A Higher Demand

James R. Eads

James R. Eads

"Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.”

Sometimes a fortune cookie really matters.

We were sitting around after some excellent Chinese takeout. And our conversation opened up into powerful reflection. I noted that we are rarely called to live into the higher virtues. Grace. Forgiveness. Compassion. Love and Letting Go.

The opposite tends to be true. Our culture encourages punishment, vengeance. Tearing down. Making things right by dehumanizing the other. There is little room for error. And so there is little room for growth.

Our moral stance tends to be static. We are rewarded for knowing right from wrong. For declaring it and enforcing it. But not so much for bringing others into the fold.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this.  It is a rigidity that has been with us for a while. But the last presidential election brought it sharply into view. Faced with hate come into power, we gave ourselves license to hate.

We don’t seem to understand how the politics of resentment is making all of us small.

It makes sense that we got here.

My friend Casper ter Kuile wrote a brilliant reflection on our need for “containers.” The fall of our institutions has left most of us adrift. Ours is a hyper-individualized world. Our spirituality can be reduced to “choose your own adventure.” It does not force us into the hard parts. It can often feel like freedom but it's not relational enough. Ideological fundamentalism comes out of this need for a container. It fulfills our need for certainty. And it tells us where we belong.

But ideology is an abstraction. It is a map. A set of guideposts. Not a replacement for community. Not a path to spiritual development.

If someone hurts you I cannot just jump and tell you that forgiveness is the way. I need a context. I need to be in community with you. I need a container that calls us to the higher virtues. I need to know that we have both made a commitment to meet a higher demand for what it means to be human together. This is what allows me to hold you in your pain. And it is what allows us to call each other into a higher place.

What is this higher demand? What are the high virtues? How do we want to learn to be?

It is always a good idea to turn our gaze towards the elders. They’ve had a lifetime to learn how to live. Mary Pipher wrote a beautiful piece on “The Joy of Being a Woman in Her 70’s.” It is full of pearls of wisdom. It is the type of wisdom that we should aim to grow into. To me, it reads like the outcome, the life you get to live, when you meet a higher demand.

  • By our 70s, we’ve had decades to develop resilience. Many of us have learned that happiness is a skill and a choice.

    • Our happiness is built by attitude and intention.

    • Attitude is not everything, but it’s almost everything.

  • We have learned to look every day for humor, love and beauty. We’ve acquired an aptitude for appreciating life.

  • Gratitude is not a virtue but a survival skill, and our capacity for it grows with our suffering.

  • We may not have control, but we have choices. With intention and focused attention, we can always find a forward path.

  • If we seek beauty, it will spill into our lives any moment we wish.

  • If we search for events to appreciate, we discover them to be abundant

  • Older women have learned the importance of reasonable expectations.

    • We know that all our desires will not be fulfilled

    • that the world isn’t organized around pleasing us and,

    • that others, especially our children, are not waiting for our opinions and judgments.

  • We can be kinder to ourselves as well as more honest and authentic. Our people-pleasing selves soften their voices and our true selves speak more loudly and more often.

  • Lucky women are connected to a rich web of women friends. Those friends can be our emotional health insurance policies.

  • The only constant in our lives is change.

“I am alive today only because thousands of generations of resilient homo sapiens managed to procreate and raise their children… By the time we are 70, we have all had more tragedy and more bliss in our lives than we could have foreseen… If we are wise, we realize that we are but one drop in the great river we call life and that it has been a miracle and a privilege to be alive.”

Age does not guarantee that we will grow into this wisdom. But it does increase the odds.

If this is where we are headed, then why not get on our way right now? What happens when we let go of self-righteous judgement? What happens when we loosen our rigid interpretations of how everyone else must live? How does the quest for justice change when we make less room for resentment? Less room for hate within ourselves?

These are questions I have been asking myself a lot lately. My friend Tuesday and I have been talking about creating intentional “Brave Spaces” for people that want to commit to living with this higher demand. And to the practice of grace and responsibility.

I don’t believe we can do it alone. And most don’t seem to be willing to embark upon this path. But there is a dire need of those of us that want to and that can. And we are in need or each other.

How do we come together?

What does a container look like that makes a higher demand?