by Troy Chapman
I sometimes watch a program on Animal Planet called “Animal Cops.” The program follows ASPCA officers as they respond to reports of animal cruelty. Some of the cases are heartbreaking, but oddly it’s not the cruelty that makes the biggest impression on me. It’s the way the animals respond to kindness after they’re rescued.
It takes some time, but dogs who come out of a house in the beginning, slinking low to the ground, their tails tucked between their legs, can be seen later trotting about, licking hands and wagging their tails. It’s like their whole bodies are smiling. I love seeing this stark demonstration of the power of goodness.
When I think about the abusers I wonder why we don’t think of applying this same power to them. No doubt it would be more complicated, as humans are more complicated than dogs, but it seems clear they are as much in need of light as the animals they’ve abused.
I think of light as spiritual food. At one point in our history humans lived off the land and made no effort to cultivate their own food. Then, as human culture got more complex and more people were trying to live in less space, this hunter-gatherer lifestyle became insufficient to support our needs and we began to consciously cultivate our food.
In the same way, in simpler cultures and times, the pursuit of goodness can be, and has been, less conscious. We didn’t need to think about it as much because we seemed to have all we needed. But, as our culture has become more complicated, this unconscious attitude toward goodness is serving us less and less well. We are living in times that demand a higher degree of consciousness and light and we’re called, just as our ancestors were on the physical level, to begin consciously cultivating these things in our world. The world needs spiritual farmers the way it once needed, and still needs, physical farmers.
Yet, we tend to see the hunger in our world and the dysfunction and disease that arise from it as evil — something to be fought and destroyed. But if spiritual malnutrition is the cause of this behavior, this thinking is crazy. It’s like deciding to kill the people in our village who are exhibiting distended bellies and muddled thinking due to starvation. Such symptoms could easily be mistaken for “an evil spirit” by ignorant or superstitious people. But it’s not evil, it’s starvation. To see this is to understand our world from an entirely different place.
If people are evil they need to be fought. If they are hungry, they need to be fed. The bible speaks of a time when we will beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks — in other words, when we will stop fighting people and start feeding them. For me this passage speaks to the shift in consciousness when we realize that what we call evil is a symptom of spiritual hunger, when we begin to recognize this hunger throughout our world, even when the symptoms are violent.
As I struggle to be a light in the world, I must remember that I am a farmer, not a warrior. I must keep my eye on the hunger, even when some of the hungry snarl and snap and try to bite me. I may need to slide the food to them with a stick, but my purpose is still and always to feed them, not to fight or destroy them.