“Saving the Best Until Last”
July 6, 2003 — Welcome to the 79th International Peace Meditation. We have all heard the expression, “Saving the best until last.” Perhaps we should ask ourselves: “Does that expression apply to my spirituality?”
Saving the best until last can have many interpretations. To the Blacks living under oppression in America until the events of the Civil Rights movement, saving the best until last meant that life would be better in heaven. It meant that although life was unbearable under slavery, a better life was waiting, and that became the focus for many.
Saving the best until last to a child may mean saving the ice cream or dessert for the savory ending. It may also mean that his/her behavior will be rewarded, and therefore the focus again will be on the reward. Behavior modification in many different avenues from moving up the social, political, or career ladder, to a life rewarded at its end by moving to a better place, exists throughout our various cultures. Saving the best until last is common to many religions that encourage good living while on earth so that one will be rewarded by a better life in the next realm.
This idea, saving the best until last, has many good features and promotes behaviors that are complementary with a healthy and just society. But what about it’s negative use? What if saving the best until last is not always in our best interest?
If we consider the beauty and strength of a spiritual life, then why should we wait to develop our own? If we remember that strength of character is often the result of a powerful spiritual life, why wait to cultivate our own spiritual essence? If we believe that, for example, Blacks in America survived the oppression of slavery by their very tenacious belief in a Higher Power, could we not learn from this valuable lesson? And what about those who survived the holocaust of World War II by holding onto a vision of what they desired, and living for that vision?
We have all seen examples where vision and faith have led countries out of war, or developed the peace process in countries where devastation and destruction had become ways of living. We have seen the value of ministries to the poor and afflicted, medical breakthroughs that save thousands of lives, legislation that protects the weak, and even the valiant efforts of those who have risked and sometimes lost their lives in service for the many. What was the motivation? What was the strength? Can we have that also? Can we access, individually and collectively, that strength of will that is stronger than any oppressive force? Can we? Will we?
In the culture of the United States there is much freedom. Freedom of religion, or spiritual practice, is a fundamental constitutional right upon which the country is built. Freedom of religious expression is a value held by all, yet the will to practice this spiritual freedom may be diminishing. We must ask ourselves why this is so.
Responsibility for individual spirituality does not reside in the walls of organized religions. Responsibility for the individual’s spirituality lies with the individual. It is important for the spiritual sojourner to make this distinction. We cannot blame organized religion for its human failures as an excuse not to meditate or pray. We cannot look to the failings of individual leaders as a way of diverting our time and responsibility from our own worship. Humans sometimes fail. People sometimes give in to longings inconsistent with the mores and values of the community. Too often this becomes a weight that pulls followers away from the spiritual peace for which they yearn, and causes them to focus on the misbehaviors of others. It is important to recognize that failure of spiritual leaders to follow existing standards is something that must be addressed in the broader community, but something for which the individual must not become overly concerned.
If one believes in access to spiritual power through prayer or meditation, one must continue on the path. In other words, do not give up because of the behaviors of a few spiritual leaders. Do not become disillusioned when a few go astray even when their behaviors are by all standards atrocious. They must be dealt with by whatever justice system is in place. But we must not allow them to lead us away from our spiritual practice.
The foundation of our various faiths is strong and enduring. Spiritual power is available to all who choose to access it. It can be found within religious structures, but it is not limited to religious organizations or structures. It is available to all. It does not discriminate. It is inclusive. No one, regardless of belief, race, culture, religion, age, disability, or lifestyle preference is omitted from spiritual power. Perhaps the greatest myth perpetrated on the spiritual seeker is that spiritual power is available for some, but not for all. There are no chosen groups of people. We are all chosen people. Do not allow anyone to make you feel inferior or incapable of accessing spiritual power. You have the power, if you choose to access it, through prayer and/or meditation.
Religious wars are dangerous to civilization. They are generally the result of one group or groups oppressing others. Oppression is wrong regardless of who is the oppressor. It is not the spiritual sojourner who is wrong; it is the act of oppression that is wrong.
It is not necessary to feel chosen. That single idea is the source of the deaths of many innocent people. It is necessary to see all humanity as on a spiritual path with many spiritual leaders attempting to bring salvation or peace to the individual sojourner. However, there are also many who pretend to be spiritual teachers who have other motivations. Here the one on the spiritual path must be most aware. For example, many have been led to donate their life’s’ savings to others who were using the believer’s desire for spiritual power for their personal benefit. This is a most egregious behavior, yet one that continues to occur.
How can you recognize a true teacher or spiritual leader? Look at the behavior of the teacher or spiritual leader. Is this person leading others for personal gain? Is this person ready to sacrifice his/her time, resources, and life for the faith? Does the teaching support empowerment of the followers? Does the belief bring life and spiritual power to the followers, or does it take away their power and belief in their own worthiness?
Does the teacher exemplify love? If not, this is not a true teacher! Throughout the great religions we see a focus on love. If it is not of love, it is not of a Higher Power. Therefore, the truest test of a teacher or spiritual leader is whether his/her message and life exemplify and promote love and acceptance of all people.
Saving the best until last is positive in many aspects. However, waiting to seek spiritual power is detrimental. Life is a journey. Waiting until the end of the journey to learn and savor the wonderful benefits of spiritual power is sad. Living a life focused on material and social gain is empty. Living a life that has purpose and meaning is what makes living worthwhile. Lives of spiritual consciousness give societies positive direction.
When money must be diverted from universities to prisons, there is cause for concern. When murder is a way of life in our cities, we have allowed the level of consciousness for a nation to drop very low. When our young men, especially of a particular culture or race, are found more often in prison than in positions of leadership, we are failing as a nation to allow spiritual power to guide our actions.
Oppression is inconsistent with spiritual power. You cannot practice true spiritual leadership, and then oppress. Any political leader who claims to follow spiritual guidance and yet oppresses any group of people is not of Truth.
Access spiritual power and you will Know. Access spiritual power and Truth will become obvious. Access spiritual power and you will know whom to Trust. Access spiritual power and life will have Meaning and Purpose.
The spiritual sojourner learns that leaving the best until last is not the way of empowerment. Prayer/Meditation and responsibility for one’s own spirituality are essential. Those who are cynical often are so because they have become disillusioned. By not allowing others, whether individual leaders or religious structures, to take you off the path, you assume responsibility for your own spirituality. It is not necessary to condemn others; it is necessary to assume responsibility for one’s own spiritual experience.
Please join us in the International Peace Meditation held on the first Sunday of every month. The International Peace Meditation is not affiliated with any religion in order to be available for all people of all beliefs. Join, and invite others to join, in prayer and/or meditation during the 24 hours of July 6, and again the first Sunday of every month. Participate from wherever you live. Please forward this message and the website address www.humanempowerment.org to all on your e-mail list. Let us remember that when it comes to our spirituality, we should not leave the best until last.
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Sue Kidd Shipe, Executive Director
International Institute For Human Empowerment, Inc.
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Albany, New York 12203 USA
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