12/21/2012 10:25 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Flowers or Thorns?


Rumi asked: "Do you come to the garden to see the flowers or the thorns?"

Our society seems consumed by fear - us versus them, guns, guns, guns, hatred flourishes - thorns everywhere. Is your heart full of thorns? Or can you stop to smell the roses?

One of the central themes from many religious teachers, including Buddha, Isaiah, Jesus and Muhammed - is not to fear events in your life. Although fear and pain protect us in daily life,
if they get out of control they are detrimental to us.

For example, here are some famous "fear" quotes:
"Fear not." - Jesus
"I will fear no evil." - Psalm 23
"On them shall be no fear, ..." - Quran 2:274
"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." - FDR
"The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear." - Nelson Mandela
"Fear is a fantastic marketing tool." - Daniel Gardner
"To a predator, fear indicates weakness." - Dean Koontz
"Fear is the brother of hate." - Larry Niven

None of the above or All of the above?

All of us seek meaning in life and usually adopt what we were taught as children, identifying with that group. Some of us look further. My paths have taken me to many teachers and although an atheist, I have often been treated with love and respect at churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and monasteries everywhere. So what is the problem?

Like many of you, I became disgusted with religious institutions because of their hypocrisy - the conflict between what they claim and what they do. Their activities of fear and hate, pandering for power over the centuries have caused severe damage to people everywhere. I was even attacked for preaching that we should do as they taught, getting my family thrown out of their grand churches during the Vietnam War, etc. My choice to many check off lists about religions became "None of the above."

But as my life went on and my bitterness decreased, I came to realize that the problem is not the original motivations of the various religious teachers, but the institutions that people created later to exercise control over others. The seeking was gone, replaced by control.

So, although an atheist myself, because of the love and respect I was shown and sharing similar goals with people I met, I discarded the institutions and retained my love for religious seekers that treated me so well. My answer to those lists changed to "All of the above." [Ever notice that the lists don't give you that choice?]

Now to religious organizations, I say "None of the Above" and to religious seekers I say "All of the above."

A similar teaching is also found in a story usually credited to the Cherokee, certainly a people robbed by those that considered themselves religous:
A young boy came to his Grandfather with anger at a friend who had done him an injustice. His Grandfather responded:

"Let me tell you a story.

I too, at times, have felt a great hate for those that have taken so much, with no sorrow for what they do. But hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy. Hate is like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die. I have struggled with these feelings many times.

It is as if there are two wolves inside me. One is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all around him, and does not take offense when no offense was intended. He will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way.

But the other wolf, ah! He is full of fear and anger. The smallest thing will set him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all the time, for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great. It is helpless anger,for his anger will change nothing.

Sometimes, it is hard to live with these two wolves inside me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit."

The boy then asked, "Which one wins, Grandfather?"

Grandfather smiled and quietly said, "The one I feed."

Now, I ask: What are we growing today?

Angry wolves or happy ones?
A fearful heart or a healthy one?
Flowers or thorns?

The answer: Fear not - The one we feed.

- Fr. Gareth Scott Harris -
[The picture: Hazel's Tea Rose. For full size image go to]