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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

Our Spiritual Leaders Speak

Dec 01, 2023 06:00AM ● By Paul Chen
Occasionally, when times get difficult, we have called upon some of our spiritual leaders in the Atlanta area to share their thoughts with us. With the war in Ukraine well into its second year showing no sign of abating, and with the Middle East exploding in unmitigated violence, we once again turn to those whose jobs are all about love and compassion. All wars divide, but the Mideast conflagration has surprised me in how it is dividing America. I feel like a naive, frustrated child, always quoting Rodney King: “Can we all get along?” 

Although President John Kennedy was not a spiritual leader, we begin with his words, which always remain close to mind. —Publisher

President John F. Kennedy

“And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal.” 
~ President John F. Kennedy

There is no future in hatred—only futile spasms of anger and pain that end in despair. May we be blessed to learn from those who have followed that path and come to destruction. History is littered with their bones, paved with their ashes. May we be blessed to see the Divine Person—the soul—in every person, and look on them accordingly, even when they give us reason for outrage. 
~ Brother Shankara, Vedanta Center of Atlanta 

Brother Shankara 

(Photo: Sarah Buehrle)

We pray that the people who die will find a good rebirth and that world leaders gain wisdom. We pray that those who are suffering receive blessings from the Three Jewels—Buddha, Dharma and Sangha—and are swiftly released from their suffering. It is clear that without compassion and wisdom, there is no possibility of being released from this kind of tragedy. We should learn from this how Dharma [the Buddha’s teachings] is the truth. Without inner peace, outer peace or world peace is impossible.
~ Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, New Kadampa Tradition-International Kadampa Buddhist Union. Spoken after the events of 9/11. 

The holiday season is here, but so much news seems bleak. Some of us feel edgy, not as festive or as serene as we’d like. In our contemplative moments, perhaps we’ve noticed an inner turmoil, a desire to do something, anything, to foster peace. Maybe we’ve even looked into the sky and prayed for peace on Earth, hoping it will appear suddenly, like a rainbow.

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

But hope is fleeting when we look into the world and wish for peace. Even when conflicts are resolved in one place, tempers can flare somewhere else. So, Jesus invites us to find another way to peace. He knows that worldly peace alone never satisfies and says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27). He reminds us that his peace can be ours, too, because it’s already here, within us, in what we think, say and do. In the encouragement that overrides criticism. In the meals served at the soup kitchen. In the comfort to a grieving widow.

At Unity Atlanta Church, we often sing: “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.” When we begin with peace, we can be grounded in equanimity, tranquil in the midst of chaos. And while we have little control over others, we know that peace can prevail because it begins with us. In this season of birth and light, may our peace be the greatest gift we give. ~ Rev. Jenn Sacks, Unity Atlanta 

Rev. Jennifer Sacks 

(Photo: Nicole Tyler)

If we believe in the concept of a moral test, I think the primary test is this: Can we open our hearts to the suffering, to the grieving, of all people? If our primary experience of this moment is horror and mourning for Jewish children, can we expand the borders of our wounded hearts to grieve for the besieged and traumatized civilians in Gaza? And if our primary experience of this moment is horror and mourning for Palestinian children, can we expand the borders of our wounded hearts to hold the trauma and terror Israelis are experiencing?

Can we feel the grief and brokenness of so much death?

The lines are getting drawn more sharply, the divisions felt more deeply. There is heartache there, there and here. I am convinced, now more than ever, that the only way we get out of this nightmare is to expand our sphere of compassion to include all human life. If you are automatically ready to dismiss this as a platitude, I invite you to pause. Take a breath. Breathe again.

Rabbi Michael Rothbaum

The Torah's teaching that all human life is imbued with God's sacred presence sounds like a cliché. It isn't. It is a radical, root truth. I am not a pacifist. War is sometimes necessary. But it is always an indictment against us. All of our leaders have failed us. We haven't demanded better from them. So we must remind them and ourselves of what we know is true. We can't bomb our way to serenity. We will have to find paths of compassion, dialogue and mutual dignity. It is our only hope. It is also the only holy way.
~ Rabbi Michael Rothbaum, Congregation Bet Haverim 
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