Today At Meetingbrook

Saturday, July 27, 2002

Whenever we come out from visiting the prison for a conversation we feel visited upon.

Jean sends a piece from Gerald May in Shalem News Online, Summer 2002:
It may also help to read the classical contemplative authors in greater depth. As one gets to know them better, one might realize that their understanding of contemplative presence is not quite the same as limp dish-rag passivity. I want to share just two examples from St. John of the Cross. Both are frequently quoted, and both are from his commentary on the third stanza of his final great poem, The Living Flame of Love.

In the first example John says, "...contemplacion pura consiste en recibir." This is translated as "pure contemplation consists of receiving," or "pure contemplation lies in receiving." On the surface, it sounds like the expected "do unto me" passivity. But the Spanish word recibir connotes something a bit different. Recibir implies a kind of welcoming, even welcoming with open arms, as one might receive a beloved friend into one's house. Might it be more accurate then, to read John's words as "pure contemplation consists of welcoming with open arms?"

The second example is, for me, even more striking. In several places, John uses the phrase "simple, loving awareness" to describe the attitude of the soul moving into contem-plation. Again, the common interpretation is of a tender yet wholly passive awareness. The Spanish John used is "advertencia amorosa, simple y sencilla." Simple and sencilla imply simplicity, directness and straightforwardness, an absence of complication. The key word however, is advertencia. Just as recibir implies more initiative than "receptivity," advertencia implies an attentiveness that goes way beyond "awareness." In fact, advertencia is used in modern Spanish to communicate an alarm, a warning, or to draw attention to a critically important event.


Welcoming -- aware and alert -- what is realizing God.

When we left prison yesterday, Saskia, Cheryl and I realized something given us by Jonathon, Andre, Sonny, Joseph, Josh, Charlie, and Paco. They gave us the gift of poetry, conversation, and no choice. Around a table, all we had to do was receive with awareness and alertness the welcome extended to each one of us to enter into the pure contemplation of each other's presence.

I read the words of Archbishop Prendergast of Halifax Nova Scotia, One needs, instead, to be a person of the Beatitudes, `pure of heart’ (5:8), single-minded. Such are those described by Jesus in two parables, those who found treasure and pearl and gave up all they had to possess the one thing bringing them joy. God's Kingdom, Jesus says, is worth sacrificing all to enter. The Kingdom offers ongoing joy for those who find themselves within.

For those who find themselves within.

With what is...open.

Thursday, July 25, 2002

Mothers want the best for their children.

Sometimes what they consider the best is a projection, an interpretation of what they consider best, or is selected from a range of possibilities others have calibrated as choice picks. Mothers suffer both gratitude and scorn from recipients. And given we all 'mother' each moment into being, ours is the same pattern response received from sons and daughters everywhere.

James' mother had an idea when she spoke to Jesus, Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him, with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Command that these two sons of mine may sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom”. But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able”. He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father”. (Matthew 20)

As a boy in Brooklyn I often cringed when my mother spoke on behalf of me. Then, as part of shyness, and now, as part of a chosen sense of contemplative quiet -- a watching silence has risen to a preferred practice. Still shy, often accompanied by combined love and mistrust of words, I find a preference for silence. Through the years I've heard silence referred to as the language of God.


The skies tell the story of the glory of God,
the firmament proclaims the work of his hands;
day pours out the news to day,
night passes to night the knowledge


Not a speech, not a word,
not a voice goes unheard.
Their sound is spread throughout the earth,
their message to all the corners of the world.

(-Psalm 19)

When you come to think on it there's not much need for many words. I've hardly ever been satisfied by explanation, excuse, denial, proposal, apology, analysis, or judgment. What does approach loveliness is an understanding that accompanies silent presence.

If your ears see,
And eyes hear,
Not a doubt you’ll cherish
How naturally the rain drips
From the eaves!

( - Daito Kokushi, dailyzen)

When I appear rude, I am an unfinished listener. If I sound cranky in response to something said, I have not yet learned the wisdom of allowing. Should I seem distant when noise of talk surrounds me, I have gone to a place where another language is spoken without sound.

In the story the woman is referred to as "The mother of Zebedee's sons." They were her sons too, James and John. Her request wasn't so popular with their friends:

And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”.
(Matthew 20:20 - 28)

Jesus says -- No lording over; no exercising authority over.
But -- Serve; free from captivity; free from punishment; free your life; free many; free all!
This is part of a mother's longing for her offspring. It's part of the best.

Sometimes, when things become too much, I say out loud, "I want my mother!"
I can hear both Jesus and a Zen Master ask, "But, who is your mother?"

I'll sit with this...in silence.

Wednesday, July 24, 2002


A friend wrote, “You're sounding pretty blue in your "Today at Meetingbrook" entries. Anything I can do? I can always use practice at listening!” This is a sweet invitation, one that could be issued quietly over and over to the vast majority of us who are feeling and sounding “blue.”
That’s exactly how I’m feeling. And so, that’s how I’m sounding.

One and the same breeze passes
Over the pines on the mountain
And the oak trees in the valley;
Why do they give different notes?

( - Shinkage-ryu sword school, dailyzen)

The different notes reflect the vibration and shape, timbre and presence of what the “same breeze” passes over. Pine breeze and oak breeze sound distinct in a way similar to our sounding distinct in the face of what passes us.

There are many sounds and many people coming through the doors of Meetingbrook. Some do not hear anything. Some passing through the shop hear the sound of our world with glee that it is a mess and the institutions in it will surely collapse. Some hear the sound of sorrowing disillusionment at blatant deception foisted by clever criminals or profiteering business folk in financial and corporate culture. Some hear the sound of their own lives squeezed between push and pull, like bumpers between sailing craft and harbor dock in a restless tide. Some hear the sound of their families crying out for food, justice, understanding, and forgiveness -- and quietly take action, and quietly pray.

For he knows how we are made,
he remembers we are nothing but dust.
Man – his life is like grass,
he blossoms and withers like flowers of the field.
The wind blows and carries him away:
no trace of him remains.

(- Psalm 102)

Today’s psalm in the Hours reflects how the breeze crosses my face. Dust and grass, blossom and withering, blown and carried away – no trace remaining.

So many ways to hear this:
1. To live a life hidden with Christ;
2. To contemplatively dwell unseen and unheard;
3. To see, find, enter the light and enter it leaving no trace.
4. To return to the marketplace after finding, taming, riding the Ox into unity, undifferentiated.
5. To go away, without benefit of any of the above, and live unobserved as one hue in a spectrum.

A woman at the shop suggested the other day she pays no attention to the news in the world. “I don’t care for that energy,” she said.

It’s true and often recommended – not to enter into the upsetting news from the everyday world. And why? Is it because we don’t know how to suffer through the suffering of others to a place of transforming healing and communion? Perhaps this type of prayer and fasting is best left to those grounded in Christic or Buddhist understanding of and engagement with the world.

The Tibetan practice of Tonglen is also a transforming one --
In the sutras it is said, "Remain in the meditative state of loving-kindness," which means that you should train your mind with compassionate awareness and develop your ability to actually illuminate and radiate such friendship. In order for our body and speech to spontaneously appreciate and thus support the training of the mind, we use the traditional mind training practice of Tonglen, or the "sending and receiving" practice. (Khempo Karthar Rinpoche)

Breathing in the suffering of the world, breathing out a transforming healing -- sending and receiving by means of prayerful awareness and engaged compassion. A Catholic priest on Sunday spoke his version when he said, "We should fight evil with good – with prayer and good example." Fight? Some would say so.

I'd prefer another metaphor, namely: self-forgetting -- when we decrease so that Christ might increase; or self-remembering -- when we understand with Bodhisattva awareness that our true self includes everything. These seeds of contemplation are tossed everywhere from diverse sources -- even unrecognized farmers and gardeners of the spirit.

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat there; and the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they had not much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched; and since they had no root they withered away. Other seeds fell upon thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear”.
(- Matthew 13:1–9)

I listen! What is heard? Outside my window – wind chime, the sound of cedar branch, rustling of driveway bushes, song of birds, rolling of tires, cracking open of sunflower seed. The blue sky is without other color over barn and cabin.

In this blue space, I am listening. What is heard beyond this patch of hearing is incorporated in my patch of ground and sky. This is my prayer. It is a blue prayer – (with abundant green) – and a heart breaking open with the whole of our pains and hopes throughout the world.

To my friend wondering if there is anything she can do, I say: Yes!

Sow well. Listen well. And wherever seeds fall – on fruitful or barren ground -- pray some benefit be found by someone willing to share it well.

Monday, July 22, 2002

Sorrowing tears. Demanding to know. Lost and without presence. Hearing her name. Telling what is seen, what is heard.

It is a hard time for the world. Mary Magdalene knows.

John 20:11-18 tells us, "Mary stood crying outside the tomb. While she was still crying, she bent over and looked in the tomb and saw two angels dressed in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head and the other at the feet. 'Woman, why are you crying?' They asked her. She answered, 'They have taken my Lord away, and I do not know where they have put him!' Then she turned around and saw Jesus standing there; but she did not know that it was Jesus. 'Women why are you crying?' Jesus asked her. 'Who is it that you are looking for?' She thought he was the gardener, so she said to him, 'if you took him away, sir, tell me where you have put him and I will go and get him.' Jesus said to her, 'Mary!' She turned and said to him in Hebrew, Rabboni! (this means teacher.) 'Do not hold on to me,' Jesus told her, 'because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go and find the brothers and tell them: 'I am ascending to my father and your Father, to my God and your God.' So Mary went and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and that he had said these thing to her."

If we long to overcome the world with its untrue promises, we have to attend what is pronounced through sorrows, false demands, noise of naming, and speak & see what is true. Loss and recovery is a fertile ground for Christ-seed re-creation.

Mary Magdalene is icon for us. See through her vision.

Sunday, July 21, 2002

Breeze makes laugh green foliage, peals chimes under cedar, keeps air course correcting in swooping bird song this Sunday morning.

It is good to seek shelter in the Lord,
better than to trust in men.
It is good to seek shelter in the Lord,
better than to trust in the leaders of men.

(-Psalm 117)

As God speaks trust and shelter through the appearance of men & women, nature & silence -- ours is to listen carefully.

It is not our work in life to lose oneself in the other. That is called co-dependence.
Rather, it is our joy to disappear into the act. The act of being-with, the act of wordless presence. The act of no-othering. This is called inter-dependence.

Buddhists might call this interdependent co-origination, or, circum-incessional interpenetration.
Christians might call this incarnation, or, Eucharistic co-creation.
Listening with silence is portal and presentiation. It is archaic and original.

The term "archaic" as used here is derived from the Greek 'arce', meaning inception, or origin. Origin (or 'Ursprung,' in the original German) is the source from which all springs, but it is that which springs forth itself. It is the essence which is behind and which underlies consciousness. As Gebser understands the term, "conscious is neither knowledge nor conscience but must be understood for the time being in the broadest sense as wakeful presence." This presence, or being present, excludes two further overpowering by the past (past-orientation) or any future-oriented finality. He writes:

It is our task to presentiate the past in ourselves, not to lose the present to the transient power of the past. This we can achieve by recognizing the balancing power of the latent "future" with its character of the present, which is to say, its potentiality for consciousness.

(from "The Primordial Leap And The Present: The Ever-Present Origin - An Overview Of The Work Of Jean Gebser" book by Jean Gebser, article by Ed Mahood, jr., Synairetic Research)

Today it is time. Now it is eternity.

Eucharist. Friends Meeting. Harbor shop. Appearance and disappearance. Refuge. And the strength of weakness.

To be what we are, we have only what is alone ours -- listening silence.