Volume 17 Number 4
The Park the Bus-Stand Built
01 August 2004
Love is the drive that makes us take action for personal and social change.
BY NIGEL HEYWOOD
‘What is love?’ The question was greeted with a stunned silence from our group sitting on the floor of a large wooden house in the mountains of Taiwan. M Scott Peck defines love in his book, The Road Less Travelled, as ‘the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth’. By this definition love becomes hard work, not the romantic feeling that we all dream of. Love is the drive that makes us take action for personal and social change.
When I arrived in Taiwan, I stayed with a community of five French Catholic monks. As we sat and ate dinner together on the first evening I felt amongst old friends even though we had just met. I felt their love and open acceptance and wondered what it was they had that seemed to slip through my fingers.
The brothers related how years of soulsearching and prayer led them to this spiritual life of community. They dedicate three-and-a-half hours every day to prayer and adoration of God. Their head, Father François Verny, says that adoration lies at the heart of their community and described this as making oneself free to be attracted by God so that one’s plans grow to be God’s plans. Their inner peace stems from the confidence that they are loved by something greater than themselves.
In the Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung an artist called Shi Chung Lim was asked by the local government to design a new bus stand. He agreed but insisted that instead of paying him the government give 10 million Taiwanese dollars to a project aimed at developing a run-down city centre area into a beautiful park.
He wanted this place to be peaceful, clean and respected as a sign of moral change in the heart of the city. He visited the finished park day and night because he cared so much for it. He supervised the environment and noise levels, stopping people from riding their scooters there and even preventing local politicians (some with connections to the local mafia) from hanging their signs in the park. The park was voted the best civic project under the current mayor. Now Shi Chung has taken a 50 per cent pay cut to become Kaohsiung’s minister for tourism, aiming to use his art to bring yet more change to a city that is materially rich but spiritually poor. He has found inspiration from his faith to put his own needs aside and follow his vision for the city he loves.
The well-known Korean Buddhist nun, Mother Park, is another person who has changed thousands of lives with her selfless work. She has raised US$8 million to help refugees relocate, set up schools and orphanages and remove landmines from former battlefields in Cambodia, amongst other projects.
She says that upon seeing the suffering of others she feels physical pain and if she does not do something then her life and health suffer. When I asked her how she stays calm and peaceful and maintains her commitment to so many others, she replied simply, ‘I love myself very much’.
I observed in these people that there is no limit to where love will lead you. Love is action, hard work and courage. We all have people in our communities who are striving for the spiritual growth and welfare of others as if it were the greatest love in their life. What they have to teach us is at the very heart of our communities’ survival.
Nigel Heywood is an Australian fine arts graduate now travelling in Asia with IC’s Action for Life training programme.