Responding to the News with an Open Heart
Editor's note: The current controversy over “fake news” and the lamentable attacks on journalists as "enemies of the people" have obscured the vital spiritual role played by news-gatherers. Yes, you read that right. News is just as spiritual as anything else - as long as you receive it with an open heart. It's also worth remembering that news need not be partisan, mean-spirited or commentary, but can offer a remarkable window on our world - an invitation to learn and be compassionate. As Eric Massanari explains, it can even be an act of prayer:
At some point in the middle of 2017 I realized that I was avoiding the news. I was no longer reading newspapers, I wasn’t turning on my favorite radio broadcasts and I was going out of my way to avoid televisions that were tuned into the usual parade of boisterous and blustering pundits. Whether it came from “the right,” “the left” or somewhere in the muddled middle, it all seemed so full of pain, fear and vitriol.
Around that same time I found myself listening to more podcasts and watching YouTube videos from teachers—most of them spiritual teachers of one sort or another—who offered more inspiring messages. I knew that there was some element of escapism in this, but I also longed to have my hope renewed. While listening to one particular podcast, I heard this message through my headphones:
We should not try to avoid the news of the world around us. If we try to shut out what we do not want to see, if we attempt to shield ourselves from the suffering of our neighbors, something vital within us will atrophy and our capacity for compassion will diminish. The next time you read a newspaper try to read it as an act of prayer, as a way of nurturing compassion for others and for the world.
–Ram Dass (paraphrased)
Reading the newspaper as an act of prayer? As a long-time pastor and spiritual companion I’ve encouraged many people to explore varied ways of praying. Never before had I considered reading the newspaper to be a prayer practice. I was humbled by this challenge, and soon after I heard those words I decided to renew my subscription to the New York Times online.
Since then I’ve tried to spend at least a bit of time each day taking in the news. I am selective in what I consume, opting for radio and print media sources that do not shy away from differing points of view, and making sure that I’m learning about events around the world and not just close to home. I intentionally avoid news sources that make a practice of explicitly partisan and mean-spirited reporting and commentary.
As I read the paper I try to bring to my awareness the Presence of God, the One who is present to each life and situation I am reading about and the One who is present in the depths of my own heart. While reading I try to pay particular attention to my own physical, emotional and mental reactions, and I name them as they arise: fear, anger, concern, empathy, joy, confusion, etc. I offer these to God and pray that I might release those things that are not lifegiving and that I might grow in understanding and compassion. I pray for the situations and people that I’m learning about, and pray for the wisdom to know what to hold on to and what to release.
In Psalm 27 the psalmist writes:
“I believe I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”
I believe the psalmist says this with eyes wide open, gazing compassionately on the beauty and the brokenness of this world. I believe the psalmist prays these words with a heart that has been broken open with love for God and for the world.
To live this life with love is to have one’s heart broken open. You might consider reading and listening to the news with your open, broken heart—receiving the news as an act of prayer. If you do, may you trust that even as you bear what may seem unbearable, compassion will grow and Love will guide the way through.
Eric Massanari, M.Div., is an ordained pastor in the Mennonite Church USA, living in Newton, Kansas where he serves as a spiritual director and the chaplain of a continuing care community for older adults. He joins the Coordinating Council after ten years of membership in SDI, bringing a passion for inter-faith learning, community building, and companioning people who are exploring the fertile ground of elderhood and those who are nearing the end of life. An avid poet and essayist, Eric is a contributing author of, An Open Place: The Ministry of Group Spiritual Direction. Eric serves as a member of the Coordinating Council of Spritiual Directors International.