The evening of the bombing at the Boston marathon, I went to my meditation space to pray for the people of Boston. As I sat down on my cushion, something took hold of my mind insisting I pray for those who placed the bombs. Something—I’ll call it Love—was aching for the wholeness of the perpetrators. Something—I’ll call it Love—was asking that I embody it by refusing to exile anyone from its circle of care.
At first I found it offensive. How could I pray for people who do such things, who plot the killing and maiming of innocent people? And yet I sensed there was a wiser spirit at work that I trusted and wanted to heed, and so I did.
As I prayed for them, I seemed to be taken to another plane— to Love’s vantage point—where I could see the tragedy in its entirety. Not only the horror of the casualties, but the tragic brokenness of anyone who could carry out such an abhorrent act. My heart ached for them all.
In my understanding, the fundamental spiritual truth is that all things and all beings are interconnected. We are all part of one Reality—I’ll call it Love—that animates the Universe. Atrocities such as the marathon bombing do violence to that fundamental truth of interconnection by enacting a story of division. They are assaults on Love.
But because Love is the Reality of complete oneness, even those who enact the story of division are not—cannot—be cast out of Love, because there is no “outside” of Love.
Once when I was walking a labyrinth on retreat, I received a teaching. “There are no enemies,” it said. “There are only those who do not know who they are.” There are only those who are not conscious that they are cells, as we all are, in the one body of Love.
And yet it’s hard to hold onto the consciousness of Love when we witness actions that inflict devastating suffering. In the face of attack we tend to go on attack, and thus lend our energy and intention to the very script of violence and division we abhor. In other words, we, too, take on the role of enemy. We, too, forget who we are.
In moments like these I remember that Jesus told people to love their enemies and to pray for their persecutors. There was a time when I understood his words as a command, something we should do if we wanted to be good people (better, that is, than our “enemies”).
But now I see that he wasn’t issuing a command or even admonishing people to claim the moral high ground. He was pointing the way out of the madness, like an illuminated exit sign above the door of a burning theater. “Here is the way out of the nightmare,” he was saying. “Love those who are playing the role of enemy and enacting the violent story of division and, by the very act of loving them, you nullify the story that has them in its grip.”
I wonder what it would be like if, whenever one of these horrific attacks occurred, we all banded together to pray not only for the victims, but just as fervently for the perpetrators—for their wholeness and that they might remember who they truly are. I know that those who engaged in such prayer would be changed. So too, I suspect, would the perpetrators.
I’ve never run a marathon, but I know people who have. I’ve heard how grueling it can be, how intense the training is, how you have to press on through the pain, how you have to keep running just when everything in you is screaming to quit.
And I’ve been thinking how maybe the reason we’re all here on this planet is because we’re in training for Love’s marathon. We’re here to press on through the pain, and the weariness, and the heartache. We’re here to learn how to stay the course of Love—to remain in the truth of Love—no matter what.
I’m pretty certain that whenever any of us manages to cross the finish line of Love’s marathon, we bring Martin’s dream of peace that much closer.