There is a question that has been trying to form in my mind of late. I say “trying” because depending on the context in which the question is applied, it takes on various nuances and permutations.
The question has to do with the notion of radical acceptance: “When should we just let things be what they are and unfold as they will?”
Expansions on that question are such queries as (take a deep breath): “When is it right to forgo an active response, withhold our resistance, or choose not to retaliate in the face of a wrong, a danger, or a threat?”
To what extent is it wise to trust that, given time, negative or destructive entities will self-correct – entities like specific individuals, a government, the stock market, the weather, cancer?
Is it ever wise to just let those play out?
Can we really ever change anything/ anyone else, or is it only ourselves we can affect?
Is acceptance ever a virtue? Is it always a virtue?
When life is not going as we think it should, won’t we be part of the problem if we don’t respond? (Remember “all it takes for evil to succeed is for good people to do nothing.” Or so we are told.) Is there a way to respond that doesn’t just pump more tension and negativity into the social system? Does struggle have to be the opposite of radical acceptance?
Does acceptance preclude hope for change? If not, how are they related? Where we draw our lines between acceptance and whatever the opposite is, how do we decide where to do that? Are those lines absolute, or are they contextual?
How’s that for a slug of questions?
Even among religious people, in our culture these remain active questions. That may not be the case in other cultures among their religious folks. I do not know. There are those among us who always come down on the side of response and action. For the rest of us, these questions arise. I suspect that is at least in part because we live in a culture that has made it a noble cause to “fight” against – you name it – cancer, illiteracy, drugs, ISIS. The list goes on.
We are proud to be a strong people. Some might even call us a warrior people. We don’t sit on the sidelines; that is for weaklings. We jump in. We take charge. And yet, unless we have become addicted to the adrenaline that comes with always being in opposition to the next thing, individually most of us really do want peace – peace in our hearts and in our personal lives, at least.
It seems the deep peace for which we long can come only when we have let go of striving ... when we rest in the moment. Maybe you know another way, but that seems right to me. For some of us, we have so much fear that we will only be able to let go of our striving when whatever that is of which we are afraid is gone … eliminated. And so whether we actively engage in opposition to what seems wrong or bad, or we don’t, opposition begins to define the background, if not the foreground, of our lives.
But why are we so afraid? Perhaps it’s because we do not trust the inherent goodness or rightness of the moment. We do not trust that creation is unfolding rightly – in harmony with itself – or if you are religious, in harmony with how God created things to be. Maybe whatever ill we perceive is besetting us, or our loved ones, or our country, or the planet, we do not sense that it will eventually come to some equilibrium.
But people will either heal, or they will die from cancer. The government will shift. The really irritating person in the next cubicle at work will either quit or we will throttle them. (Oh, maybe not that.) The environment will rid itself of destructive elements, and new forms will emerge. Changed though it will be, life will go on.
Can we find no peace in that? Are we so ego-centered that it has to be our own little life that must go just as we want? Of course we love our lives, and we love those who are in our lives. We love this glorious world in which we get to live. But if we are injecting into it anxiety, tension, and mounting frustration that might eventually spill over into anger, hate, and all their negative expressions, we are creating the very world we do not want.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Maybe peace – deep, abiding peace – begins with radical acceptance, the fruit of trust. Whether that trust is in the universe or in God, the result will be the same.
Leigh Waggoner is priest at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. She can be reached at 565-7865, or [email protected].