Sunday, August 26, 2012

Another challenge—Don’t complain, Give Thanks—Elul 8

We complain even more readily than we compare and criticize, it seems. Go to the grocery store or anywhere in public and someone will complain about the weather. Too cold, too hot, too humid, too dry. Too too. The only time people say “What a beautiful day” is when the weather is perfect. Anything less than perfect we feel free to complain about and justified in doing so.

We complain about our bodies. We have a little cold. We’re just getting over a cold. We think we might be getting a cold. If our health isn’t perfect we complain.

As if we are owed perfection. As if we know what perfection is.

Maybe it’s harmless, all this friendly complaining, a way to connect with strangers and others. But maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s a mindless habit that blocks our recognition of how much beauty and vitality we are surrounded by and given and depend on every moment of every day. What if we made a habit of recognizing the good instead of complaining about what is less than perfect?

And for many of us, certainly not all, what do we have to complain about? Often, when I feel irritated or disappointed, these words of St. Paul come to mind: “I have learned in whatever state I am to be content.” Paul, once Saul of Tarsus, whatever you may think of him, a great Christian or a faithless Jew, was imprisoned for his politically dangerous religious views.It was because he was a mystic, a person with radical trust in, absolute dependence upon the One, that he was able to reach this place of acceptance and to say these words in witness of that, “I have learned in whatever state I am to be content.”

Neither did Bahá'u'lláh, another mystic, the founder of the Bahá'í community, complain when he was imprisoned, first by the Persians in the Black Pit, and later by the Ottoman Empire for 24 years, for his politically dangerous religious views. He, too, trusted in the One, in whatever state he was. He taught a similar, equally difficult and deep truth: ”Be generous in prosperity, and thankful in adversity.”

That’s what trust will do, to enable one to say, no matter where one is, “I have learned in whatever state I am to be content” and to give thanks in adversity.

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