are able to reap, the corners are provided. For those not able to reap but able to gather, the fallen produce is available. Such injunctions follow from the spiritual awareness that we are all interconnected parts of One Life. Such regulations supported what later came to be called the Golden Rule, formulated in Judaism by Hillel, who taught between 30 B.C. and 10 A.D.:

That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole of Torah, all the rest is commentary. Go now, and learn. (Babylonian Talmud, tractate Shabbat 31a)

In Christianity, this same Rule was spoken by Jesus and found in the Sermon on the Mount in the Book of Matthew:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. (7:12)

And in Islam, this teaching appears in a hadith, a saying of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him:

No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.  (Hadith of an-Nawawi 13)

Look into your own tradition for guidelines in meditation and prayer. If you have no traditional identification, look to literature and to guides whom you experience as paths of open hearts and loving minds. And then practice. Remember always the teaching of the Hopi Elders: We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

Here are some simple focus phrases that you can practice in moments of silence today. You can also repeat them at those times when you are caught in the polarization that denies the reality of our Oneness. Remember:

I am One with all that is.

Lovingkindness expresses through me now.

I act to make things better.


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