Thursday, September 02, 2004

Humility grounds.

Is humility of soul and poverty of spirit an interwoven unity?

We need a face to see with kindness and grace.

You cannot describe it or draw it,
You cannot praise it enough or perceive it.
No place can be found in which
To put the Original Face;
It will not disappear even
When the universe is destroyed.

- Mumon (13th cent)

The masks of the world are growing hideous. Hateful speech from all sectors of belief. Holding hostages in fear. Ordinary people blown out of airplanes by bombs. People on streets blown up by walking bombs also killing themselves in the attack. Leaders of the most militarily and economically powerful nation savaging any opponent who dares to run against them for the public office they hold. Celebrity athletes whose fame and riches put them above any alleged crime -- whether murder, rape, assault, or abuse. The masks cover, barely, looks of scorn and sneering victory that are muted by cleverly crafted words that end with, "Lets move on; Put this behind us; Stop living in the past; Going forward."

It's not that the hideous should not exist. It does. It has to be acknowledged as a fact. It's more that it is no longer called "hideous." It has been re-named as: "I'm convinced of my ideology;" "No one will prove my belief wrong;" "You ought to remain afraid;" and, "The unfortunate things I have been accused of." Nothing is wrong any longer; everything is formulaic: "We'll deal with it, and, going forward, we'll be vindicated." A Sept.6 issue New Yorker cartoon this week shows a man entering what we assume is his bedroom, another man climbing out of his bed, as the woman says from her side of the bed: "I know what you're thinking, but let me offer a competing narrative."

Is it possible there are no more facts? Only fictional versions of perception viewed from a varying perspective? Is mask, originally the amplification of sound in open theater, now becoming a hiding place and distorting face of lies -- lies re-named "expedient" or "convenient"?

Does soul weary and shrivel under this new, expedient, and footless use of mask?

It has been suggested that, once in time, we were all told what to do and say -- from ancient times in Vedic India, Homeric Greece, or Mosaic Palestine -- that we were puppets, un-evolved recipients of external 'guidance' -- but that, at a certain point in history, that form of no-consciousness ceased. What has occurred is a mutation, an evolution or implantation of a new inner voice. This voice is oneself, is conscious, is of itself -- an authentic voice capable of knowing truth, one that senses clarity, and resonates wisdom.

That voice must be found. That voice must be practiced. That voice, alone, is our way through to humility and grace. That voice is capable of silencing whatever hideous false sound is playing through the masks we wear loudly proclaiming what is not authentic, kind, or true. That voice will be a combination of silence, music, and sweet harmony -- once it is found, activated, and allowed to speak.

Dearly beloved, when our Lord Jesus Christ was preaching the Gospel of the kingdom and healing various illnesses throughout the whole of Galilee, the fame of his mighty works spread into all of Syria, and great crowds from all parts of Judea flocked to the heavenly physician. Because human ignorance is slow to believe what it does not see, and equally slow to hope for what it does not know, those who were to be instructed in the divine teaching had first to be aroused by bodily benefits and visible miracles so that, once they had experienced his gracious power, they would no longer doubt the wholesome effect of his doctrine. In order, therefore, to transform outward healings into inward remedies, and to cure men's souls now that he had healed their bodies, our Lord separated himself from the surrounding crowds, climbed to the solitude of a neighboring mountain, and called the apostles to himself. From the height of this mystical site he then instructed them in the most lofty doctrines, suggesting both by the very nature of the place and by what he was doing that it was he who long ago had honoured Moses by speaking to him. At that time, his words showed a terrifying justice, but now they reveal a sacred compassion, in order to fulfill what was promised in the words of the prophet Jeremiah: Behold the days are coming, says the Lord, when I shall establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. After those days, says the Lord, I shall put my laws within them and write them on their hearts.

And so it was that he who had spoken to Moses spoke also to the apostles. Writing in the hearts of his disciples, the swift hand of the Word composed the ordinances of the new covenant. And this was not done as formerly, in the midst of dense clouds, amid terrifying sounds and lightning, so that the people were frightened away from approaching the mountain. Instead, there was a tranquil discourse which clearly reached the ears of all who stood nearby so that the harshness of the law might be softened by the gentleness of grace, and the spirit of adoption might dispel the terror of slavery.

Concerning the content of Christ's teaching, his own sacred words bear witness; thus whoever longs to attain eternal blessedness can now recognize the steps that lead to that high happiness. Blessed, he says, are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. It might have been unclear to which poor he was referring, if after the words Blessed are the poor, he had not added anything about the kind of poor he had in mind. For then the poverty that many suffer because of grave and harsh necessity might seem sufficient to merit the kingdom of heaven.

But when he says: Blessed are the poor in spirit, he shows that the kingdom of heaven is to be given to those who are distinguished by their humility of soul rather than by their lack of worldly goods.

(from A sermon by Pope St Leo the Great, Office of Readings, Thursday, Week 22)

We are often caught between competing narratives about what is taking place.

We'll have to learn to think through what is placed before our eyes, ears, and feet.

Ground ourselves.

Find holy ground.

Stand up, on our own feet.

Stand still.

And speak one's heart.

Where we are.

As we are.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Who's doing what? Where does the current direction of the world point? Are we right where we should be? Or, are we lost?

Looking at where we are, we're tempted to ask: How did we get here? Where did we come from? Where are we going?

The ancient masters slept without dreams and woke up without worries. Their food was plain. Their breath came from deep inside them. They didn't cling to life, weren't anxious about death. They emerged without desire and reentered without resistance. They came easily; they went easily. They didn't forget where they were from; they didn't ask where they were going. They took everything as it came, gladly, and walked into death without fear. They accepted life as a gift, and they handed it back gratefully,
- Chuang-tzu

Is this time also a gift? Or is the gift a stance taken contrary to prevailing philosophy of terror by self-destruction and destruction of others? Is gift, equally, the search-em-out, shoot-em-dead philosophy of those whose counter-terrorism seems only slightly different than the behavior of their identified enemies?

Whose is, and what is, the real gift?

What is Apollos, after all, and what is Paul? Ministers through whom you became believers, just as the Lord assigned each one.
I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth.
Therefore, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who causes the growth.
The one who plants and the one who waters are equal, and each will receive wages in proportion to his labor.
For we are God's co-workers; you are God's field, God's building.

(1 Corinthians 3)

Watching the Republican Convention, you see portrayed a convincing tableau linking 9/11, invasion of Afghanistan, invasion of Iraq, and mistrust of anyone in America not 100% in agreement with this way of thinking and these actions. I tell this to my son, calling him on his birthday. My son says of course I'd be open and listening to the possibility of the veracity of that point of view -- that's what liberals do -- they think about possibilities. The implication is that the conservatives are more convinced and convincing because they bypass thinking and go straight to certainty, usually absolute certainty.

My life is unconvincing.

I am not anything.

I am what God is...

...fielding, planting, watering, building.

What growth is God causing?

Who knows?

Nonetheless, I am happy with my son's voice.

Taking everything as it comes.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Are we thinking yet? The words, signs, and symbols are there to read.

"Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours."
(John Locke, 1632-1704)

One by one by a hundred thousand, signs pass by streets of New York City filled with feet and words protesting the presidency of George Bush. The Republican Convention begins tomorrow. Slogans justifying war these last two years are matched by slogans calling for its end and the removal from office of those who invaded and waged war in Iraq.

Zen originally is not established on slogans, it just points directly to the human mind. Direct pointing is just pointing to that which is inherent in everyone, though in a shell of unawareness. When the whole being appears responsively, it is no different from that of the sages since antiquity. This is what is called the originally pure subtle luminosity of naturally real essence, which swallows and spits out the whole universe, individually freed from material senses. Only by detaching from thoughts and cutting off feelings, utterly transcending ordinary parameters, with great perceptivity and great insight, using inherent power, can this be directly experienced in your present situation.
- Yuan wu (1063-1135)

The present situation calls for wise thinking. There doesn't seem to be much room left for wisdom to find an opening into the hostilities and bellicose thinking of this American administration. Iraq, it is thought, is only the beginning. Iran next?

The Middle East spawned an idea of a God who cared for people, watched over them, and even became one of them -- first in creation, then, it is said, in full human incarnation.

From your palace you water the mountains,
and thus you give plenty to the earth.
You bring forth grass for the cattle,
and plants for the service of man.
You bring forth bread from the land,
and wine to make man’s heart rejoice.
Oil, to make the face shine;
and bread to make man’s heart strong.

The trees of the Lord have all that they need,
and the cedars of Lebanon, that he planted.
Small birds will nest there,
and storks at the tops of the trees.
For wild goats there are the high mountains;
the crags are a refuge for the coneys.

He made the moon so that time could be measured;
the sun knows the hour of its setting.
You send shadows, and night falls:
then all the beasts of the woods come out,
lion cubs roaring for their prey,
asking God for their food.
When the sun rises they come back together
to lie in their lairs;
man goes out to his labour,
and works until evening.

(Psalm 104)

Jeremiah words our quandary:
‘I have abandoned my house,
left my heritage,
I have delivered what I dearly loved
into the hands of its enemies.
For me my heritage has become
a lion in the forest,
it roars at me ferociously:
so I now hate it.
Or is my heritage a speckled bird
for the birds to flock on her thus from all directions?
Come on, all you wild beasts, gather round,
fall on the quarry!
Many shepherds have laid my vineyard waste,
have trampled down my inheritance,
reducing my pleasant inheritance
to a deserted wilderness.
They have made it a mournful, desolate place,
desolate before me.
The whole land has been devastated
and no one takes it to heart.’
From Jeremiah 11:18 - 12:13)

There is worry that something odd is happening in America. Reaction to an awful attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon using passenger airplanes, another plane downed in a Pennsylvania field, has escalated into a state of war without much light of resolution. The policing militarization of everyday sites and cities in the United States has become common, and the level of fear of attack is raised and lowered regularly based on a rationale no one understands or feels much faith in anymore.

Is arrogance, swagger, smirk, and sneer the new posture and face of American presence in the world today?

My son, be gentle in carrying out your business,
and you will be better loved than a lavish giver.
The greater you are, the more you should behave humbly,
and then you will find favour with the Lord;
for great though the power of the Lord is,
he accepts the homage of the humble.
There is no cure for the proud man’s malady,
since an evil growth has taken root in him.
The heart of a sensible man will reflect on parables,
an attentive ear is the sage’s dream.

(Ecclesiasticus 3:19 - 31)

There are some in power who plan to exert American might to rid the world of what they refer to as 'evil' and eliminate the 'bad guys.' A new world order is envisioned with American wealth and military might on top and all others below. While this plan might seem plausible to those in power with power, it has a scary resemblance to past examples of total world domination -- from ancient history to recent times when the rest of the world fought back to stay the blood-red tide of mass military hysteria and brutal destruction of human dignity by means of force, lies, and implements of pain.

One sabbath when he went to dine at the house of a ruler who belonged to the Pharisees, they were watching him. Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he marked how they chose the places of honour, saying to them,
“When you are invited by any one to a marriage feast, do not sit down in a place of honour, lest a more eminent man than you be invited by him; and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give place to this man’, and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher’; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted”.
He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your kinsmen or rich neighbours, lest they also invite you in return, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just”.

(Luke 14:1 - 14)

The lives we live in this present world weave the bodies we'll travel through death with into the next, less obvious to us, realm of continuing life.

We must begin to think. Slogans and propaganda, like promises and threats, are inadequate stimuli to genuine thinking.

To think is to look carefully. To think carefully is to see clearly. To give oneself to thinking and seeing is to abandon slogans and propaganda, promises and threats.

Are we willing to look at one another, see one another, and abandon ourselves into the sincerity, compassion, understanding, and love that envisions the world as whole, as open, and as full of grace?

What do we think?