Today At Meetingbrook

Saturday, August 17, 2002

Three dogs walk alongside path on Ragged Mountain. Across field between snow bowl chalet and downhill. To Hosmer Pond where sticks are thrown prompting swim for them.

Psalms on porch of meditation cabin. Hot morning. Wet dogs at feet during silence. One chipmunk watches from boulder.

Nearly wordless. A morning's mindful sitting, walking, psalming.
The mountain remains strong, dry, and still. Pond remains penetrable, wet, and cool. Trees remain green holders of sunlight.

We agree to be nothing other than what we are.
Floorboard creaks on screened porch stepping over dogs.

Friday, August 16, 2002

In Nicolet, Province of Quebec, 35 years ago on the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, a woman took vows in convent motherhouse. Jo-Ann said: poor, chaste, and obedient. She said, yes!

I drove with Joe, known by his Franciscan name Paschal at the time, up through New England to Canada to be there with her that day. These years later, I have a book of Joe’s somewhere in a toppling pile by R.C. Zaehner on Matter and Spirit, Eastern Religions, Marx, and Teilhard de Chardin. I'd return it, but I've lost track of him.
Jo-Ann went to Japan for ten years, came back, and became chaplain at university. We were never again, so it seems, as together as in the photograph of the three of us that August 15th in Canada.

In the still night by the vacant window,
Wrapped in monk’s robe I sit in meditation.
Navel and nostrils lines up straight;
Ears paired to the slope of the shoulders.
Window whitens – the moon comes up;
Rain’s stopped, but drops go on dripping.
Wonderful – the moon of this moment,
Distant, vast.

- Ryokan (1758–1831)

Today, Nathan, a man from St. Petersburg Russia with intense eyes and surprised delight seeing the icons at the shop, stayed to chat a while. As did Gene from Stamford Connecticut, who bought books by Robert Kennedy on Zen/Christian and Aelred Graham on Catholic/Zen explorations, told of his unfolding interests in matters of the spirit. A woman from San Francisco stopped me on our deck to say how she liked the dogs, the shop, and the Gregorian music playing inside at the time. Karl and Cathy with their family sat at waterfront restaurant table as the hot day slowly darkened. Barney said he'd be moving his rowboat from our line extending to the dock. Ed, with continuous consternation at the minds of our leaders in Washington, said he'd had two beers -- it being so hot.

We watered the small tree in flowerbed near old loch marina fence on patio by harbor. Cesco -- (we're changing his name from Cisco to ‘San Francesco,’ like the medal that came with him on his collar) -- stared long and intently at dozens of ducks being fed popcorn from condo deck by young boy. This single minded Border Collie appears to smiling tourists on the deck ready to spring back to a former lifetime's work of herding other animals should a command come to him from somewhere. Earlier in day I tell Sam how Annie, his wife, is a terrific poet.

We'd arrived in Belfast at 7:30am for mass. There wasn't any. We had blueberry pancakes at Chase's Daily instead.

What I remember most about Jo-Ann is the ease with which she was within herself. It is the surrender of love -- one asking nothing, one promising everything -- that opens heaven to earth. What is taking place in these moments of grace -- is an emptying cup of one's life. Within oneself, an offering to others, and belonging to God -- this nears as symbol of the Assumption. It is beyond 'me' -- it is a voyaging project we can barely imagine.

It is well beyond the orbiting trajectory of the two Voyagers launched 10 years after Nicolet:
Voyager 1, climbing at 38,540 miles per hour above the plane in which the planets orbit, is now 7.9 billion miles from Earth, more than twice as far away as Pluto. Voyager 2's speed is 35,158 m.p.h., dipping below the planetary plane, and its distance 6.3 billion miles. (NYT,13Aug02)

These two voyagers follow an orbit and trajectory set for them a long time ago.
Then both craft turned their attention forward, to the heliosphere and beyond. The Voyagers are expected to survive millions of years of interstellar travel, steadfast as ever. But silent, their computers and radios dead and the Sun receding into cosmic insignificance, the two spacecraft will have long since lost touch with their makers and the home they left behind in 1977. (Ibid)

Their travel -- away and apart -- is myth-veiling origination.
At origin we are, quite possibly, dwelling many lives at once. What the mind has segmented, serialized, and discarded for purposes of order, sanity, and pragmatic agreement -- might not be the whole of what life is doing with us.

Look at the fact of that photograph -- when two friends visited a woman who was speaking to God in Quebec. And look at a railroad station in Connecticut one night later on, window reflecting slow acceleration -- radiant departure to seemingly separate orbits. These telltales flutter our imagination and cause wonder on a very deep sea.
They are semiotic passages flowing along streams of an incomprehensible consciousness -- taking place in our lives like undetected theater pieces of molecular play -- while we, without knowing why and with no certain destination, continue our lives on an ordinary, practical level of sensible activity.

Mary disappeared all at once in an instant of transparency. Where Mary went that instant in Palestine long ago, I don't know. And this not knowing is similar to the joy and delight available to us throughout long love, continual fidelity, and deep trust.

The recollection of 3 friends -- their voyage instantiated in a photograph somewhere out of reach -- smiling 35 years at each other's side -- this too delights.

Still, and more curiously, is the way our lives might be unfolding simultaneously in what some call parallel dimensions. The radical possibility exists -- well beyond our awareness and comprehension – that we have been living full and intimate lifetimes in profound mystery with each one presented to us with love and promise.

This prospect borders on what mystics know to be the eternal unfolding of God in our lives -- realities and expressions of divine life we can’t even guess at. It is also the stuff of science fiction. It is equally an intimation and intuition of the mystery of heaven -- here, within, now and forever.

There is Mary, for instance, well within herself.

And in my prayer, also well within themselves, the 3 friends pictured one summer afternoon in Quebec. Light plays around them.

Wonderful, distant, and vast -- the refractive light -- living us, seeing us through.

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

If heaven is within, what does it mean to be assumed bodily into heaven?

For all these years, my certain Zen:
Neither I nor the world exist.
The sutras neat within the box,
My staff hooked upon the wall,
I lie at peace in moonlight.
Or, hearing water plashing on the rock,
Sit up.
None can purchase pleasure such as this:
Spangled across the step-moss, a million coins!

- Ryushu Shutaku (1308–1388)

If I were mother of the Christ, I'd be pregnant with each moment. I'd be nursing each appearance with my attention. If asked to open my mouth and describe what is seen, apophasis.

Perhaps Mary became one of the precious few to completely inhabit her own and true body.

To become one's own and true body is to dwell completely within what one is.

And the word becomes her flesh; her body dwells among us.

To dwell thusly, such as it is, is to assume heaven.

Mary's assumption is our glorious invitation.

No looking elsewhere.

No saying anything.

Just returning home.

Tuesday, August 13, 2002

John Joseph left his toy truck behind in the shop on Saturday. Mathew Gerard yelled "hello" into phone from Long Island last week. A little girl clung to her mother in church Sunday. They are each about two years old. And precious embodiments of this universe peopling itself in God's image.

"Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me;
See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven."
(Matthew 18)

Still, children are abused, hurt, and used by older people who forget the image they mirror.

A woman who hears an angel says she is fascinated by the current youth she calls Indigo children. They brook no bullshit and see through false social placebos. They are equally frightening and pioneering.

There are men and women who know what the troubled among us know. They too find themselves outside on the inside, inside on the outside. They are hiding in plain sight. Some in monasteries and convents, some in quiet rooms in unremarkable dwellings, some walk the roads and streets of towns and villages across the land. They understand the need to reside in prayer as antidote, a homeopathic resonance with all that poisons the soul. They pray. They smile with lovingkindness at strangers. They attempt to transform the instinct to hate what appears to be hateful, to rejoin what is severed in their midst.

He is like white clouds rising from the mountains,
No-mind from the start.
[She] is like the roosting bird who feels no longing
For the woods of home.
Because this [woman] of the Way happens to enjoy
The mountains and streams,
He wanders among them unconcerned about how deep
Into the lakeside mountain peaks he goes.
[She] has gone to the empty cliffs to pay respect to
The hundred thousand forms of the Buddha.

- Su Dongpo (1037–1101)(dailyzen)[brackets added]

There is a great deal remaining to do. To reverence what is. To reverence what is child. To reverence what is woman. To reverence what is man. With this doing, and this mind, we reverence what is -- animal, sentient, planet, and universe.

This reverence and respect is our true name, our very image. It is what God is. It is What-Is -- the awakening sacred momentum of now. Whatever name or no-name, it is that which is our life.

What child is this?
Do we think we know?

Monday, August 12, 2002

At Sunday Evening Practice we read from Dogen’s Gyoji -- focusing on continuous practice -- in the Shobogenzo. While this focusing reading is being done, Cheryl takes book from Nancy in circle reading and proceeds to read the whole of the long paragraph just read by Nancy. Not until she smiled then laughed with familiar sounding words did the rest of the table laugh and acknowledge the "continuous repetitive reading practice" Meetingbrook version of Dogen's teaching.

We speak of impermanence and the invitation to constantly wake up, no resting on laurels, and understanding that to practice is to see one's way through this now, this moment, this existence, this awareness -- this now and this now.

Originally, we do not have any invincible problems, which mentally spoil us, although they may harm our physical body. Our physical bodies cannot exist forever. Not only our physical bodies, but also any constituted matter or object cannot exist an arbitrarily long time. All matter is quite ephemeral and short-lived. Even if a being could survive forever, that duration is not meaningful unless it is valuable for some causes. Still, all beings and matter are sad and upset, angry, disgusted, depressed, anxious, restless, regretful, and finally delusive when they are going to die, are aged, sick, isolated, frustrated, or irritated. They are quite emotional, passionate, violent, depressed, and confused whenever they are missing or losing something which they covet, to which they are attached, to which they are addicted, to which they are used to, on which they are dependent. (- from Wakeful by Shibuya Subhuti. Author's Summary - An extract)

That's how I was yesterday arriving at shop. It was, I related at table, like I'd died to that reality, and was angry, impatient, and not accepting the death of the moment. I went home. I waked the death. I wake to the passing moment of upset and allow the passing to pass.

It was the feast of Clare of Assisi.
Her freedom from her roots makes her capable of understanding and accepting the newness of the Franciscan evangelical life; at once, without the slightest hesitation, among all the possible ways of serving God, she chooses to follow Francis; she is perfectly at ease with these new forms of life and spirituality. She even breaks new ground. The manner in which she lives poverty and works within the society of her day are an example.

Her choice of the most high poverty completely reverses the usual situation of monasteries and how they relate to society; she creates a situation in which the community is dependent on the surrounding world at a time when the presence of an abbey usually causes villages to spring up around it, a whole group of artisans, and tradesmen, work to satisfy the needs of the abbeys, which are sometimes significant. Because of the necessity of begging alms, Clare's monastery is in a state of dependence on the city; this is the practical application of minority.

Some of the new orders do not dare impose such a precarious condition on the women. St. Dominic wants his friars to own nothing, but does not take that risk for his sisters; he solicits property for them and charges one of his friars to manage their temporal possessions in order to ensure their material security.

The effect of the monastery's dependence is a close bond with society; even though their enclosure is strict, they have a close solidarity because the community suffers the same hazards as the inhabitants; like the poor, they suffer the consequences of crises, famines and wars, but also reap the benefits of the generosity of their benefactors in times of plenty.
("Saint Clare - An Image Of God," by Sr. Marie Colette OSC)

This close bond with society -- consequences and consolations -- is a lesson of tension interdependence requests. There is no place to run. No place to hide. The monastery of everydayness does not choose its members, does not choose who passes in the cloister of open interaction. If each is not received as Christ, then the enclosure is a place bedeviled with our personal mental and emotional disturbance. We are left with our own images if we do not see through them the image of God.

"- The mirror of the morning star, the beautiful mirror in which we admired the image of the true light, has disappeared from our eyes -".
These words begin the letter by which Clare's companions announced her death to the sisters of some 150 monasteries of Poor Clares throughout Europe. For them, Clare was like a mirror reflecting the image of Christ, the God-Man; she was his image. Hence the title chosen for this talk is appropriately: "-Saint Clare, an image of God-".

At first sight, one could wonder, perhaps some people even with a bit of skepticism, if a nun who chose to live as a recluse eight centuries ago could have anything to say today. Clare did not do any preaching; she did not leave any tangible heritage. She is a woman of silence and prayer who chooses to withdraw and does it so well that at this distance she has all but disappeared behind Francis. We must take the time to study her attentively. Then that medieval miniature gradually begins to take on detail and come alive, and the mirror becomes clearer. Then one can contemplate the face of a woman who is a mirror and model for all ages, for today and tomorrow too; of a woman who is free because she is liberated not for her own personal satisfaction, but in order to live the Gospel better; of a woman of solidarity and communion. Behind her, covering her with her mantle, one can see the Blessed Virgin presiding at her consecration in the chapel of St. Mary of the Angels and close to her is the Christ-servant whose characteristics Clare spent her life reproducing in her feminine nature.

("Saint Clare - An Image Of God," by Sr. Marie Colette OSC - Extract of a talk given at the General Assembly of the Conferenza Francescana Internazionale - TOR, Assisi 16-22 May 1993.)

When we know ourselves -- perhaps then we will see clearly through what appears dissuading and distracting, until what does not disappear becomes dwelling place and wandering place -- Now Awakening God.

Finally, this discussion would not be complete without quoting the Kalama sutta, (excerpt of Buddha’s words to the Kalama people):
"Come, Kalamas. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon a maxim; nor upon fair-spoken reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another's seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, 'The monk is our teacher.' Kalamas, when you yourselves know: 'These things are good; these things are not blamable; these things are praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness,' enter on and abide in them.”

It is my hope that this essay helps Buddhists see how Buddhism is scientific, helps Scientists see how Science is also personal development, and helps everyone remember to apply this Method and be wary of the alternatives. Let us not simply become engineers of logic, device and description. Let us investigate ourselves and the world and live with joy and ease, perspicaciously.

( -"The Method Of Science And Buddhism," by Eric C. Berg, Ph.D., Bodhicari, March 14, 2001)

This monk, nun, friends of each of us -- teachers all -- with kindness offer gifts to open.
We sit, walk, read, smile, laugh, eat in silence, speak, chant, and bow after bells with each other -- these gifts of everydayness -- practicing.

And we miss Mini. A flower on her cushion.

Sunday, August 11, 2002

Are we listening?

And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Then a voice said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"
(1 Kings 19: 12-13)

A still silent sound, a gentle whisper, a voice that asks -- “What are you doing here?”
What are we – any of us – doing here?

Are we willing to do no other like Luther? “Here I stand. I can do no other. So, help me God!” (Martin Luther, 1517CE, 95 Theses))
Are we willing to stay with deep meaning of our lives? Like Perpetua (203CE) who said, “I cannot do other.”

To live life alone, that is, to live with God Alone -- is to enter a monastery of ordinariness. Where is our monastery? That place we live, and move, and practice our deep momentum along what is most true.

I cannot find the Monastery of Heaped Fragrance,
Miles up now into the clouds of the summit.
There is no footpath through the ancient woods.
Where did the bell sound,
Deep in the sound, deep in the mountain?
The voice of the torrent gulps over jagged stones;
Sunlight hardly warms the bluish pines.
As dusk deepens in these unfathomable mazes,
I practice meditation
To subdue the dragon of desire.

(- Wang Wei 701–761)

It seems difficult to allow life simply to live itself. There are so many cautionary voices telling us to do this, don’t do that, stay here, or go there. We look for structures. We look for teachers, gurus, masters, rabbis, priests, workshop leaders, celebrities, entertainers, politicians, prelates, and poseurs. Every day there is a plaintive plea from somewhere telling us to follow, forge, or fork out money to be given a hidden or special audience with a holy man or holy woman.

Where else might we look? Where listen?
Perhaps -- What is called God is Life Itself. Or, What is called Life is God Itself. Look from life itself. Listen with life itself.

But, often, we are not looking. Often, we are not listening. Often we are not living our lives.

Life itself is enough. Everyday activity is the meditation mat for awareness. Sanctuaries of sacred sound surround and surfeit us. They ask attention and awareness -- to be allowed their revelation. In brief, practice is what is called for. Continuous practice.

Dogen Zenji calls this [everyday activity] 'gyoji.' 'Gyo' is activity, performance and training. It is not just any activity, but activity illuminated by understanding. 'Ji' means “to maintain,” “to hold on to.” Gyoji is thus activity in which we constantly make a strong effort to see and live our daily lives in the special way which constitutes Zen training.
Dogen Zenji says in Gyoji that continuous practice is always now, for the nature of continuous practice is such that it cannot exist either in the past or in the future. To practice continuously means to be constantly actualizing our enlightened nature anew in each event, and we cannot do this if our minds dwell in the past or future.
But “now’ and ‘continuous practice’ are one and the same thing; when we are engaged in continuous practice, we are totally immersed in the “now”; when we totally immerse in the actuality of present circumstances, which means to see them and experience them as Avalokitesvara, we are engaged in continuous practice Thus Dogen Zenji says that the “now” did not exist within us in the past in seedform, nor is it the case that first we engage in continuous practice and then “now” is manifested, but when the one exists, the other exists also for the first time.
(-pp 81-82, chapter six, ‘Giving Life to our Lives’ in How To Raise An Ox, Zen Practice as Taught in Zen Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo, 1978)

A few pieces of our practice:
· Last night 5 sat in church. Women’s voices sang and recited night prayer.
· Friday morning 10 sat in prison room. Men and women’s voices spoke about practicing the power of Now.
· Friday evening 5 sat in shop reading Billy Collins, Sharon Olds, Mary Oliver, William Wordsworth. A woman spoke of her son’s death and her visiting the site, laying prone, seeing what he saw at end – coming to believe he died in peace with the loveliness seen there.
· Saturday Lectio; Saskia with Dana’s family sailing; sitting with Brad speaking about how keep the shop open; Jim telling of trailer and land he's made offer on; evening drop-ins touching base then going off into the night – all these instants of ordinary practice.
· Sunday morning Eucharist, Fr. Bob speaking plain and straight, deep and quiet.

Perpetua and Martin came to it for the first time.
Inspiration arises quietly, clothed in everyday appearance. Perhaps we, too, might come to it. Perhaps we cannot do other -- or – we can do no other.

No other. No other God. God-Alone with us, here and now, a continuous practice.

We listen. We watch. We greet. We touch what is right here.
So...help us...God!