An ordinary life with extraordinary awareness and commitment

One of my favorite writers, Joan Chittister, has noted on more than one ocaision that at the heart of her spirituality is a commitment to live an ordinary life with extraordinary awareness and commitment. "As the Zen masters teach," she writes in her The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages: One day a new disciple came up to the master Joshu. "I have just entered the brotherhood," the disciple said, "and I am anxious to learn the first principle of Zen. Will you please teach it to me?" So Joshu said, "Have you eaten your supper?" to which the novice answered, "Yes, I have eaten." So Joshu said, "Then go and wash your bowl." (Makes me think of Leonard Cohen going to the Zendo in LA only to be told to wash his dishes; it scared the crap out of him and he ran away and didn't go back for a few years. And when he did, the Roshi told him to quit the crap and become his cook - which he did for a few years - and then came down the mountain with a bunch of great new songs. Listen to his song, "The Future"

And so another day in ministry comes and goes filled with simple blessings. It started with a 45 minute morning drive through the countryside to sit with a father wrestling with the Byzantine realities of family court as he tries to maintain joint custody of his young daughter. Some times all you can do is show up, yes? And maybe listen and try to share the grief, fear, hope and uncertainty of the moment. After a few hours of waiting and just being present, however, nothing happened except another hearing date was set so we drove away which meant that I got to have another 45 minute return trip through the countryside before preparing for a potluck feast with my film/faith discussion group.

It was so much fun - and the food was so incredible - that it was hard to believe that it wasn't planned: our only commitment was to bring a picture that showed a small sign of hope and some food we loved to share. We had pasta with pesto, strawberry shortcake, decadent chocolate delights, hummus, corn salsa, bratwurst, wine and tons of good bread and laughter.

What stories this group of former strangers shared: stories of faith, hope and love - stories of doubt and pain - stories of real life in war and peace. We began this group 4 months ago watching the movie, Chocolat, during Lent and nobody wanted to quit when Easter came. So we watched Babette's Feast and Shawshank Redemption and met to talk about how small choices can change the world. Now, after Memorial Day, we'll meet again in June to watch and discuss the Chronicles of Narnia. Even the group's pictures were powerful and nourishing: lovers holding hands, grandchildren, lilacs, blooming trees, the first picture of Mother Earth sent back by the astronauts, a street sign encouraging laughter. And just to totally surprise me, my dear wife got us a gonga deal for the holiday weekend in a place we've always wanted to visit - thank God for, yes? All very little things but all filled with blessings: sitting with an anxious man, breaking bread and laughing, sharing photographs and quiet time with a lover. Take nothing for granted, yes? To be sure, these small joys do not diminish the horror, shock and awe of cyclones and 78,000 dead or earthquakes in China. For these I grieve in bewilderment, and, at the same time pray Psalm 131: O Lord my heart is not proud: my eyes are not raised too high. I do not occupy myself with matters too great for me or with marvels that are beyond me. For I have stilled and made quiet my soul, like a weaned child nestling to its mother, so like a child my soul is quieted within me. Trust in the Lord from this time forth and forever.


Black Pete said…
Film nights! Yes!

I liked what a teacher told Alan Watts when he asked what was the core of Buddhist teaching:

"Attention!" barked the teacher, and turned and left.

As in, "Pay attention!"

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