A Simple Truth About Justice

by Melissa Taft
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by John van de Laar

Editor’s Note: This is excerpted from John van de Laar’s work Just Living – A Liturgical Guide to Everyday Justice. You can find more information here or on his site sacredise.com. Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash 

He has told you, human one, what is good and what the Lord requires from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God. (CEB)

If caterpillars knew what lay ahead, I wonder if butterflies would even exist. Apparently, new imaginal cells begin to emerge in the caterpillar’s body shortly after it enters the chrysalis. At first the caterpillar’s immune system views them as invaders, and sets out to destroy them. But in time, the imaginal cells overpower this immune response, and the caterpillar is reduced to a kind of goo which then feeds the cells so that they can create the butterfly which is to emerge.

This awe-inspiring metamorphosis offers a striking metaphor for human transformation. Both societies and individuals experience radical change first as a kind of disintegration and only later as an improved reality. The disintegration feels just like a battle between imaginal cells, that carry the image of the new reality, and the old cells that seek to maintain the status quo, and it leaves us feeling rather like that amorphous goo that was once a caterpillar.

Why You Matter

One of the most important imaginal cells that can emerge within our personal and collective consciousness is the one that tells us that we matter. Too many of us go through life with total blindness to our own value—a blindness that is reinforced by religions that make feeling worthless a spiritual virtue. Yet every one of us has a deep and basic need to feel seen, known, and appreciated. When this need is met, we become more whole, peaceful, and resilient in the face of life’s challenges. When it remains unmet, we become increasingly unhealthy, broken, and even destructive to ourselves and those around us.

One of the primary tasks of spirituality is to convince us that we do matter and have dignity simply because we are. There’s the famous story of the little black boy who was told by an arrogant white man that he was worthless. He stood as tall as he could, looked the man in the eye, and proudly stated, “I know I’m somebody because God don’t make no junk!”

When the realisation that we matter sinks into our souls, we can often find ourselves responding in two ways: firstly, we recognise that other people have to matter as much as we do and secondly, we recognise that the world does not value all people equally. The result of these insights is that we may be moved to join the effort to make our world more just and equitable for all. This, of course, is exactly what our spiritual practice is designed to do and it leads to another level of understanding about our value.

Why Else You Matter

It’s a strange truth that for most of us, it is not enough to know that we matter simply because we exist. We also need to know that we will be missed and remembered because our lives have mattered to someone. It is when we believe that our lives make no difference to anyone that we doubt our worth and fall into despair.

This is immensely important, because nothing can change in the world without people who seek to change it—even if only for the sake of one other person. And this is the purpose of our spirituality. It convinces us of our value and then of the value of all others. Then, using our need to matter to someone, it moves us to live a life of justice by making some contribution to the betterment of the world. If we are ever to create a just, compassionate, and peaceful society every such small contribution matters.

Another famous story tells of a boy on the beach where a whole shoal of starfish had come aground. A man watched as the boy picked up a starfish and threw it back into the sea, then picked up another, and another. Finally the man said to the boy, “There are too many. You’re not going to make any difference.” To which the boy replied, holding up the starfish in his hand, “It will make a difference to this one!’

It Matters To Matter

If our lives are to be fulfilled, meaningful, connected, and whole we need to know that we matter, that we are intrinsically valuable, and that we make a difference to the world. If our world is ever to become more unified and equal then we need to know that we all matter and that our contribution helps toward the healing of our society.

Spirituality that makes us feel worthless is not just unhelpful. It is evil. Spirituality that is only about individuals gaining entry to some future heaven is not just selfish. It is cruel. Authentic spirituality always connects us ever more deeply with the divine energy and human dignity within us and all people (and also in non-human beings) and with our unique capacity to leave the world a little better off—because it matters that we matter, and it matters that we know that we matter. That is what will ultimately motivate us to live justly in whatever small ways we can each day. In a time such as the one in which we now live, this simple but profound truth makes all the difference.

Just LivingJust Living – A Liturgical Guide to Everyday Justice

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