Saturday, December 27, 2003

An ordinary day.

Each day. Christmas. Stephen. John. Holy Innocents. Thomas. The family of holy everydayness.

A wandering monk was climbing a mountain alongside a stream, on his way to the Zen monastery at the top, when he noticed a vegetable leaf floating downstream from the direction of the monastery. He thought, "It is just a single leaf, but any place that would waste it cannot be very good," and he turned to go back down the mountain. Just then he saw a lone monk come running down the path, chasing after the floating leaf. Immediately the wandering monk decided to enroll in the monastery at the top of the mountain.
- Hsueh-feng I-ts'un (822-908)

Tommy's brother John visits from Boston area. He tells what someone told him about the secret of life: "The secret of life is to be in the right place at the right time with your particular talents as often as possible." I tell him about the CBS show "Joan of Arcadia" on Friday evenings.

Guardini gives a take on Jesus' response to his mother at the wedding feast:
Then we read of the embarrassment about the failing wine-supply and of Mary's whisper to her Son.
But he only answers: What wouldst thou have me do, woman? My hour has not yet come." In other words, your request, based on a momentary need, can have no authority for me. Only the bidding of my Father in the given hour governs my actions -- no other.

(p.34, The Lord, by Romano Guardini)

In no time Jesus learns something, perhaps new for him, and undoubtedly, new for us. Along with Jesus we learn that responding to momentary need is indeed the will of the Father. Forget for the time being what we think is the large "Will of the Father." The will of God is right here, right now present before us. To hear its whisper and to do what is asked of us in the moment is fidelity to the will of God.

It is the "no other" that grasps attention. They are Guardini's words, but if the imaginary introspection applies to Jesus' developing consciousness, Jesus had the intuition and insight that "no other" is precisely the origination of God's voice. The will of God is the voice of God sounding through momentary needs and present realities.

Mary says it for Jesus, Mary says it for us: "Do whatever he tells you." (John 2:5)

Crackles from fireplace. Wind out of northwest. Cesco chews biscuit.

No looking elsewhere. No other place, no other voice will do.

Are we what we listen to?

God's ordinary voice.

Isn't that enough?

Friday, December 26, 2003

What does it mean to be selfless?

Reading Romano Guardini's book, The Lord. Initial pages have the feel of intuitive theological poetics grounded in scripture.

Jan Van Bragt, in an article titled "Contributions of Buddhism to Christianity," based on his lecture delivered at the Maryhill School of Theology in Manila on 4March1999, writes: "In a more neutral vein, we could say that in the past thirty years Buddhism has come to appear as a great challenge to Christianity."

Van Bragt goes on:
A challenge is something one has to face or confront, either in a negative way by trying to crush it, or in a positive way by struggling with it as with something that can bring out the best in oneself. The first Catholic theologian who became conscious of Buddhism as a challenge was probably Romano Guardini, who in his book 'Der Herr' (published in German around 1950) speaks of Buddhism as possibly the greatest challenge Christianity has ever faced. And he wrote: "Perhaps Buddha is the last religious genius with whom Christianity will have to reach an understanding. No one has yet drawn out his significance for Christianity."

Today, half a century on, we still cannot say that we have really "drawn out the significance of the Buddha for Christianity." This can only be done in a patient, ever deepening, dialogue; and this dialogue has only just begun. One immediate conclusion is, of course, that what I can present here is only a very tentative, provisional, and rather personal "balance sheet."

We must be conscious that admitting Buddhist contributions into Christianity means that Christianity will be "transformed" in the process. The American Whiteheadian theologian, John Cobb, who pleads for a "mutual transformation of Buddhism and Christianity," wrote, for example:
"A Christianity which has been transformed by the incorporation of the Buddhist insight into the nature of reality will be a very different Christianity from any we know now. A Buddhism that has incorporated Jesus Christ will be a very different Buddhism from any we now know." (-from Beyond Dialogue: Toward a Mutual Transformation of Christianity and Buddhism, c.1982)

Such a transformation supposes, of course, that we see Christianity not as an unchanging "thing" but as a dynamic historical reality that always develops. This may sound like a newfangled idea but is, in fact, nothing but a lucid recognition of historical realities. Church historians will tell us, for example, that the Christianity of the nineteenth century is rather different from the Christianity of the Middle Ages, although there is enough continuity (sameness) between the two to recognize both as the same Christianity.
(--in Nanzan Bulletin 23 / 1999)

Nancy has found a house with several outbuildings off the grid 35 minutes away. Her parents come up to see it with her today.

Cesco took off across brook and over to Snowbowl twice last night. Mu-ge got out and refused to return, parking under keel of covered sailboat. At midnight they settled back in. It might have had to do with an insanity of warm rain along Christmas day shrouded in low fog.

Five American soldiers die in Iraq. Thousands die in Iran earthquake. A hermit nun inland writes, " I have been quite ill this past year and so have not been in touch save by prayer and the book you loaned to me." A psychiatrist writes, "I have come to my senses and decided that I am NOT moving." She'll stay in area, with hospice board and it's education.

I set a havaheart trap on kitchen roof for the squirrel boring into space between floors in stairwell. The snow flurries left an inch plus over everything. I cut wood for woodstove in kitchen.

Buddhism identifies as the fundamental enemy, and the cause of all human suffering, our blind clinging to our ego, the natural human tendency to self-centeredness and self-affirmation. It therefore directs all its strategies toward the eradication of that tendency. On the other hand, "modern Westerners" are often characterized as human beings in a double bind: as the possessors of an "insatiable ego," they are totally geared toward self-fulfillment and aggressive self-affirmation; on the other hand, however, as beings closed within themselves, they suffer from a profound loneliness.

It is then only natural to ask whether Christianity, that biggest influence on Western culture, would not be responsible for the development of that kind of human being. The answer cannot, of course, be a simple "yes." For it is clear enough that the Christians of the Middle Ages were a quite different breed of human beings. Still, some Buddhist thinkers tend to think that the Christian idea of the "person" is at least partially responsible for this development. [e.g. Keiji Nishitani in his book Religion and Nothingness, c.1982] The idea of the irreplaceable value of the individual person in God's eye -- no matter how valuable in other respects -- would confirm and sanctify the natural idea of the ego as a thing of ultimate reality and solidity (substantiality) by itself. (Jan Van Bragt, ibid)

Challenge is not condemnation. Nor is criticism severance of caring. To be confronted, however uncomfortable, is not cessation of relatedness.

Confronted with this interpretation, we could react angrily and say: that is nonsense! Is not the Christian central commandment that of selflessness (losing the self) love to God and neighbor -- which precisely presupposes a person who is not closed-in on himself but, on the contrary, open to God and neighbor? But the Buddhist partner could retort: you have the right idea, alright, in that admirable commandment, but that is not reflected in your philosophical and theological theory on the human person; and may be the reason why modern times were able to pervert the Christian idea of the person into that of a closed-in and self-sufficient individual. (Van Bragt)

It is worth the question. What is it that encloses human beings inside ourselves as separate selves? Is the theory of 'person' so identified with our belief system? How is it we reify and rigidify something so musical as 'that which sounds through?' We are invited to feel the passage through the 'person' of everything in creation. It is that for which we hollow ourselves out, becoming the instrument of passing sounds of earth, one another, God Itself.

Meetingbrook accepts the challenge of Buddhism and Christianity. We listen to the Buddha and we listen to the Christ. It is a conversation worth attending.

Some worry there is a relativizing of Jesus and Siddhartha -- that is not the issue. There is, however, a relatedness that is occurring -- and that is the issue. Even the Jesus some hold as the only Son of God, King of Kings, would listen and respond to someone questioning him. We must not forget the value of questioning. So too the Buddha, Prince of India, hears and responds to questions from another. It is a human quality -- (if not sometimes an annoyance) -- to question. Skepticism saves us from irreversible certitude. It is becoming a cultural holy war to impose certitude on matters that have a long way to go through unknowing. Unknowing is unsettling. The thought that selflessness is common to both Buddhist and Christian spirituality might unsettle some.

How is it we have become unquestioning and intolerant of other views, other ways of engaging the human questions we each have?

Belief, like breath, has to be experienced anew each moment of life.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in.

And release that breath -- to keep fresh the spirit that flows through each one of us.

Imagine being selfless!

Lord help us!

Thursday, December 25, 2003

What is becoming human?

Becoming one's own child.

Now, word empties itself, becoming human.

The Eternal Word, born of the Father before time began, today emptied himself for our sake and became man. (Antiphon 3, Vespers of Christmas, Evening Prayer I)

Rain through fog this Christmas day. Woodstove smoke from chapel/zendo chimney. Before dawn, Cesco on next zabuton, light lifted from land with broken apple trees. His ears and eyes followed sung psalms circling cabin floor. "Joy is the fruit of love," said priest on Union Street at 9am Mass.

Cesco gets Christmas bone. Mu-ge gets Christmas olive loaf.

When Word empties Itself, there is nothing to be said, nothing to be done. Stillness embodies silence.

Christ is human becoming what is itself. Itself -- what is this?

This is the mystery, this is the miracle. This, this, is Christ the Lord.

What is itself is Christ.

Be kind to oneself!

On all days.


Wednesday, December 24, 2003

There is no place to go; I am here.

If today you hear God's voice,
harden not your hearts.

(Responsorial to Psalm 95)

Do not delay.

What sound is this?

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

What is your way before you?

It is a koan question. It asks -- before you come to be, what is your way?

But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet.
For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who shall prepare your way before you.
(Matthew 11:9,10)

It nears the time called birth. Candles, carols, and Christmas cheer beckon birth. Who is willing to go through?

The field of boundless emptiness is what exists from the very beginning. You must purify, cure, grind down, or brush away all the tendencies you have fabricated into apparent habits. Then you can reside in the clear circle of brightness.

Utter emptiness has no image, upright independence does not rely on anything. Just expand and illuminate the original truth unconcerned by external conditions. Accordingly we are told to realize that not a single thing exists. In this field birth and death do not appear.

(- From Cultivating the Empty Field -- The Silent Illumination of Zen Master Hongzhi, Taigen Dan Leighton with Yi Wu; dailyzen)

If not a thing exists, what is holding the flame? What is the sound of the carol? Whose birth is beckoned?

It is a curious time.

With no room at the inn, and the time of birth just here, where does beginning and ending begin and end?

What do we go out to see?

What is our way, the way we journey before and after before and after?

John, messenger, before our face -- prepare our way!

A loose sandal contemplates untrod ground.

Before us.

Monday, December 22, 2003

The way of Christ is the way of this, and this, and this.

People who really have their minds on the Way, in contrast, do not forget work on the fundamental no matter what they are doing. Yet if they still distinguish this work from ordinary activities even as they do them together, they will naturally be concerned about being distracted by activities and forgetting the meditation work. This is because of viewing things as outside the mind.

An ancient master said, "The mountains, the rivers, the whole earth, the entire array of phenomena are all oneself." If you can absorb the essence of this message, there are no activities outside of meditation: you dress in meditation and eat in meditation; you walk, stand, sit, and lie down in meditation; you perceive and cognize in meditation; you experience joy, anger, sadness, and happiness in meditation.

Yet even this is still in the sphere of accomplishment and is not true merging with the source of Zen.

(- From Dialogues in a Dream (1344), Muso (1275-1351) {Dailyzen})

At Mass this morning, the sentence, "Do this in memory of me."

Consecration begins and completes this realization of Christ's exchange with us.

Again. He is arriving again.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Is it now?

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)


The entire place is brightly
Illuminated and spiritually
Totally unobstructed
And clearly manifesting
Responsive interaction
Like box and lid or arrowpoints meeting.

- Hongzhi Zhengjue (1091 - 1157)

A place for the time being -- is this what we, all of us, are invited to prepare this season? Looking at ourselves, looking at our world -- is God's gaze searching to see who we are and what we are doing?

Holly writes, sending poem from Virginia:


On the domed ceiling God
is thinking
I made them my joy
and everything else I created
I made to bless them.
But see what they do!
I know their hearts
and arguments:

"We're descended from
Cain. Evil is nothing new,
so what does it matter now
if we shell the infirmary,
and the well where the fearful
and rash alike must
come for water?"

God thinks Mary into being.
Suspended at the apogee
of the golden dome,
she curls in a brown pod,
and inside her the mind
of Christ, cloaked in blood,
lodges and begins to grow.

(Poem by Jane Kenyon)


In another missive, D. invites a response:
D. writes to Meetingbrook:
I probably am not comfortable with what appears to be your placing Buddha alongside Jesus Christ as though they shared the same importance. I don't think they do, even though I have a great deal of respect for Buddhists and their approach to life, many aspects of which dove-tail with a Christian approach to life. In my understanding Jesus occupies a unique place in the universe and we are accountable to him alone, a fact it would be rash to ignore.

B. responds: Jesus is Jesus. Buddha is Buddha. D. is D. Bill is Bill. I appreciate the opinion you express. My Zen practice informs my opinion that each of us shares "the same importance." It is the miracle of the Incarnation -- God became human. With our dualistic minds we remain attached to the notion of keeping God "other." This is why it is so difficult to be Christian. It demands we embody the teachings of Jesus. Instead we seem to prefer to keep God in a distant heaven and deny the birth of Christ as human. The Zen saying, "It is better to see the face than hear the name," reminds me to see each as each and not make one face "just human" and another face "God Himself." It is a rare reality that allows each one to be each one.

D. writes: Or is your approach simply acknowledging contemplation as common to both without getting into the Creed or theology?

B. responds: Creeds and theology are good and valuable tools for us to help shape our thinking. But, you are right about our interest in the contemplative and meditative aspects of both traditions. Sitting in silent presence, and sharing the fruits of reflection -- these are things we each can share with one another as simple gift. Dogma, creed, and theological formulation often serve to point out to us differences and distances between us.

D. writes: I would be interested in your thoughts on this.

B. responds: "This, this, is Christ the Lord." This is our salvation -- Being with each other in Everydayness. It is not we who dare to equate Buddha or Jesus with anyone else. It is Jesus who dared to become human. Not many, I submit, accept Jesus -- his birth, life, death, and resurrection -- as Christ. The Christ-Reality is revealed in humankind. It is our prayer that we come to see clearly what is the gift of Christmas.

Grateful for the invitation and the response evoked, now prayer is the continual invitation. Is 'this' what is seen? Is 'this' what is held as true? I wonder. And pray.


Meanwhile, the O Antiphons of Advent grace Vespers each evening:

December 17
O WISDOM, who came from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly: COME, and teach us the way of prudence. Amen. "O Sapientia..."

December 18
O LORD AND RULER of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the flame of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: COME, and redeem us with outstretched arms. Amen. "O Adonai..."

December 19
O ROOT OF JESSE, that stands for an ensign of the people, before whom the kings keep silence and unto whom the Gentiles shall make supplication: COME, to deliver us, and tarry not. Amen. "O Radix Jesse..."

December 20
O KEY OF DAVID, and Sceptre of the House of Israel, who opens and no man shuts, who shuts and no man opens: COME, and bring forth the captive from his prison, he who sits in darkness and in the shadow of death. Amen. "O Clavis David..."

December 21
O DAWN OF THE EAST, brightness of light eternal, and Sun of Justice: COME, and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. Amen. "O Oriens..."

December 22
O KING OF THE GENTILES and their desired One, the Cornerstone that makes both one: COME, and deliver man, whom you formed out of the dust of the earth. Amen. "O Rex..."

December 23
O EMMANUEL, God with us, Our King and Lawgiver, the expected of the nations and their Saviour: COME to save us, O Lord our God. Amen. "O Emmanuel..."

(Scripture References:)
O Wisdom: Proverbs 1:20; 8; 9 and I Corinthians 1:30
O Lord and Ruler of the House of Israel: Exodus 3; Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:6
O Root of Jesse: Isaiah 11:10; Romans 15:12; Revelation 5:5
O Key of David: Isaiah 22:22; Revelation 3:7
O Dawn of the East (Dayspring): Luke 1:78, 79; Malachi 4:2
O King of the Gentiles (Nations): Revelation 15:3; Psalm 118:22; Isaiah 28:16; Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11; Ephesians 2:20; I Peter 2:6
O Emmanuel: Isaiah 7:14; 8:8; Matthew 1:23; Haggai 2:7 (KJV)

Can we hope to enter and embody this "O"?


Jon, visiting this past week, returns after breakfast to Boston.

Solstice tomorrow. In Maine, the tip toward darkness slows and ceases. In pause of perusal, the planet is considering a change. 'Yes,' it thinks, 'enough! It is time to return light.'

Teach us, O sun, your natural gift! Teach us, O Son, your divine presence! The earth changes its way. For us, dwelling here, the invitation corresponds.

How deeply we wish war and violence to cease and turn back to peace and kindness. It is difficult to put one's faith and trust in murder, destruction, and unending violence against evil and evildoers. We must meditate on "begets, begets!" Cruel violence begets cruel violence. Loving kindness begets loving kindness.

The prophet Isaiah's words about a "Prince of Peace" evoke invitation and response. In this year 2003, in this season of Advent, twenty six hundred years later, we are still trying to grasp the 'this' koan of the Ancient Middle-East.

Where do we look for the response?

Right now -- who are we?

Who wants to know?

Venite, nunc!

Come, now!