Being Filled

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14 | Psalm 111 | Ephesians 5:15-20 | John 6:51-58

One of my favorite stories that I remember reading about Zen Buddhism is the story of the student who finally gets the chance to go to the master teacher so he can “get” it. Whatever books he’s read or classes he’s taken or meditations he’s done, this is his chance to learn from the Master. So the teacher invites the student serve the tea, and he’ll tell him when to stop. As the student pours the tea, he slows as he nears the top of the cup, but he keeps pouring as he is an obedient student. As the tea overflows the cup and spills onto the table and floor, he can’t take it anymore. “Teacher, the cup overflows; it’s making a mess.” (I’m completely paraphrasing this story!) The teacher looks intently at the student. “How can you learn anything when your mind is so full? There is no room for anything else.” I imagine the teacher pouring the tea onto the floor, placing the empty cup on the table and saying something like: “Now, we begin.” This empty cup is like the “beginner’s mind” that you might have heard of before. Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind is the title of Shunryu Suzuki’s book of collected talks (because Zen Buddhists don’t give sermons or homilies; they give dharma talks or just talks; this one is particularly about Buddhist practice). The beginner’s mind, like the empty cup, is ready to be filled.

I thought of this story in the midst of our “Bread of Life” section of the lectionary because it seems like Jesus is absolutely trying to fill us with the Good News that he is the Bread of Life. Each week, as we read a different section of the gospel, we’ve poured out our cup to be ready for a new lesson, but we’ve kept a little from the previous week, a rich flavorful bit.

But we don’t really have a beginner’s mind, even if we have forgotten all we heard last week. Like the Jews last week who thought they knew where and who Jesus was from and even the Jews this week who think they know what it means to eat flesh and drink blood, we, too, know a lot–or at least think we know a lot–about religion, life, and everything else. Our cups, our minds, are pretty full. Or, our minds can be full of figurative scar tissue or barricades, so damaged are they from bad theology or abuse. We could have been taught that we’re too far gone for redemption, not good enough, and/or that God’s love is conditional. The Bible, the “Word of God” could have been used to alienate or abuse us and others we care about. Even if we had room in our mind or our teacup, we wouldn’t want anything from the religion department to come anywhere close.

We might not have tea ceremonies in The Episcopal Church, but our worship follows the same structure–the same liturgy–week after week to provide stability, security, and predictability (at least in form) for us to settle in our place and let God abide in our midst. In A Hidden Wholeness, former educator and writer, a Quaker named Parker Palmer, writes about the soul of a person being like a wild animal in the woods. I picture a fox. For us to be able to get a glimpse of this animal, we have to be really still and patient, unobtrusive and gentle even in our presence. Even if we think we have them tamed in our certainty and knowledge or have them caged away in fear that they might be endangered, this soul still yearns to encounter God. In fact, studies have shown that while most people these days don’t identify as religious, they still have a sense of awe, experiences that kindle wonder, and a recent study shows that it’s not fancy coffee, shiny lights, or the perfect music program that bring people to church.

People come to church to encounter the presence of God.

I hope this is true or has been true for you here at our church.

Because an encounter with the presence of God strengthens faith and belief or maybe gives it to us for the first time. Venturing out in vulnerability, whether we’re a wild fox or proud student, we risk encountering the presence of Christ: maybe it’s with outstretched hands to receive the Body and Blood and not fully understanding how this feeds us but knowing that it does. Jesus asks us only to believe to be able to be fed by him. He fed the 5,000 physically. When I was dropping my son off for school the other day, I lamented that he hadn’t had breakfast. “It’s alright, mom,” he said. “We have Eucharist at 10:00, anyway. Isn’t that supposed to fill me up?” He’s a smart alec, but at least I get the idea that he’s paying attention to what’s said in church!

What’s important for us today is to know that through our belief in Jesus Christ, we are fed eternally, in a way that’s not to be replicated or substituted by anything. Like a mother’s milk for her baby, Christ nourishes our spirit with exactly what we need, individually, and strengthens us for whatever might threaten our wellbeing. Whatever we try to substitute for to fill our hunger for the spiritual food, we’ll soon realize we’re a bottomless pit, never satiated or satisfied. For Christians, Jesus truly is the Bread of Life–that which fills us and draws us nearer to the presence of God if we dare to believe such Good News.

Being nurtured and nourished in our belief, could we respond like Solomon if God appeared to us in a dream and asked us what we wanted God to give us? Solomon apparently gave God a good answer when he asked for a wise and discerning mind because God also goes ahead and gives him the health and riches that most everyone else would have wished for. But in the reading, we’re given insight into Solomon’s thought process. Before Solomon responds to God, he thinks about where he comes from: from King David, the mostly faithful, righteous, and upright servant of the LORD. Solomon has huge shoes to fill in following David. Solomon also ponders the reality of the situation, what is at the moment: God is, as ever, faithful in the covenant established with David and the chosen people. Then Solomon realizes who he is: a humble servant chosen for a daunting task, leading the multitudes of God’s chosen people. Does he really have the qualifications for this? What does he need for this impossible mission? An understanding and discerning mind. God agrees.

At the clergy wellness program Padre and I attended this week, one of the leaders was a Native American woman from Arizona. As she shared her stories, I imagined her going through a similar thought process as Solomon if God appeared to her. She’s actually a canon in her diocese for Native peoples. I believe she said there are 12 tribes represented in her diocese. She knows where she comes from. Arizona is her home; she belongs to one of the tribes; and she knows that her people and others like her have been severely under-represented in our religious tradition (as well as others). She told me that she is one of two such canons in the country since budget cuts have taken their toll, but she knows that the Native people need advocates, that awareness of their ways needs to spread before it is lost, and that there is much work of reconciliation yet to be done. She describes who she is with openness; she wears multiple hats, and even with all her work, she takes care of her 86-year-old mother whom she lives with. If God showed up to her in a dream and asked her what she asked of God, I’m sure there are many things that she could ask for, but it would not be a stretch to imagine her responding with a request for a wise and discerning mind, so that she could accomplish the mountain of responsibilities she carries.

What would we ask for if God appeared to us in a dream? If God asked what All Saints’ wanted from God? (If God appears to you and asks, please let me share a list!) Of course we know the correct answer: an understanding and discerning mind. But we can go through Solomon’s thought process to get there. Where do we come from? A twinkle in the Bishop’s eye? The effort of the community 11 years ago to pull All Saints’ together here in Bentonville? Even more than that, we come from the diocese, from the national church, from the Anglican Communion, from a rich tradition that bears all the hallmarks of triumphs and struggles of living faithfully in relationship with God. What is now? There are a plethora of opportunities and potentialities before us in regard to our ministries, our worship space, and our involvement in the community. Who are we? We are an open, welcoming community, willing to engage in difficult questions and to be good neighbors, loving as Jesus taught us to love. What do we ask for going forward as we strive to be the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement in Bentonville? Even before we need millions of dollars, we need wisdom that comes from an understanding and discerning mind.

Even though God said there was no king before and no king after that had the wisdom of Solomon, we can be thankful that we’re given this clue for how to make wise decisions. Within the process, there’s a good dose of humility and honesty, which we all have the potential to embody. Whether we encounter God in a dream, in church, or in a teachable moment, I hope we all have that beginner’s mind that’s ready to be filled with the fullness of God, in all its glory and mystery.

 

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Life Is But a Dream

My husband shared a poem with me referenced in a Zen book he liked very much by Charlotte Joko Beck called Nothing Special: Living Zen.  It’s a poem by WH Auden:

We would rather be ruined than changed

We would rather die in our dread

Than climb the cross of the moment

And let our illusions die.

Searching for the poem, I found that it is often quoted, for motivational purposes, Zen talks and literary purposes, to name a few.  Perhaps I’ve heard or read it before myself.  But I believe that important words cross our paths at different points in our life with particular relevance.  Last week, it might not have spoken to me in the way it did today, and it may not reverberate for me next month, either.  So this day, how is it significant for me?  Does it speak to you, too?

I think I have made great strides in accepting change, facing death.  Something happens every day where I have a choice to be bull-headed and go forward with my horns or let the ego die another death, take another blow.  Of course, some times it’s easier than others to take the proverbial higher road, but that isn’t always the case.

There are changes I still want to make, changes that my ego isn’t prepared for and is applying all resistance toward.  My illusions hold strong, my dread ever present.  I want to have what I have, live the way I live, says one part of me.  You don’t need all this, for there is a better way to live, more healthy, less debt and attachments, says the other.  I don’t think I need to emphasize which part represents which.  This dichotomy epitomizes many of my struggles, grand epic battles that are seemingly brought up weekly if not daily.

I daresay that when people (including myself) talk about true balance, what we might mean is a balance of the inner struggles, a balance between mind, body and soul.  Complete harmony, I would imagine, would be a balance between the three yet where the mind doesn’t represent the “i” ego but the true I, the Self.  Your balance, your harmony, is possible because you have let go of your illusions, experience the moments for what they are, accepting at once your limitations and infinite possibilities and potentialities.  Ah, isn’t it pretty to think so?

Our lives are mere dreams when we live enshrouded in our illusions, living solely in the mirror.  When we can let go of what we think we see and live here and now, we dare to live this life for what it is — the real thing.

Feel free to comment, share your thoughts and experiences, even disagree if you feel so inclined.  Blessed be.

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There’s No Room If It’s Overflowing

I watered the plants one day last summer, for they didn’t look like they could wait any longer for the rain that promised to come any minute but hadn’t for days.  Little sprinkles just don’t quench a great thirst, though, any more than little pecks of a kiss give justice to great passion.  So I watered the plants.  Within 15 minutes it was raining and continued to rain on and off for most of the afternoon.  I joked with my kids that I watered the plants just so it would rain, kind of like washing the car to make it rain.

Almost as much as the plants needed water, I needed some fresh air.  We had turned on the air conditioning just a couple of weeks before, so the home was sealed off from the natural flow.  As good as it is to keep the humidity off our pictures and portraits, there’s something to be said for being in tune with nature as the temperature and humidity rise and fall.  I was grateful for my fresh air that morning  and enjoyed the once limp flowers rising tall again.

As for the rain barrels that provide the water for my watering cans, they were overfull when I began my chore.  I should have known they would be filled again soon.  With our summers around here, though, you never know if it’s going to rain for a week or come a drought.  I shouldn’t have worried. 

As with all things, if we hoard or collect, we can become stale and stagnant.  It’s much better to be useful and beautiful in due course and then be renewed when the time comes. 

I remember the story of the proud Zen student asking the teacher why he hadn’t experienced enlightenment, especially since he knew so much about the ways of a good monk.  It was tea time, and the teacher poured the student some tea as he listened.  And he kept pouring.  The cup was overflowing, and finally the student asked the teacher why he didn’t stop.  The teacher asked how he could teach when the student’s mind, like the cup, was so full.

Hopefully I didn’t completely destroy the beautiful story, for it is one of my favorites.  (If you enjoy good, quality dharma talks and Zen stories, please visit Zen Reflections.)  I think of this story, though, when I feel like I’m all used up, when like the flowers and plants, I’m wilted.  It’s not entirely a bad thing.  When the rain comes, when the energy returns, the sense of vitality is incomparable, the possibilities endless.  Best to use while it’s fresh and make room for more than worry about what may or may not happen, wasting what is already at hand.  Plus, I’d hate to miss an important lesson, not able to catch it because I thought I already had enough.

May your days be fresh and fruitful.

 

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Why Make Things Difficult?

daisy_green_blue_242467_l.jpgIt’s a sunny spring day here, and I am inspired to accomplish much, including making some honest commitments to do good for myself.  Along with eating well (which I am doing), I want to sincerely simplify my life.  Who doesn’t?

Chances are, you might share this characteristic with me — making things harder than they have to be.  Why do we do this?

So, as we strive to make every day simple and less complicated, let’s make note of our steps along the way.  Here are a few things I’ve done in the few months since starting this blog:

  • More times for crafts/hobbies
  • Increased environmental awareness
  • Planning meals better

I keep saying I’m ready to clear out the clutter, but I have yet to make the giant leap.  I’m taking baby steps in that regard, I suppose.

Life is easy, right?

Live in the now, filled with compassion for yourself and others, with no attachments.

Like I’ve said before, it is definitely easier said than done.  It fails to mention the small stuff, right?  The bills, the errands, the cleaning.  But isn’t that part of the “now”?  And isn’t there a book about not sweating the small stuff and another about chopping wood, carrying water?

When I think about choices I’ve made in my life that seemingly complicate things, I daresay that these choices have also helped me.  Lessons come my way that illuminate my ways of thinking, my way of life.  Without the attention the “drama” brings, I may not have noticed my own patterns of behavior.

It’s finally Friday of what has been a particularly difficult week with the kids.  A friend of mine agreed that she, too, had a hard week but didn’t know if it was her or the kids.  Were my week and the kids really difficult, or did I make it so because I let my ego get in the way?  Did I get trapped somewhere not in the present, lose some compassion and get too attached to what I thought had to get done or be done?  Sounds to me like a sure recipe for a rough week.  I wish I would have thought of that on Monday.

So this weekend, go forth with awareness, love and non-attachment.  It’ll be a weekend.  That’s all we can promise.  May it be a simple one.

(photo from everystockphoto.com, by Henkster)

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A Mother’s Zen Garden

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Standing at the edge of the sand, one dares not disturb the serenity of a Japanese rock garden.  God knows how long it took to rake it just so, and the monks probably had a time of it to keep their robes hiked up or the sand out of the hem.  Then again, they were probably just there.  the sand was just where it would be, too.  Everything would be just as it is, which is just as it should be.

My “rock garden” takes at least two hours to complete.  On a small scale, it’s just the floor.  A bigger experience is the whole house.  I have to clean it, hopefully regularly, for before long the dog and cat hair is clumping up, the juice spots are collecting dirt and even my socks stick with every step.  So, I grab my tools and set to work, creating a masterpiece that satisfies my body (especially my feet) and my soul.

But this, too, shall pass.  The animals and children will come, my effort disappear and the chore will reappear on next month’s (if I’m lucky) to-do list. If I can do it with joy and fully participate in those fleeting moments of cleanliness, I will be doing well.  If I can honestly and sincerely welcome the dog, cat, children, everyone and everything else to destroy my masterpiece, I will be doing even better.  It’s about time to give it another try.

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I would feel amiss if I didn’t share a blog (Zen Habits) from which a fellow parent shares advice and tips, all with the right intention of helping you mindfully simplify your life and increase your productivity.  I’m still exploring the knowledge archived there and encourage you to indulge.  My husband particularly likes the Dad perspective Zen Habits offers.

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Photo by tiarescott, found at EveryStockPhoto.com,shared under Creative Commons license.

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