Discover more from Mindset Shifts—Essays by Barry Brownstein
Thoughts and Prayers Rule the World
"Prayer is the contemplation of the facts of life from the highest point of view."
Cause and effect, means and ends, seed and fruit, cannot be severed; for the effect already blooms in the cause, the end pre-exists in the means, the fruit in the seed.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Two things can be true at once. Vladimir Putin had no justifications for invading Ukraine, and American foreign policy is insane for not giving Putin an off-ramp to end his disastrous war. At this point, it is not clear who blew up the Nord Stream pipeline, and it is reasonable to be skeptical that the Russians did it.
Alarmingly, NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg vowed to be “resolute in providing support to Ukraine as it continues to defend itself against Russia's aggression… For as long as it takes.” Ukraine is not a member of NATO, and a NATO bureaucrat has no constitutional power to direct U. S. foreign policy.
“Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm,” wrote James Madison in Federalist No. 10. Needless to say, Biden, Pelosi, Schumer, McConnell, and Stoltenberg are not “enlightened statesmen.”
In 2015, Senator Tom Cotton wrote, “The Constitution requires that a major foreign commitment that binds our nation have a broad consensus among the people, and not result from the parochial interests of a minority or even a narrow majority. As matters of war and peace, treaties should reflect a strong Union, not a divided nation.” Today, Senator Cotton has forgotten his wisdom about foreign policy as he demands “victory” over Russia.
Robert Wright has been a wise critic of the “victory” school of thought. This war’s outcome can be lose-lose. The losers can simultaneously be Russia, Ukraine, America, Europe, and the rest of the world. He writes,
Many American elites—politicians, journalists, even “think” tankers—have been reacting to this war as if it were a football game or some other purely zero-sum contest. They’ve celebrated Ukrainian gains on the battlefield with no ambivalence, blissfully unaware that dramatic Ukrainian military success was always bound to encourage Kremlin risk taking, raising the chances of regional or even nuclear war.
Biden needs Putin to be an enemy. The Biden administration has convinced many Americans that rampaging inflation is due mainly to Putin rather than out-of-control spending.
Today, in short, the threat of nuclear war is real. If the threat level seems high now, imagine where it will be after years of economic recession or depression.
If you feel powerless and are inclined to pray, I offer some thoughts.
In 1867, in a church just outside the gates of Harvard, before the Phi Beta Kappa Society, Ralph Waldo Emerson delivered a talk, “The Progress of Culture.” The nation was still in the aftermath of the Civil War. At the age of 64, the great philosopher was characteristically optimistic as he spoke of the power of spiritual law. “Great men,” Emerson said, “are they who see that spiritual is stronger than material force, that thoughts rule the world.”
Emerson believed that right action and dependable power flowed from aligning our thinking with universal law—an alignment that only occurs when we are “one with God.” In his classic essay “Self-Reliance,” Emerson gave clear guidelines as to what he believed constituted true prayer:
Prayer that craves a particular commodity, anything less than all good, is vicious. Prayer is the contemplation of the facts of life from the highest point of view. It is the soliloquy of a beholding and jubilant soul. It is the spirit of God pronouncing his works good. But prayer as a means to effect a private end is meanness and theft. It supposes dualism and not unity in nature and consciousness.
Applied to the current crisis, are we willing to let go of “viscous” thoughts and pray, in Emerson’s words, for “all good”? If no American statesperson arises to facilitate a settlement that doesn’t crush Putin, is it because not enough of us see the humanity in both the long-suffering Russians and Ukrainians?
In his book, The Government of Eden: Spiritual Principles for Living in Peace, American spiritual teacher Joel Goldsmith wrote:
The three dimensional man, the man of earth, lives in a world circumscribed by his own limited concept of himself and his world, believing that is all the world there is and that in order to survive, it is necessary to lie, cheat, and to use all the tricks of the trade even up to and including warfare. To him, might is a right and normal way, and anything else is a sign of weakness.
Writing almost 100 years ago, Goldsmith realized it was insane to believe that “any government of man is going to establish peace on earth or peace among men or the stability in human relationships necessary to harmonious living.” He renounced the ideas “that by destroying our enemy or competitor, we can live and prosper, or that by taking away somebody’s freedom, we can become greater.”
Here is a story of the kind of thoughts and prayers Emerson and Goldsmith are pointing us toward.
During World War II, the Dutch sisters Corrie and Betsie ten Boom, along with their father Casper, opened their family home to Jewish refugees fleeing from the Nazi occupiers and Dutch police collaborators. In 1944, after saving the lives of hundreds of Jews, the ten Boom family was arrested when a Dutch betrayer tipped off the Nazis.
Their values, not anger, fueled the extreme courage of Corrie and Betsie. The family was immortalized in Corrie’s book The Hiding Place and honored by Israel as Righteous Among the Nations.
Betsie died in the Ravensbrück concentration camp. In The Hiding Place, Corrie describes an incident that occurred before Betsie’s death. During a lineup in the camp, a sadistic guard nicknamed “The Snake” was whipping a “feeble-minded girl.” The screams of the girl were horrendous. After the traumatic event ended, out of earshot of The Snake, Corrie whispered, “Betsie, what can we do for these people? Afterward I mean. Can’t we make a home for them and care for them and love them?”
Betsie responded, “Corrie, I pray every day that we will be allowed to do this! To show them that love is greater!”
Corrie recalled, “And it wasn’t until I was gathering twigs later in the morning that I realized that I had been thinking of the feeble-minded, and Betsie of their persecutors.”
Would Corrie and Betsie have reserved their loving thoughts and prayers only for Ukrainians? Would they have extended love to include the suffering Russians and their leader Putin?
What thoughts and prayers are ruling our world? Do we pray all day to the God of our grievances as we mentally rehearse our stories of victimization? Are we willing to review our grievances as they arise and stop justifying them?
We must not underestimate the resistance we feel to becoming aware of our darker or shadow side. However, by using the world as a mirror to what is unforgiven in our minds we have the golden opportunity to become aware of what we have hidden away in our unconscious.
—Michael Dawson, Forgiveness
The ten Booms prayed often; their prayers informed their actions. As we remember their loving thoughts and deeds, we are reminded that truly thoughts and prayers rule the world.
If you missed my last essay, “To Defend Liberty, Cultivate Your Inner Freedom,” it offers a pathway to moving beyond a destructive personal mindset.
My essay on Emerson, God, grievances, and the weakness of our personal self may also be of interest.
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