It’s easy to believe that you are the city on a hill, even as the relentless forces of global politics are building up mountains all around you. Jesus said that the high would be made low and the low high, and even though that principle has been at work in the world throughout history, the ever-increasing speed of life in our global community makes it seem that much more prophetic. The question now for Christian Mystics, especially those in the US, is how to rise above the problems of the multitude and not simply mirror them in our personal spiritual life.
America was once the leader in fairness in the market place. We believed that anyone could be successful if they worked hard enough and offered a good product. Craftsmanship was valued for its own sake, and innovation and inventiveness were the driving ideals. Now, profitability is all that matters. But, as the saying goes, not everything that counts can be counted. The same applies in our personal lives: have we become too busy to keep God first?
What made America great was its belief in the individual, that people’s lives were not limited by the class they were born into. But whereas oppression can strengthen the social bonds among equals, individualism tends to shred them. Breaking out of the feudal past has led to unprecedented opportunities, and many have prospered, but unless everyone benefits, all will suffer. An economy has to be as concerned with the health of the society it lives in as much as it is with the lifestyle of those at the top.
Calling ourselves spiritual does not make us so. Huston Smith said it best: “It’s not the altered states but the altered traits that are important.” What good does it do to have all these amazing experiences if our character remains the same? The push toward having actual spiritual experiences was a welcome relief from the moralistic dogmas of the past, but we must not neglect being moral. We cannot allow our sense of spiritual exceptionalism make us believe that we are too good to be good. And while sexual mores are important, they are essentially private, whereas honesty in business and compassion in the courts of law affect everyone – profoundly and immediately. What you do behind closed doors is your business, as long as it doesn’t entail screwing the public at large.
The more spiritual we get, the more we realize that we are no better than anyone else. Everyone matters. As soon as you believe that the world would be better off if this or that group would simply disappear, you’ve lost it. America was great because of the principles it was founded upon. Those principles are spiritual. To be “chosen” means that you have been given something to live up to, not a license to do whatever you want.