Aren’t the twists and turns of life crazy? Five years ago in seminary, I planned to help change thousands of lives by preaching Good News to people. Instead, I’m teaching yoga and have a MUCH smaller circle of influence. Yet, I can’t tell you how many students express their deep appreciation for me. I don’t share this to brag, but to point out I think it’s our small acts of kindness, encouragement, and understanding that make the biggest difference. Our lives speak louder and influence people FAR more than our words.
In the very sweetest of ironies, in the last week or so I read about two life-changing topics I first encountered and was wowed by in seminary: tikkun olamand “let your life speak”. The Jewish concept tikkun olam means “repairing” or “healing the world”. As Caleb Wilde puts it: Tikkun olam “is accomplished through presence in the midst of pain. It can be summarized in the phrase ‘I’m here with you and I love you’ and is accomplished through simple acts of presence.”
The idea here is there are obviously things wrong in the world. Be it globally, nationally, communally, or interpersonally there are problems ranging from war to murder to racism to infidelity to abuse to cancer and so on. Made in God’s image, we are each agents of the Divine meant for spreading Light and Love to repair and heal our troubles. In a very real way you could make a case for that being pour primary job description.
The beauty of tikkun olam is it is a collective task. ALL people EVER born are each healers of the world, which means none of us needs to make a huge difference (that’s God’s job). Instead, we’re each invited in small ways to spread kindness, understanding, and love in the “world” that touches you. This call to “presence and proximity before performance” helps us see the small, subtle ways we can make big differences through and during our regular, everyday activities.
For instance, a smile, compliment, and/or hug can make a HUGE difference in somebody’s day; it’s healing the world. A mother caring for and comforting a child is a profound blessing; it’s healing the world. Whenever we deeply and truly listen to someone, we’re healing the world. A janitor taking the garbage out and cleaning the bathroom is healing the world. A teacher pouring herself into her students is healing the world. A repairman who fixes your plumbing, dishwasher, stove, etc. is healing the world. A barista making a good cup of coffee with a smile, friendly eyes, and kind words is healing the world.
My wife, Lisa, practices tikkun olamevery day. She works for the military as a civilian and has told me countless stories about umm, to put it nicely, “mean” people whose hearts she melts and enlarges through her kind and affirming words, deep listening, hugs, and gifts of yummy treats. Lisa changes the world for the better on a daily basis.
As Caleb Wilde points out: “Changing the world sometimes involves massive movements, but mostly it can be accomplished through small acts of presence, listening, and kindness.”
In seminary we read Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer, a Quaker teacher and activist (by the way Caleb Wilde is an undertaker and author of an AMAZING book and blog). Palmer writes:
“[There are] moments when it is clear—if I have the eyes to see—that the life I am living is not the same as the life that wants to live in me. In those moments I sometimes catch a glimpse of my true life, a life hidden like the river beneath the ice. And . . . I wonder: What am I meant to do? Who am I meant to be?
I was in my early thirties when I began, literally, to wake up to questions about my vocation. By all appearances, things were going well, but the soul does not put much stock in appearances.Seeking a path more purposeful than accumulating wealth, holding power, winning at competition, or securing a career, I had started to understand that it is indeed possible to live a life other than one’s own.”
As Palmer’s awareness grew that his soul and “life” (probably better put as his ego and/or what culture tells us we’re supposed to be) were at odds, he came across the old Quaker saying: “Let your life speak.” While this resonated and rang true with him, as he tells the story it seems his ego still took charge, in that “letting” his life speak became a demand, an obligation, and a burden pushing him to strive to give, care, and provide for others in BIG ways like Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, and the like.
I can relate to Palmer in that a few years before I went to seminary God broke my heart wide open to love and care deeply for others. Not knowing any better, I shifted from letting me ego drive my life toward success in the Air Force to “winning” as a pastor, which to me meant preaching to and changing the lives of LOTS of people. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is NOTHING wrong with that … I’m merely saying it’s FAR from the only way of healing the world. What is more, it seems to me my desire to preach to thousands of people was letting my EGO speak, while teaching yoga is letting my life speak.
More than anything, what I mean by this is most of what happens in life is beyond our control. Life is like a card game, in that we don’t get to pick the deck of cards we’re dealt. That said, we DO get to decide how we play the cards we’re given. In my mind, then, “let your life speak” has a dual meaning: Listen to, embrace, and work with the hand Life has dealt you, while also listening to, embracing, and working with your unique gifts, passions, and talents.
Today life has gifted me with the opportunity to teach yoga. I get to help people fill their heart tanks up with more peace, joy, and love, while also getting a good physical workout. Speaking is one of my talents, it’s only that instead of talking to thousands I get to encourage, affirm, and help a few people at a time work through their junk, grow, and transform into the best version of themselves. After class, I hug, or high-five, every student who’s up for it as a physical affirmation, while inviting students to do likewise amongst themselves. Finally, I get the honor of being a friendly face who is willing and ready to listen to whatever parts of their lives students will share. While I’m no expert, haven’t “arrived”, and am not perfect at these things, I’m doing the best I can. I hope my sharing and thoughts has aided you on your journey. How does letting your life speak to heal the world land with you? What does it mean for you today?
Grace and peace,