Tag Archives: lent 2012

Lent 2012: Day 3

Reading

Such is kindness. Now let us consider its office in the world, in order that we may get a clearer idea of itself. It makes life more endurable. The burden of life presses heavily upon multitudes of the children of men. It is a yoke, very often of such a peculiar nature that familiarity, instead of practically lightening it, makes it harder to bear. Perseverance is the hand of time pressing the yoke down upon our galled shoulders with all its might. There are many men to whom life is always approaching the unbearable. It stops only just short of it. We expect it to transgress every moment. But, without having recourse to these extreme cases, sin alone is sufficient to make life intolerable to a virtuous man. Actual sin is not essential to this. The possibility of sinning, the danger of sinning, the facility of sinning, the temptation to sin, the example of so much sin around us, and, above all, the sinful unworthiness of men much better than ourselves, these are sufficient to make life drain us to the last dress of our endurance. In all these cases it is the office of kindness to make life more bearable; and if its success in its office is often only partial, some amount of success is at least invariable.

It is true that we make ourselves more unhappy than other people make us. No slight portion of this self-inflicted unhappiness arises from our sense of justice being so continually wounded by the events of life, while the incessant friction of the world never allows the wound to heal. There are some men whose practical talents are completely swamped by the keenness of their sense of injustice. They go through life as failures, because the pressure of injustice upon themselves, or the sight of its pressing upon others, has unmanned them. If they begin a line of action, they cannot go through with it. They are perpetually shying, like a mettlesome horse, at the objects by the roadside. They had much in them; but they have died without anything coming of them. Kindness steps forward to remedy this evil also. Each solitary kind action that is done, the whole world over, is working briskly in its own sphere to restore the balance between right and wrong. The more kindness there is on the earth at any given moment, the greater is the tendency of the balance between right and wrong to correct itself, and remain in equilibrium. Nay, this is short of the truth. Kindness allies itself with right to invade the wrong, and beat it off the earth. Justice is necessarily an aggressive virtue, and kindness is the amiability of justice.

Thoughts

The burden of life presses heavily upon multitudes of the children of men and very often, we are the ones adding additional weight to that load.

No slight portion of this self-inflicted unhappiness arises from our sense of justice being so continually wounded by the events of life. We see this daily in the classroom, where twenty-some fourteen-year-old sense of justice collide, often enough with the authority figure. “Everyone else is talking!” proclaims a frustrated young man when called down. We see this daily on the road, and often enough, participate in the injustice, when someone cuts another off or fails to accelerate quickly enough to please us. We feel this when we find that our tax return is not quite what we expected, not quite what seems fair. And all of these injustices are the extent to which the vast majority of us in the developed world ever experience. Yet these are bearable burdens.  There are many men to whom life is always approaching the unbearable.

Each solitary kind action that is done, the whole world over, is working briskly in its own sphere to restore the balance between right and wrong. Perhaps this is the ultimate human answer to the problem of evil: as authors of evil, we can also be creators of kindness, and the latter cancels out the former.

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Lent 2012: Day 2

Reading

We must first ask ourselves what kindness is. Words, which we are using
constantly, soon cease to have much distinct meaning in our minds. They become symbols and figures rather than words, and we content ourselves with the general impression they make upon us. Now let us be a little particular about kindness, and describe it as accurately as we can. Kindness is the overflowing of self upon others. We put others in the place of self. We treat them as we should wish to be treated ourselves. We change places with them. For the time self is another, and others are self. Our self-love takes the shape of complacence in unselfishness. We cannot speak of the virtues without thinking of God. What would the overflow of self upon others be in Him, the Ever-blessed and Eternal? It was the act of creation. Creation was divine kindness. From it as from a fountain, flow the possibilities, the powers, the blessings of all created kindness. This is an honorable genealogy for kindness. Then, again, kindness is the coming to the rescue of others, when they need it and it is in our power to supply what they need; and this is the work of the Attributes of God towards His creatures, His omnipotence is for ever making up our deficiency of power. His justice is continually correcting our erroneous judgments. His mercy is always consoling our fellow-creatures under our hardheartedness. His truth is perpetually hindering the consequences of our falsehood. His omniscience makes our ignorance succeed as if it were knowledge. His perfections are incessantly coming to the rescue of our imperfections. This is the definition of Providence; and kindness is our imitation of this divine action.

Moreover kindness is also like divine grace; for it gives men something which neither self nor nature can give them. What it gives them, is something of which they are in want, or something which only another person can give, such as consolation; and besides this, the manner in which this is given is a true gift itself, better far than the thing given: and what is all this but an allegory of grace? Kindness adds sweetness to everything. It is kindness which makes life’s capabilities blossom, and paints them with their cheering hues, and endows them with their invigorating fragrance. Whether it waits on its superiors, or ministers to its inferiors, or disports itself with its equals, its work is marked by a prodigality which the strictest discretion cannot blame. It does unnecessary work, which when done, looks the most necessary work that could be. If it goes to soothe a sorrow, it does more than soothe it. If it relieves a want, it cannot do so without doing more than relieve it. Its manner is something extra, and is the choice thing in the bargain. Even when it is economical in what it gives, it is not economical of the gracefulness with which it gives it. But what is all this like, except the exuberance of the divine government? See how, turn which way we will, kindness is entangled with the thought of God! Last of all, the secret impulse out of which kindness acts is an instinct which is the noblest part of ourselves, the most undoubted remnant of the image of God, which was given us at the first. We must therefore never think of kindness as being a common growth of our nature, common in the sense of being of little value. It is the nobility of man. In all its modifications it reflects a heavenly type. It runs up into eternal mysteries. It is a divine thing rather than a human one, and it is human because it springs from the soul of man just at the point where the divine image was graven deepest.

Response

Ask me some time ago — two or so years — about God and my reply would have quickly turned to the problem of evil and the problems it creates for any conception of God. The existence of consciously, conscientiously willed evil — such as the Holocaust, the abuse of a child, the torture of individual, the slaughter of innocence — presents certain difficulties for the believer. “How can such evil exist in a world with an omniscient, omnipotent, perfectly benevolent being? Either this being is not omniscient and simply doesn’t know about the evil, or is not omnipotent and unable to prevent it, or is not completely benevolent and unwilling to stop it. In any case, then, this being might be many things, but it is certainly not God as we commonly think of the term.” There are various philosophical ways to wiggle out of this, some more satisfying than others, but more difficult in some ways than the problem of evil is the problem of good, the problem of kindness.

In a strictly material, evolutionary sense, what meaning does altruism hold? Whence comes pity, or even more confounding, empathy? One can make a convincing argument for the material logic of kindness among one’s own family or even clan: it’s a question of preserving one’s genetic line. But why with comparative strangers?

Theism offers an explanation: the secret impulse out of which kindness acts is an instinct which is the noblest part of ourselves, the most undoubted remnant of the image of God, which was given us at the first.

The reading is from Father Frederick Faber’s Spiritual Conferences, excerpted here.

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Lent 2012: Day 1

Reading

The weakness of man, and the way in which he is at the mercy of external accidents in the world, has always been a favorite topic with the moralists. They have expatiated upon it with so much amplitude of rhetorical exaggeration, that it has at last produced in our minds a sense of unreality, against which we rebel. Man is no doubt very weak. He can only be passive in a thunderstorm, or run in an earthquake. The odds are against him when he is managing his ship in a hurricane, or when pestilence is raging in the house where he lives. Heat and cold, drought and rain, are his masters. He is weaker than an elephant, and subordinate to the east wind. This is all very true. Nevertheless man has considerable powers, considerable enough to leave him, as proprietor of this planet, in possession of at least as much comfortable jurisdiction, as most landed proprietors have in a free country. He has one power in particular, which is not sufficiently dwelt on, and with which we will at present occupy ourselves. It is the power of making the world happy, or at least of so greatly diminishing the amount of unhappiness in it, as to make it quite a different world from what it is at present. This power is called kindness. The worst kinds of unhappiness, as well as the greatest amount of it, come from our conduct to each other. If our conduct therefore were under the control of kindness, it would be nearly the opposite of what it is, and so the state of the world would be almost reversed. We are for the most part unhappy, because the world is an unkind world. But the world is only unkind for the lack of kindness in us units who compose it. Now if all this is but so much as half true, it is plainly worth our while to take some trouble to gain clear and definite notions of kindness. We practice more easily what we already know clearly.

Thoughts

Being a teacher, I am able to exercise this one power of humanity on a daily basis. Children come to me from a range of different environments and daily events. Some come hungry; others come angry. Some come feeling betrayed; others come feeling abandoned. This hunger, anger, betrayal, and abandonment — and the hundred and one other emotions and experiences–can be taken literally, figuratively, or both. This, in a sense, unites us: we all feel hungry, angry, betrayed, and abandoned at some point or another in our lives. And all this stems from the unkindness of the world that we experience every day, with some of us experiencing more of it than others.

So I have to ask myself: when these kids come in grouchy, disrespectful, high-strung, or any other of a million little things that might or might not irritate or anger me, how do I react? Not knowing why this boy is scowling and daring me to say anything at all to him, why this girl is instantly angered by the smallest thing, how can I do anything but exert the one power that I as a human possess? The world is only unkind for the lack of kindness in us units who compose it. I can add to that, or take away from it.

Yet there’s more to it than that. My actions are the best teacher for these kids. We practice more easily what we already know clearly. If I show it clearly, perhaps they will know it clearly; if they know it clearly, perhaps they will begin to show it clearly.

The reading is from Father Frederick Faber’s Spiritual Conferences, excerpted here.

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