Christians, Muslims, Jews and the Return of the Light
And, yesterday we in the northern hemisphere turned the corner from increasing dark to increasing light. Winter Solstice. The shift will be gradual, but the sun’s time above the horizon will grow and grow until, of course, it turns again to bring on summer.
As long as the sun retains its current star nature, these turns and the celebration of the holidays that are now underway are something upon which we may rely.
My friend, Michael Salzman is a scholar, Bob Dylan aficionado, and person possessed of an integrity that is simply elemental to his being. Twenty years ago, Michael and I were colleagues on a graduate faculty. We worked together to develop a course for advancing graduate students’ abilities to see, to speak about, to live and work respectfully and responsively in relation with the rich diversities in human beings and our cultures. It was good work. It was an aspect of social reality that drove and informed the research and theory development we were both engaged in at the time, and that we have each devoted ourselves to consistently since. That means then (and whenever we get a chance now) we’ve talked a lot about the nuance and challenge of people living well in community with each other.
Today, I’m wishing I remembered the exact Dylan quote Michael used to spice up what he said to me sometime around Winter Solstice of 1995. He always used at least one. I do remember his words, and how they fit the season. A dawning. A promise of light. One that I have passed on hundreds of times in the years since – most often to students, but also to colleagues, to friends, to family.
It was later in the dark Portland afternoon when, for the second time that day, I’d plunked into the cracked stuffed leather chair in his office.
“How goes it, Professora?” he said. “Done,” I said. “Ready for some inspiration,” I continued, “some enduring sign of human kindness. Wisdom of the inspiring sort would be ok, too.”
To that, Michael said, “Well, try this. I’ve been thinking about priming for the highest expression. Want to hear more?” Of course, I said, “Of Course!” And here’s what came next.
I’ve been thinking about religious traditions. For example, take the three most prominent western traditions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity. They’ve all got fairly easily stated highest goals for their followers. For Judaism, it’s social justice. For Islam, it’s mercy. And for Christianity, it’s loving kindness. No argument, right? I mean, you take the highest expression of each tradition and together you can go a long good way.
Then there’s the lowest expression: “I’m right, you’re wrong. I live, you die.” Exactly the same no matter what the tradition.
He paused here, then he said, “And like you, I’m giving my best to priming for the highest expression. It’s what we can do. What we must do.”
So, this is integrity. This is also perhaps the deepest genius of my friend, Michael. He lives what he speaks. He enacts the wisdom of his words. Brilliant as he is (and he is!), the words he says are never – ever – a substitute for behavior. He shows what it looks like when the priming has been established in consistent high expression.
Thanks, my friend, for always shining a light!
Oh, and I found a Dylan quote. A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom.
It fits Michael. It fits any one of us when we apply our privilege to accepting the dare integrity poses – to live our highest and best. We won’t be flawless, but no matter our holiday, Michael shows us that we are surely up to the challenge.