Turning the Tables: A Lenten Practice
By Keren Dibbens-Wyatt —
At Fresh Mercies this year, I have been blogging about sight. Whether inner or outer, physical or spiritual, teamed with contemplation, It’s the primary tool of a mystic. Trouble is, I’m now a middle aged, rather myopic mystic, so new glasses are one of the things I see in my not too distant future.
We’ve been looking at preparing for Lent here at Godspace, and thinking about the practices we might be going to bring to this time. I am starting to feel strongly that the practice I am being called to learn as we lead up to Easter is about sight as well, but not as I had imagined.
The Lord wants me to think about turning the tables, specifically, each time I feel like judging or ridiculing someone, to stop, turn the tables, and imagine how things would look from that person’s side of things.
This is quite a hard challenge politically and economically. I am one of those left-wing liberals that like to rail about justice and equality. But I feel challenged to look at the world with different eyes for a while. Let’s take a topical example. Supposing, as I stand and shout on social media with the No DAPL protestors, vehement in my beliefs that clean water and safeguarding the environment is more important than rich shareholders taking home yet more cash, that I turn the tables in that outrage, and am placed in the shoes of the CEO of a bank who are deeply invested in that pipeline. How might I feel?
I’ve been employed to run a profitable business. My priority is to keep the stockholders happy and keep my job. I cannot allow myself to ponder the rights and wrongs of the actual investment. If I did that with every dollar I’d never be able to get anywhere! I’ve been trained to see that as my emotions interfering with my work. I am good at making tough decisions and holding on through difficulties. This is how I earned both my place and the respect of my peers. I want to stay at the top. If I resigned over it, or lost my job taking a stand, someone else would be put in my place who would do the right thing by the investors anyway. I’d have lost my position and endangered the security of my co-workers and family for nothing.
There is no point, in any case, worrying about the environment, because everyone around me tells me that the scientists are wrong, that the protestors are just whining, that there is no real cause for alarm, that the earth can look after itself, and I am also, knowing myself to be canny, investing in renewable energy as well as fossil fuels, though perhaps with less enthusiasm. If that starts to get anywhere, my bank and I will be right behind that too. These things have a way of working out. Necessity is the mother of invention and all that.
In fact, the longer I spend imagining that mindset, the easier it is to realise that the problem does not lie with individuals but is largely systemic. It is hopelessly easy to believe whatever is most profitable to me to believe, what I’ve been brought up to believe, what sustains myself and those around me. Rarely does a challenge come from within the establishment. It has been built up with safeguards in place precisely so that does not happen. Until we can find and live out alternatives to the hierarchy driven by money, power and status, we are doomed to existing within the systems where they rule.
Back in my own skin, I can talk about morals and green issues and the good of future generations to come until I am blue in the face, but someone on the “other side” of the fence will simply not be able to hear me, or has been given the tools by the system to discredit me in their way of seeing the world.
But here’s the thing. If I can look at the world for a while through their eyes (and of course I am biased and it will be woefully inaccurate in lots of ways), then there is more hope for dialogue. There will be more understanding, less stonewalling, more willingness to bend the light of my seeing through the prism of other lenses.
I hope too that my prayers for those who differ from me will be more empathetic and generous. As with the new glasses I’m hoping to get, if I make Lent this year about learning to see with different eyes, maybe my sight will be just that little bit clearer and more objective. Maybe, if I get into the habit of it, I might even bring loving grace into that seeing.