Mother, mother. Father, father. Picket lines and picket signs. Don’t punish me with brutality. Who’s willing to try to save a world that is destined to die? We've got to find a way to bring some lovin' here today. What's going on? What's going on?
Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," released fifty years ago today, rightly functions in popular culture as sacred text, meant to disturb and inspire. It calls into a troubled awareness of the injustices of our time, prodding us to ask why brutality and callousness go on and on and on. Like many a good psalm, or a surah from the Qur'an, it offers a soul-unsettling invitation to pay attention to insanities of our time and the systems that support them; to accept whatever responsibility we have for their persistence. and to play our role in helping "bring some lovin' here today." But let me back up. "Attention is also known as mindfulness, awareness, concentration, recollection. It is a primary practice, and not just alphabetically. We must stay alert or we risk missing critical elements of the spiritual life — moments of grace, opportunities for gratitude, evidence of our connections to others, signs of the presence of Spirit." So write Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat in Spirituality and Practice, and they are right. It is good to stay alert to moments of grace and opportunities for gratitude. They add that we can and should stay alert to our connections to others.
These connections are not always (or even usually) happy. They include the ambiguities of our social situation, the injustices, the oppressions both hidden and overt, the colonialisms, the sheer hypocrisy of government officials, the lies of ideologically-driven news outlets, the pomposity of infant presidents, the systematic racism of white supremacist America, and so much more. Spirituality without attention to "what's going on" iin the wider world is but an escape into gated communities, physical and mental. "The good news," add the Brussats, "is that attention can be practiced anywhere, anytime, in the daily rounds of our lives."
Marvin Gaye's What's Going On can help. The appropriate spiritual response is not peace of mind but rather the honesty and agony of the question - what's going on? - which contains a hope that life can be better because we found a way to "bring some lovin' here today."