Friday, October 9, 2009

Life as a Stage

Critics of religion often point to passivity as one of the detrimental side-effects of faith. Such passivity may manifest itself either in an other-worldly soteriology ('just wait until I get to heaven') or in a this-worldly hesitation to act ('just let God do it'). The traces of a 'leave-it-to-God' theology haunt contemporary conversations on subjects ranging from climate change to poverty, as well as, most notably, historical debates over slavery. A New Church pamphlet, for example, put it simply: "the Abolition attempting to thwart the plans of Providence."

Undoubtedly, this line of critique deserves serious attention. The wisdom of Proverbs states it bluntly: "The hand of the diligent will rule, while the lazy will be put to forced labour" (Proverbs 12:24). And yet, today's shabad complicates this account. It reads:

ਆਪਣਾ ਚੋਜੁ ਕਰਿ ਵੇਖੈ ਆਪੇ
Staging His own play, He Himself watches it.
[SGGS, 553]

While life undoubtedly involves the staging of a play, so too it requires those fleeting moments of spectatorship. An action devoid of reflection quickly degenerates into rash judgment and knee-jerk decision-making. Similarly, a life without rest, a week without Sabbath, a meal without prayerful thanksgiving, transforms existence into a monologue - a belligerent projecting of the self onto the world. Watching your play, embarking on a late-afternoon stroll, taking a deep breath, simply inhaling the world, help us to habituate the practice of refraining. As Pema Chodron suggests, sometimes we must refrain from immediately filling up space just because we notice a gap.

Let us heed the critics' call to action. But let us also watch ourselves act. Let us climb to the balcony of the dance floor. Let us find time to be - just be.

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