Joining with God to be like the Lotus Flower

Joining with God to be like the Lotus Flower

The lotus flower is considered a sacred flower in many cultures. It has the unique property of being able to perfectly repel water and anything else that comes in contact with it. The flower thrives in swamps and muddy waters, yet never takes on the dirt or grime of its surroundings. This is the property that gives its name to the famous “Lotus Effect.” The flower cannot control its surroundings, but at the same time, the surroundings cannot control the flower. It thrives despite the conditions it finds itself in.

We live in circumstances that are stressful. No one in history has lived through what our generation is living through, where a pandemic has spread across the globe and whole economies and basic rights and freedoms were, for all practical purposes, shut down. Not only are we stressed right now, but we wonder if life will ever go back to the way it was, or if will there be permanent changes to our lives, indeed our very civilization. We also wonder if this will keep repeating itself in the future as new viruses emerge. The CDC reports a marked rise in depression and suicides as many people fail to cope with economic distress, social isolation, loss of community and spiritual support as well as the deprioritization of mental health services and elective health treatment. Inflammatory news stories run which are based on emotion rather than reason, rife with exaggerations and understatements, and omissions of critical information. In short, because of what is happening around us, many struggle with a sense of hopelessness.

We as faculty and administrators and staff feel stressed. Our students and their families feel stressed. The capacities and resources of our institution are stressed by being pushed to the limit. Everything seems to take much longer. The entire system of higher education is at a breaking point. But what exactly is stress? Stress means something different for everyone. But stress is nevertheless a shared human condition. The commonality of our human experience of it is that, on some deep level, we want things to be different than the way they are right now. Whatever feeling fills the gap between the way things are, and the way we want things to be—whether it is anger, fear, frustration, sadness—creates an unwanted emotion we have to cope with. That is stress. The feeling that fills the two points between decisions we made in the past and the decisions we wish we had made is regret. The feeling that fills the gap between what is happening right now in our lives and what we actually wish would be happening is frustration. The feeling that fills the gap between the way we want the future to be and how it might actually turn out is worry.

Imagine, for a moment: what would it be like to be free of whatever stresses you right now? Freedom? Elation? A sense of ease? What a joyful thought! But how do we accomplish this? We need to start with the realization that our thoughts revolve around our sense of “I,” whether it is “I am worried about this” or “I am unhappy about that” or “I don’t like something about this person.” The key is to remove our habitual fixation on our own thoughts and feelings, and instead skillfully place our attention on the things which strengthen us and nourish our spirit. We need to recognize that Jesus wishes to give us new life through self-transformation. As Paul teaches in Philippians 4:8, “…keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, lovely, holy, …” Good news is around us, if we look for it and take our minds off ourselves for a moment. No matter how bleak the situation looks, there are always grounds for cautious optimism. This allows us the relief of being able to step out of our thinking for a while, and realize that we really are not in charge of very much around us, even though we like to think we are. When we learn to let go of our own self-interest and turn our lives over to God, somehow our experience of stress is lessened.

In the springtime, President Jones enunciated in Goal Five of GEIST that we are to transform purposefully. He mentions Paul’s Letter to the Romans in 12:2, wherein we are exhorted to renew our minds. By first transforming ourselves, we can become the spiritual change agents needed to change our students, our institution and our very community. By learning to place our hearts and minds on the things of God and diminishing the death grip that the things of this world have on our hearts, we have the opportunity to open ourselves to a new way of life. Like the lotus flower, we may not be able to control our circumstances, but we do not have to let them control us either. Our stress can slowly be replaced with peace, with joy and with love. If we can transform ourselves in this way, thousands around us can be transformed. We can become like pools of calm water that burdened people around us can come and drink from and find transformative refreshment. We can touch people around us in their isolation. During these difficult times, let us try to place our hearts and minds on the one who brings us peace so we can find relief from the stress and offer transformative care to those around us.

Connections
Gregory Zubacz, J.D., Ph.D.

Gregory Zubacz, J.D., Ph.D.

Associate Provost