What does mindfulness have to do with executions?
Yesterday, the State of Georgia executed Robert Holsey for killing deputy Will Robinson in 1995. His lawyers and others repeatedly sought to have the order for his execution thrown out, noting that he had an IQ of only 70. Needless to say, emotions swirl with conversations around capital punishment.
What I have noticed is that capital punishment is equated with justice. I find this intriguing. “We need justice.” “Justice must be served.” “It is just to execute someone for crimes like these.” From that point of view, it all seems quite clear. Consequences. Cause and Effect. Murdering someone leads to a sentence of death, with the State then killing the murderer.
The problem with this, of course, is that the emotions do not go away. The anger and grief, the void and depression, the sadness and lonliness experienced by the family of the murdered individual remain present. The death of the convicted does not fill in the holes in the hearts of those grieving a truly wrongful death.
So what do we do? Today, I am meditating not on what we do but on how we frame the entire conversation around capital punishment in our culture. I myself have never experienced the death of a loved one at the hands of violent crime. I myself have never shared in that anger, that frustration…that drive and demand for retribution.
And isn’t that really what lies at the heart of the conversation we’re having around justice? When we speak of “justice,” aren’t we–honestly–speaking of retribution? Aren’t we approaching this from the point of view of having some kind of a “tally of life,” where a life was taken so that loss/crime/violence must be accounted for through the death of the guilty party? As I sit here today, it is clear to me that justice cannot mean retribution. Justice must mean something more.
In Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, he invites them into a marvelously challenging conversation: ‘Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus’ (Phil. 2). What Paul is speaking of here is not this strict sense of rational thinking, as if we could “think” the same way Jesus thought, etc. Paul is speaking of something much more. He is speaking of the wisdom of Christ that we are called to embody in our daily lives, in all aspects of our being. Let the same wisdom be in you as was in Christ Jesus. And, then, of course, Paul goes on to describe what the wisdom of Christ entails: a kenosis, or self-emptying spiritual practice and embodiment that sees one’s identity in the ‘letting go’ rather than in the ‘holding in.’
This wisdom lies at the heart of what I mean by inviting mindfulness within my own parish community. When I invite my congregation to explore what it means to be a “Mindful Church,” I am speaking of what it means to embody this wisdom of Jesus in every aspect of our lives. What does it mean to frame our entire existence around our identity in Christ, “to grow into the full stature of Christ” (Book of Common Prayer 302), to experience a conversio or conversion of life (Benedictine spirituality), to live Eucharistically in this world as we see ourselves as the Body of Christ? Friends, this wisdom is not an easy one to practice and embody.
Such Christian mindfulness asks us to be vulnerable. It demands that we ask the difficult questions, that we examine our lives on many levels (Ignatian spirituality). As Raimon Panikkar describes for us, when we have an experience of God, we are talking about an “ontological touch” that truly does change the way we understand our very existence. We are invited to live into the transformation initiated by the Spirit of God. This is our practice of mindfulness.
In this way, such mindfulness has everything to do with executions, because Christ demands that we examine ourselves (individually, communally, systematically, etc) and live into the reality of our interconnectedness. Our Buddhist brothers and sisters have an enormous amount to teach us Christians on this reality of our existence! There is no place for retribution in an understanding that realizes our inherent connectedness. Rather, what is demanded of us in such a practice of mindfulness is an honest cultivation of a space of compassion and accountability. What is asked of us is our own daily practice of truth and reconciliation (Archbishop Tutu), our own practice of radical forgiveness and honesty. Through this practice of mindfulness, maybe the Spirit gives us eyes to see that–truly–taking the life of the guilty does not mend the hearts of the grieving. We must do harder work…much harder work…together, as a community. We must be mindful of what we feel. We must be mindful of what we crave, what we desire, what we want…and ask ourselves why we want it. We must be mindful of how the Spirit may be inviting us to explore a new way of being.
Our conversations will not be easy. Indeed, they shouldn’t be, because they will connect to the complexities of our hearts as individuals and as a community.
In this Season of Advent, let us be mindful of the ways Christ is seeking to be born within us. And let us practice the spirituality of Blessed Mary, in her willingness to consent, in trust and vulnerability, to the in-breaking of God.
O Come, O Come Emmanuel….